Peyton Manning: What to Watch for in Debut with Denver Broncos

Rob GoldbergFeatured ColumnistSeptember 9, 2012

DENVER, CO - AUGUST 26:  Quarterback Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos warms up before a pre-season game against the San Francisco 49ers at Sports Authority Field Field at Mile High on August 26, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

One week of an NFL season rarely tells you everything, but there are key questions that must be answered as Peyton Manning starts his career with the Denver Broncos.

There is a lot of pressure on the All-Pro quarterback to perform well. Although he missed all of last season with a neck injury, the Broncos expect him to pick up right where he left off with the Indianapolis Colts.

The Broncos won a playoff game with Tim Tebow last season, so anything less would be seen as a disappointment.

The first game against the Pittsburgh Steelers will be important for Manning, the team and the fanbase. However, for Manning, the opener will about more than the final score.

He and Broncos will also need to answer these questions to help predict how the quarterback will fare this season.


How Will He Respond to Getting Hit?

This was one of the biggest questions going into the preseason and the quarterback responded perfectly. In fact, when he was knocked down for the first time, Manning got up to a standing ovation from the home crowd.

Still, the regular season is a different story, especially against the dynamic defense of the Steelers. Pittsburgh had the top-ranked defense in points and yards allowed and is perennially one of the toughest in the league. Players like James Harrison, Lamarr Woodley and Troy Polamalu come at quarterbacks hard.

Manning has been cleared by doctors, but they cannot get into his head to see how he is doing. If he struggles with confidence and starts throwing the ball away when a rusher comes at him, the Broncos will be in trouble.


Is The Rust Officially Gone?

The thing that has made Peyton so successful has been his great timing with his receivers. His ability to throw to a receiver before the player made his cut was unmatched in the NFL.

Last year was the first time that he even missed a game. Now he must return to his old form after being away for more than a year.

Manning struggled in his first two preseason games. He completed 20 of his 30 attempts, but had three interceptions and no touchdowns. However, he broke out against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 3, completing 10-of-12 passes for 122 yards and two touchdowns.

If he can put up similar of numbers in the regular season against a tough defense, he will silence any concerns for the rest of the year.


Which Receivers Will Be Targeted?

Demaryius Thomas might be the most athletic receiver that Manning has ever had on his team. He has great raw skills and has the potential to be among the best the league. The catch is that he sometimes struggles with his route-running, and that is something that Manning simply will not tolerate.

Eric Decker is the more consistent receiver and should get a lot of looks. But the team will be better off with Thomas as the go-to target.