Peyton Manning: 5 Things We Learned from His Winning Debut with the Broncos
Peyton Manning made his much-anticipated return to the NFL on Sunday night with the Denver Broncos and did not disappoint. Opening the season at home against the No. 1-rated Pittsburgh Steelers defense could not have presented a better challenge to measure how far the elder Manning brother has come in his recovery from four neck surgeries.
For most of the first half the Steelers controlled the game with a methodical power running and short passing attack. By sticking to a disciplined game plan, they were able to retain possession on consecutive long drives on both sides of halftime, keeping Manning off the field for over an hour in real time.
Pittsburgh ran down more than half of the third quarter in a promising drive but came out with only three points to show for their efforts (13-7).
Denver’s new No. 18 under center did not blink.
The Broncos scored a lightning-fast touchdown in two plays to make the score 14-13.
The contest was far from decided at that point, but Manning was able to get into rhythm with his receivers and use the running game to prevent the Steelers defense from forcing any big turnovers for the remainder of the game.
After last night’s performance, the hype surrounding the return of one of the greatest quarterbacks ever was justified.
Here are a few lessons we learned about Peyton Manning’s current form.
Accuracy: Peyton Manning Looked Sharp Fitting Passes into the Catching Window
Peyton Manning was able to find his man and locate his throws in catchable places consistently.
All night, to be more precise.
Not only did Manning go 19-of-26 for 253 yards and two TDs, but he did so by putting balls in favorable positions for his receivers to gain yards after the catch.
The preseason workout has paid off for Manning and his receivers. In addition to the fluidity of their sets and routes, a relationship with Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker blossomed in the second half.
For now, Manning is making throws that should come naturally to him and that were always in his comfort zone. It still remains to be seen whether he can connect on long 40- to 50-yard attempts, but all signs point to great accuracy in throws under 25 yards.
Speed: Peyton Manning Doesn't Throw the Ball as Fast, but It's Strong Enough
This is a little tougher to break down, since there is not a stat for quarterback throwing speed readily available. However, it was clear that he was not throwing spirals as tight as he did during his time with Indianapolis nor with the same zip.
Against Pittsburgh, Manning relied on placement and anticipating holes in coverage before they happened. There was a lot to his game last night that was similar to Chad Pennington’s when he was on the Jets and Dolphins.
When Ben Roethlisberger was on the field, you could see the difference in the velocity and types of throws he was attempting. As evidenced by the game-clinching interception return late in the fourth quarter, Roethlisberger was willing to throw darts into the narrowest of windows with two or three defenders closing in on his receivers.
While Manning called and executed a more conservative game plan, he still delivered the ball to the right places with the proper strength on the throws.
As the season progresses, we’ll have a better idea of the speed of his throws as he gets more comfortable with the offense and his current physical abilities.
No-Huddle Offense: Manning Is Still Arguably the Best at Running It in the NFL
The Denver Broncos offense took off when Peyton Manning switched to the no-huddle. Prior to the switch, the Steelers defense was able to anticipate plays, pick up blockers and prevent the Broncos from getting first downs.
The Broncos stalled on their first three drives, netting a total of 49 yards. It looked like Peyton was a little confused with the defense in front of him and taking his time to figure out their sets.
But as he did so well in Indianapolis, Peyton Manning went with the no-huddle near the midway point of the second quarter once the coaching staff allowed him to run the offense.
Regardless, he connected on six of his next seven attempts and mixed in five rushes for a balanced and calculated first scoring drive as a Bronco.
It was vintage Peyton Manning.
In the second half, Manning kept the pressure on the Steelers by staying no-huddle. Playing in the high altitude of Mile High, Peyton used the strategy to gain an advantage over the Pittsburgh defense.
Yet, judging from the time of possession stats and the development of the game, the scoring drives came down to Manning’s careful execution and appropriate play calls.
Audible: Peyton Manning Is Still One of the Best at Reading NFL Defenses
The former Colts legend has not lost his ability to size defenses up and call the right audible at the line of scrimmage.
Last season, the Steelers were able to contain the run against Denver by bringing Troy Polamalu up to the line and giving him the freedom to read the play. Last night, Polamalu could not have the same impact against the Denver running game because of Manning’s passing ability and his quick release.
With his superb reading of how the game was unfolding and the defense presented on each play, Manning showed off his valuable on the field “coaching” ability by using the proper amount of running and passing plays to keep the defense from getting a hold of the game once Denver went no-huddle.
Though Pittsburgh controlled the ball for long periods of the game, it was Manning’s ability to read the situation and consistently deliver positive plays that lead to the two efficient scoring drives in the third and fourth quarters.
Fearless: Manning Was Not Hesitant Going Up Against Last Year's No. 1 Defense
Everyone knows about the four surgeries and question marks surrounding Peyton Manning’s health. It should be clear that he is only playing because his doctors and the Broncos medical staff feel fully confident that he is not taking an unreasonable risk playing football again.
Yet, the pains of his physical recovery has been written about for over a year now, a few of stories indicating that he was ready to hang it up for good at one point. Rumors persisted that he couldn't throw the ball downfield or make throws across his body were the most common causes for concern.
Last night, Manning stood tall against arguably the toughest defense in the league and did not panic. He made the right pre-snap reads, used his superior ability to read the developing plays and kept the offense moving at a breakneck pace with the no huddle.
Manning might still have a few questions about his throwing speed and arm strength but there is no doubt that he is in full command of the game and ready to challenge Rodgers, Brees and his arch nemesis Brady for the top QB spot in the league.
Eli’s older brother is back, fit and confident; the rest of the NFL would be wise to be worried.
The lesson, as always: never count out Peyton.