Grading Peyton Manning in Week 1 Showdown Against Baltimore Ravens
Perhaps, just as important as the victory itself was the performance of the face and leader of the franchise, quarterback Peyton Manning.
Manning had one of the greatest single-game performances in NFL history by tying a single-game record with seven touchdown passes—to four different receivers—while throwing for 462 yards in completing 27 of 42 pass attempts.
It was just a year ago, this month, that the Broncos were preparing to host the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 1 with nonstop questions surrounding the health and return of Manning.
Would he be able to return as an elite quarterback after missing a full season after several neck surgeries?
How would he react to being hit by multiple 300-pound linemen on a weekly basis?
Would he make it through a full NFL season?
He answered those questions with positive results throughout the 2012 season, as he had one of the greatest seasons in his 14-year NFL career—he finished runner-up to Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, falling just short of an NFL-record five MVP awards.
Entering Week 1 versus the Baltimore Ravens, we knew that Manning was still an elite quarterback. We know he can take a hit. We know that he can make it through a full NFL season.
The question was, would Manning exceed his performance from 2012 in the Broncos' quest for redemption following last season's heartbreaking end in the divisional playoffs?
The answer to that question hasn't fully been answered yet.
But so far?
So far, so good.
As mentioned earlier, Manning was 27-of-42 on pass attempts. That equates to a 64 percent completion rate, statistically speaking.
That's good, not amazing.
However, stats don't tell the entire story sometimes.
There were numerous drops throughout the night by Manning's cast of receivers, including one on what should have been a touchdown by Eric Decker. Decker had a couple of drops in the game.
The four-time NFL MVP was amazingly accurate, targeting receivers on short, intermediate and deep throws.
All areas of the field were targeted, as tight end Julius Thomas had his breakout game with five receptions for 110 yards and two touchdowns, attacking the seams by consistently beating opposing linebackers and safeties in the first half.
As Julius slowed down in the second half—he had just one reception after halftime—the Broncos' other receivers started picking up the slack.
Wes Welker was Denver's most targeted receiver of the first half, making four receptions for 39 yards. He looked even better in the second half, as he caught two touchdowns and ended the night with nine receptions.
Similar to how he was used in New England, the slot receiver consistently made tough grabs on short routes with very little wiggle room.
The other Thomas—Demaryius—showed, yet again, why he's Denver's best overall receiver, finishing the night with Manning's last touchdown pass by sprinting 78 yards on the same play that gave Manning his first touchdown pass as a Denver Bronco in last season's Week 1 opener versus the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Manning may never have the deep-ball strength that he had earlier in his career, but his accuracy in all other aspects of the game remain top-notch.
Again, the completion percentage does not do justice to how accurate Manning was in this game.
There is a reason why the Broncos scored seven touchdowns—all on pass touchdowns by Manning—in scoring the most points (49) versus a Baltimore defense in Ravens franchise history.
Historically speaking, Manning has always been considered one of the best quarterbacks in the league at minimizing sacks.
Case in point—the amount of sacks the 2011 Broncos gave up with Tim Tebow at quarterback, in comparison to the amount of sacks the 2012 Broncos gave up with Manning as quarterback.
In 2011, the Broncos were one of the 10 worst teams in the NFL at protecting the passer. They gave up 42 sacks that season.
In 2012, the Broncos allowed the second-least amount of sacks in the league. They allowed Manning to be sacked just 21 times.
In Thursday night's game, the offensive line's performance—along with Manning's pocket presence—combined to allow Manning have his way with Baltimore's defense.
The Ravens did have three sacks—including one by former Broncos defensive end Elvis Dumervil—but on Manning's 39 other pass attempts, there was very little pressure—if at all.
To allow his receivers to get open downfield, Manning repeatedly glided through the pocket—a sign that Denver's offensive line was holding strong against Baltimore's front seven and a nod to Manning's veteran presence within the pocket when his first read is covered.
Manning became the sixth quarterback in NFL history to throw for seven touchdowns in a game. The last quarterback to do so did it over 40 years ago.
The single-game touchdown mark is obviously a Broncos franchise record. The 462 yards passing ranks as Manning's second-best mark in a single game in his career.
The #Chiefs had 8 touchdown passes all of last season. Peyton Manning has 7 tonight. Discuss.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) September 6, 2013
To add to just how impressive Manning's Week 1 performance versus the Ravens was, he did not turn the ball over a single time while dropping back to pass 45 times.
You can't fault a quarterback when there is nothing to critique pertaining to his statistical performance.
The hype surrounding the Broncos offense entering the season was fulfilled in Week 1.
The return of the Broncos' two 1,000-yard receivers in Demaryius and Decker, combined with the addition of Welker and the clean health of third-year tight end Julius Thomas combined to form an unstoppable passing offense that the Ravens defense had no answer for.
This is without mentioning that the running game was nonexistent. Starting running back Knowshon Moreno carried the ball nine times for 28 yards.
The Broncos operated an offense that relied entirely on the passing game. In spite of the lack of a running game, due to Manning's ability as a quarterback—combined with the plethora of weapons at his disposal in the Broncos offense—Denver was able to outmatch and dominate Baltimore in Week 1.
In similar fashion to last season, Manning and the Broncos offense did get off to a slow start. The Ravens were up, 7-0, at the end of the first quarter, with the Broncos offense not showing any signs of life until an interception by Broncos cornerback,Chris Harris Jr. set up Peyton's first touchdown pass of the game, a 24-yard strike to Thomas.
Having said that, Manning's performance was as good as it gets.
Without a running game, and operating an offense where the defense expects a pass every play, Manning was able to make a close game look like a blowout by the end of the third quarter.
If we have to put up with a slow start in order to get a performance like this from Manning, I'll take a slow start every week from the Broncos.
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