Broncos Set Up Showdown with Chiefs, but Can They Keep Peyton Manning Upright?

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterNovember 10, 2013

Denver did its part. The Broncos beat the San Diego Chargers 28-20 Sunday to set up the best game of the season thus far: Broncos versus the unbeaten Chiefs next Sunday.

Yes, the Broncos won, so why does it feel like, in a way, they lost?

Maybe not "lost"—that's not fair. That's not the word. But it looks like something isn't quite right with the Broncos, and it has to do with their protection of Peyton Manning. That offense is still daunting because Manning is running it. The coaching staff is smart, the organization well-run, but something is just…wrong.

Manning is getting hit this year more than I've ever seen him. Against the Chargers, he twice did something you never want to see Peyton Manning do—scramble. He's not Peyton Vick. Manning running= bad. Really, really bad. It's like watching a toddler on ice skates.

Since Ryan Clady was lost for the season because of a Lisfranc injury, Manning's blind side has been exposed. Against the Chargers, there were several times when he was hit so hard I was stunned he got back up. One time he was on the ground, crumpled in a heap, several Chargers just hanging out while Manning was buried. The Chargers players were probably stunned to see him on the ground. Historically, it's just rarely happened.

Late in the game against San Diego, Manning was hit, his legs immobilized as his body fell like a downed tree. Again, it looked bad.

I think Manning has been hit hard more this season than maybe the majority of his entire career.

He's been strip-sacked at least three times since Clady went down. Not the sort of pedestrian strip-sacks, but big ones

SAN DIEGO, CA - NOVEMBER 10:  Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos is sacked by Paris Lenon #51 of the San Diego Chargers during the football game at Qualcomm Stadium November 10, 2013 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Image
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

At the end of the Chargers game, he was limping again. Both ankles are still banged up and he complained of soreness after the game. I saw him limping after the game against Indianapolis.

It's not Manning's age causing the creaking bones—it's the hits. And as the season wears on, the hits will take their toll, because that's what hits do.

Now he plays Kansas City. The Chiefs won't put a lot of offensive pressure on Manning, but that defense can. It can be brutal—far more stout than San Diego's. If the Broncos think they had a tough time against the Chargers, wait until the Chiefs get their shot.

That will be the story of this game, and it will in turn be the story of the season: How long can Manning last?

Will the Chiefs brutalize Manning so much that he won't last the game? He barely made it out of San Diego.

Manning threw four touchdown passes against the Chargers. In many ways, it was typical Manning, typical Broncos.

But in others, it wasn't. Not when Peyton Manning's limping off the field.

Not when you wonder if he's going to get up.