Peyton Manning must help the Denver Broncos to a quicker start if they want to win a critical early-season matchup against divisional rival San Diego.
The Monday Night Football clash between these AFC West rivals may be too early in the season to be a true difference-maker, but it certainly will be integral in how things end up playing out in the division.
Both teams are coming off of disappointing losses in Week 5 and are currently separated by just one game in the division standings. The Chargers (3-2, 2-0) have a one-game lead over the Broncos (2-3, 1-0).
For the Broncos, struggles have come in the team’s inability to start quickly. They’ve struggled to run and stop the run, and that’s led to Peyton Manning having to do what he does best: lead late, come-from-behind victories.
Part of the problem is the difficulty of the team’s schedule to this point. The combined record of the Broncos' opponents is 16-8, including two 5-0 teams. Denver has only beaten opponents with a combined record of 3-6. Its losses came to three teams with a 13-2 mark.
Things will get easier from here on out for Denver, but the team will need to start with a win against the Chargers in San Diego.
The biggest problem, though, has been that Manning's slow starts have put him in deficits even he isn’t capable of overcoming against those successful opponents.
In the first quarter, Manning has thrown his only three interceptions on the season—all in a Monday night loss to the Atlanta Falcons. That’s helped Manning’s 101.1 passer rating fall to a 74.7 rating in the opening period.
But Manning isn’t the only one struggling with slow starts. The team’s defense hasn’t recorded an interception or turnover in the first quarter and has been outscored 77-49 in the first half this season.
In order to even things up in the AFC West and set the tone for a Broncos run at the division title, Manning will need to help rectify those slow starts and keep his team close and balanced on offense early on so that they aren’t playing from behind the entire second half.
Mike Hoag Jr. is a Breaking News Team writer with Bleacher Report and also covers the NFL and the Cleveland Browns for the site.