Peyton Manning silenced his critics with his stellar Week 1 performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers, but Manning and the Denver Broncos now face an equally, if not greater, challenge against the high-powered Atlanta Falcons on Monday Night Football.
Manning may be wearing a different jersey, but it was much of the same last week as he torched the highly touted Steelers defense. The four-time MVP completed 19-26 passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns.
Manning, nearly a decade older than Ryan, will outduel the young quarterback and lead his Denver Broncos to a 2-0 record Monday night.
Manning may be playing in one of the most talented offenses of his career. Former Colts teammates Jacob Tamme and veteran slot receiver Brandon Stokley accompany Manning, along with the young and dangerous duo of Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker.
Thomas went for 110 yards and one touchdown in his season debut. It was only the third time in the budding star's short career that he went over 100 yards in a regular season game. As Manning's No. 1 target, this should become a regular feat for Thomas.
The Falcons lost Pro Bowl cornerback Brent Grimes for the season, which forced Dunta Robinson outside and Chris Owens to take over as the nickle corner. This has hurt their pass defense tremendously.
Owens was exploited by Aaron Rodgers in the 2010 playoffs. Expect Manning to pick on the undersized corner in a similar way for big plays Monday night. Manning is great at hitting his slot receivers for big plays, and Owens has not proven he can be a solid option as a nickel corner. Decker and Stokley will have a big game against the Falcons.
The Falcons have few proven players along their defensive line, outside of John Abraham. The Falcons will struggle to get pressure against Manning if they do not blitz. They relied on the blitz heavily against the Chiefs, but pressuring Manning is a bit different than pressuring Matt Cassel. If you blitz Manning too many times, he will expose you.
The Falcons will have to find a balance between pressure and coverage Monday night, or Manning will pick them apart.
The offense will play big against the Falcons, the defense will be the key to the Broncos success.
The days of the Falcons pounding the ball seem to be over, and they have replaced that with a high-tempo, no-huddle offense. Michael Turner only touched the ball 11 times for 32 yards in Week 1.
Roddy White and Julio Jones are Pro Bowl caliber players, however, they will have their hands full against All-Pro corner Champ Bailey and Tracy Porter.
The Falcons offensive line protected Ryan great against the Chiefs, but Monday night they will be tested.
Von Miller is quickly becoming one of the best pass-rushing outside linebackers in the league, and he is accompanied by the one-time 17-sack man in Elvis Dumervil. The key for the Broncos defense is making Ryan uncomfortable and flushing him out of the pocket. If not, he will hit Jones, White and tight end Tony Gonzalez all night for big plays.
Another thing that benefits the Denver defense is that they have experience against the no-huddle offense, going against it in practice every week. They should be well prepared for Ryan and the Falcons offense.
Monday night will be the only time that Manning plays in a dome this season. While Atlanta has a 26-6 home record in the Georgia Dome during the regular season since 2008, I think Manning will thrive in the dome conditions.
Expect Manning to go for over 300 yards and take over the No. 1 spot on the NFL's all-time 300-yard passing games list, passing Dan Marino.
Ryan will play good, but not great. The pressure from Denver's defense will give him fits, and Porter and Bailey will contain the Falcon's outside threats.
Manning will prove Monday night why he is a legend and Ryan is just an up-and-comer.
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