The Denver Broncos were defeated 29-24 by the San Francisco 49ers in the third preseason game, which is widely considered a tune-up for the regular season. Of course, the preseason is not about wins and losses. For the Broncos, the preseason has been about Peyton Manning, his health, how he makes the running game better and how he helps a below-average defense.
After three preseason games and an entire offseason of analysis, Manning has proved he can still get the job done. There's nothing left for Manning to do other than to start winning regular-season games for the Broncos. The Broncos also might have a good enough defense to overcome a difficult schedule.
Manning has turned skeptics into believers and silenced his critics. The Broncos were looking for a way to move on from Tim Tebow, and Manning has been perfect. Manning is good with the media, the fans and on the field. He is like Tebow, but he can also play quarterback.
Against the 49ers, Manning was spectacular, and so was the first-team defense. Manning threw as many incomplete passes as touchdowns (2), and the defense was stout except for one breakdown in coverage.
Let's take a look at Manning's brilliance, the strong defensive performance and a few areas of concern for the Broncos from Sunday's game.
That's Mr. Manning To You!
Play No. 1
The Broncos line up in a passing formation on 3rd-and-3 with running back Lance Ball lined up wide right. Manning knows he has a linebacker covering Ball and that he's going to have to make a quick read because he's only going to have his five blockers.
Ball runs a stop-and-go route.
Manning reads the entire right side of the field and sees Ball sell the short route before running deep. Manning can also see the pressure coming up the middle and the good coverage on his other receivers.
Manning takes a big hit but anticipates Ball getting a step on the linebacker.
Ball gets the step on the linebacker and Manning's ball placement is perfect. Ball caught the pass in stride and neither the linebacker nor the safety could make a play on it.
Manning's limited reps this preseason had many people wondering if he could throw right, throw further than 20 yards down the field and if he could take a big hit. Manning accomplished all three on this play, as the ball also traveled 30 yards in the air and was thrown to the right side.
Play No. 2
This is the type of play that demonstrates just how good Manning and Denver's offense can be. Only two receivers will run a pattern against six 49ers in coverage.
Manning sees Carlos Rogers turn to the inside, and he knows Decker is going to run an out route so he will have enough time to deliver the ball.
The pass has plenty of zip, and it's an easy touchdown. It was the perfect route combination and a great post-snap read by Manning. It looked easy, but not every quarterback makes the correct read and gets the ball out fast enough.
Play No. 3
This is a great example of how potent the offense can be with Manning under center. The two outside receivers run short routes, which could have been a result of Manning's pre-snap read of the defense.
The 49ers are in man coverage, with a single safety helping over the top.
Cornerback Tramaine Brock allows Decker to get outside of him. That's a big mistake considering his help was all inside. Safety Dashon Goldson doesn't have a chance once Decker breaks to the back corner of the end zone.
Good ball placement by Manning for the touchdown. This play is made possible because of Manning's ability to read a defense. It also doesn't hurt to have a receiver that can gain separation.
Caleb Hanie's stats were pretty good against the 49ers, but he had an inexplicable interception to remind everyone why he's both a backup and not a lock to make the 53-man roster. Hanie probably will make the 53-man roster, but the Broncos need a healthy Manning to be successful in 2012.
Hanie should get good protection because the 49ers rush five and the Broncos have six blockers. Decker, at the top of the screen, is going to run a skinny post.
Pressure comes immediately, and Hanie is forced to rush the throw.
Hanie grossly underthrows Decker, who did have space between the cornerback and safety if the throw was perfect.
Easy interception for the 49ers. Hanie hasn't demonstrated he can make throws down the field, and when pressured, he should probably just check the ball down to a running back or tight end. In this case, Hanie should have stepped up and hit his tight end in the flat or thrown the ball away.
The Broncos went up by a score of 17-0, and then allowed a 44-yard touchdown pass to Vernon Davis from Alex Smith.
The 49ers have two tight ends, two receivers and one running back on the field. Vernon Davis will run a wheel route as Michael Crabtree runs a slant. With Von Miller responsible for coverage on Davis, the safety has to help on anything deep.
Crabtree gets separation, and Rahim Moore (not pictured) doesn't realize Davis beat the linebacker to the edge. If Crabtree is well covered, Moore might have noticed Davis getting away from Miller.
Easy toss for the touchdown. It's a good example of how tight ends like Davis create problems for the defense and how Moore was slow to recognize how the pass coverage was developing in front of him.
It's possible there was a call in place that would explain Moore's position, but it sure seems like Miller got beat, and Moore was very late with coming over to help.
This is an outside run play to the left. The play is made by both Mitch Unrein and Moore.
Unrein executed a nice swim move and slips past the attempted block. Unrein actually knocks the offensive lineman to the ground. Miller and Moore read the run all the way and immediately pursue the running back.
Miller will get picked up by Mike Iupati, but Unrein is still in pursuit. Moore has an unobstructed lane to the running back.
Moore breaks down in space and doesn't let the running back get the edge.
Unrein and Moore make the tackle. Moore might have had a bad play in pass coverage, but this was an excellent play against the run. Without Moore, the running back may have been able to get the edge and gain yards down the left sideline.
It's clear that the Broncos are ready for the regular season and should only get better if the team stays healthy.