Peyton Manning: Keys for the Star QB in Preseason Contest Against 49ers
After signing a five-year, $96 million deal in the offseason, Manning was supposed to come in and instantly vault Denver into the upper echelon of NFL passing attacks after the team struggled through the air last season.
So far, that hasn't been the case.
The 36-year-old future Hall of Famer is still in the midst of recovering from the neck surgeries that prematurely ended his time with the Indianapolis Colts and nearly his career. He's not fully healthy yet, so to expect anything more than a work in progress isn't prudent.
But for those of us used to watching Manning dominate games on a regular basis, his struggles have been a rude awakening. Manning's 66.7 passing percentage is on par what we'd expect, but his unwillingness to go deep and lack of explosion in the Denver offense is disconcerting.
Just two preseason games remain on Denver's slate, so it's likely we see a ton of Manning in the team's Week 3 contest against the San Francisco 49ers.
With that in mind, here are the keys for the star quarterback in his Week 3 preseason matchup:
Work on Throwing to the Right
When talking to colleague John Clayton earlier this week, ESPN.com's AFC West blogger Bill Williamson noted that the Broncos quarterback was having trouble throwing to his right—especially from 10-plus yards out.
After two preseason games Clayton explained to me that he thinks Manning has improved in the area but that he still has problems when the passes are more than 10 yards. He believes Manning will continue to improve, and more importantly, will have overall success.
With our own AFC West Lead Writer Christopher Hansen corroborating at least Manning's hesitance to throw deep, it's time for offensive coordinator Mike McCoy to draw up a game plan that forces the issue.
Yes, McCoy and the coaching staff are seeing Manning throw those routes every day in practice. They know how much velocity he has on the ball and where things break down.
What's your level of concern with Peyton Manning's performance so far?
But that's not the same as giving him an opportunity in live action.
Preseason results are completely meaningless, so if there's a wobble here or an incompletion there, so be it. Knowing the strength in Manning's arm right now is more important.
Take Care of the Ball and Get Into the End Zone
Thus far in the preseason, Manning has been uncharacteristically ineffective driving the ball and flippant in his ball control.
In two games, No. 18 has thrown three interceptions against zero touchdowns in 30 pass attempts. The only time where Manning has looked like his old self was on an 11-play, 80-yard drive against the Seattle Seahawks that took up over five minutes and ended in a one-yard Willis McGahee touchdown run.
It's the preseason and obviously Manning is nowhere near 100 percent yet, so these struggles are understandable.
But they also have to be frustrating for someone so accustomed to dominance.
For Manning, getting into the end zone through the air and avoiding turnovers is much more about giving him the confidence going forward than it is actually making the final stats look pretty.
If the Broncos quarterback can look like the Peyton of old against a top-tier 49ers defense, it could do wonders going forward.
Continue Building Rapport With Eric Decker
We've already discussed why the 25-year-old Decker will be Manning's top target in 2012, but the duo is yet to truly click this preseason.
Through two games Decker has just four catches for 63 yards, but he's made the reception four of the five times he's been targeted. The potential for something special exudes from these two stylistically.
With at least a whole first half to play together, Manning should work on getting his young receiver the ball in game action. Decker spent much of the last half of 2011 seemingly isolated from the offense, so it's important for both parties to build an early relationship.
Demaryius Thomas will almost certainly be the receiver stretching the field for Denver. His elite athleticism and brilliant speed dictate nothing less.
But until Manning's arm strength is back, Decker is the most essential receiver to the Broncos' cause.
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