Breaking Down Peyton Manning's Impressive Performance vs. 49ers
Quarterback Peyton Manning played less than a quarter during the Denver Broncos' 29-24 loss to the San Francisco 49ers Sunday, but the limited work clearly represented the 36-year-old's best performance of the 2012 preseason.
Manning completed 10 of his 12 passes for 122 yards and two touchdowns—his first scores of the preseason. On the three drives Manning commanded, Denver scored 17 points. He exited with the Broncos up 17-7.
There were some superficial concerns following two preseason games, especially when outsiders looked only at the stats—zero touchdowns and three interceptions—and not the tape.
Below, we break down Manning's best performance of the preseason. All snapshots taken from NFL.com's Preseason Live footage.
Manning did not make a number of tight-window, high-pressure throws against the 49ers. He simply took what the San Francisco defense gave him and made the plays downfield when they were available.
But one tight throw on the Broncos' first drive showed the kind of zip Manning can still put on the football.
On a 1st-and-10, Manning went to the right sideline on a 15-yard out to Demaryius Thomas. The 49ers had the play well covered, with a cornerback and safety bracketing Thomas. Yet Manning completed the pass with a throw that only Thomas could get to.
Here's the screen shot of how Thomas screened off the cornerback and Manning made the right throw.
Any less velocity on the throw or a miss in ball placement and the 49ers probably would have had their hands on the football.
Converting Third Down
Extending drives on third down is important for any quarterback, and Manning did a nice job early on his second drive of keeping the Broncos offense on the field.
Facing a 3rd-and-6 from his own 20-yard line, Manning stepped up in a cluttered pocket and found Brandon Stokley, who ran a perfect route against the 49ers' coverage.
Stokley gave the linebacker a five-yard stick-and-out move, and Manning delivered an on-time pass for the first down.
Here's the moment where the Broncos had an easy pitch-and-catch to extend the drive.
The play seems simple, but it's the little things that keep drives alive. Manning made the conversion worth seven points later in the drive.
Manning's arm strength will likely never be where it was before his neck surgeries, but that doesn't mean he's going to be a dink-and-dunk quarterback.
Again facing a third down, Manning found another mismatch in one-on-one coverage.
Lance Ball, who ran a slant-and-go down the near sidelines, was a step ahead of the 49ers linebacker assigned to him. Manning identified the coverage and lofted a well-placed ball 20 yards downfield, despite getting hammered by the free blitzer.
Ball made the catch, and the Broncos got a first down at the 49ers' 26-yard line.
Here's a screen shot of right before Manning unloaded the pass.
It was Manning's most impressive play, both because of the ball placement and the hit he took. The quarterback bounced right up.
Touchdown No. 1
The first touchdown pass was like stealing for Manning. When you give a veteran quarterback that kind of coverage and a clean pocket, good things are going to happen for the offense.
Manning went play-action to Willis McGahee, while Eric Decker ran a simple out to the end zone. The cornerback got turned around, and the linebacker was trailing in coverage.
The Broncos' offensive line gave Manning a near-perfect pocket, and all he needed to do was step up and make an accurate throw. He completed that task with ease.
Here's the screen shot of Manning's easy throw.
When play-action works and the Broncos block up front, Manning can make any throw.
Touchdown No. 2
Again, the look Manning got on his second touchdown made the throw highway robbery.
The Broncos went trips left on a 2nd-and-3, with Decker lining up as the receiver closest to the quarterback. Denver then brought both outside receivers on short drag routes inside, and Decker released on an a quick out.
The end result: a wide-open Decker and another easy throw for Manning.
Manning also got another clean pocket, making it even more of sure touchdown.
Here's the screen shot, with illustrations.
The Broncos will be a solid offense in the red zone, especially with these kinds of route concepts and protections.
What Did We Learn?
This is still Peyton Manning, and the reports of his demise were greatly exaggerated. When he's on, Manning can beat any defense by simply taking what he's given. He did that Sunday against arguably the best defense in football from a year ago.
Granted, it was the preseason, but it was still an impressive performance from a man coming off four neck surgeries and an entire missed season of football.
Broncos fans should feel very confident in their quarterback heading into the regular season.
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