Peyton Manning must adjust his game to help Broncos


Four years ago, the Denver Broncos and John Elway were asking the world of Peyton Manning.

Come win us a Super Bowl, and we’ll put the best pieces around you that we can to make it happen.

Manning was given the keys to the organization essentially, and for two seasons, it looked like the player the Broncos got was an improved model of the version that had absolutely torched Denver in his days as a member of the Indianapolis Colts. It was more than a vintage Peyton Manning — it was a reborn MVP.

In 2015, things have changed. It’s no longer blasphemous to doubt Manning or even slander his name. Those who have been eagerly anticipating his decline have come out in full force, and it’s getting harder and harder to argue in favor of the future Hall of Fame quarterback.

He isn’t the same player he was even two years ago with this team. The decline has been noticeable, even though Manning has been able to help this team when it mattered most late in games (see: Kansas City game, Detroit, etc.).

The Broncos have already won two games this year without an offensive touchdown, something I can’t remember them doing in the entire Manning era here. Defenses are stacking the box against the Broncos, essentially daring Manning to throw and challenging the Broncos’ weak offensive line with pressure from all angles, forcing Manning to get rid of the ball quickly in man-to-man coverage situations.

What seems like the obvious solution here is to have the offense completely tailored to Manning’s skills, primarily running out of a pistol formation and using the no-huddle offense. The Broncos have incorporated a lot of pistol, but aren’t using the no-huddle as often as they probably should.

You could point at any number or things to try and defend Peyton Manning, but at this point, there’s only one thing that really needs to be said: Manning needs to adjust the way he plays in order to help this Broncos team long-term.

The Broncos are no longer asking the world of Manning, so he doesn’t need to try to give it to them. The offense should be able to play a lot more relaxed than they are because of the fact that when you put the defense on the field, at this point it almost feels like you’re more likely to score a touchdown anyway.

The running game has been completely invisible, but it’s been because the Broncos refuse to defer the ball out of Peyton Manning’s hands right now, even though they clearly should to try and keep defenses honest. They ran the ball a total of 18 times in this game, and a handful of those carries came at the end of the game when Denver was just trying to run out the clock.

There has been no strategy from Kubiak and the offensive staff when it comes to running the ball except if it doesn’t work early, leave it alone.

I feel like at least some of that is on Manning, who has thrown no less than 27 attempts in a game so far this season and yet has just thrown six TD passes.

In the red zone, where Manning had been nearly unstoppable for most of his Broncos tenure, the offense has been terrible. Including an interception to Charles Woodson on what was otherwise a gimme touchdown drive, the Broncos failed to convert on a drive that started at the Oakland 20-yard line, and were held to three field goals in this game in total offensive scoring, one coming from over 50 yards away.

In this game, the Broncos were 0-for-3 in the red zone but they have been awful all year. They have scored 8 touchdowns in all, six of them coming from Manning.

Red zone scoring has only been part of the problem for the Broncos, which have had one of their worst third-down conversion rates in recent years this season. They have converted just 22 of 68 attempts on third down this year, which is keeping that defense on the field much more than is ideal.

A lot of this is due to the fact that Manning is forcing balls into spots that he has no business trying to do. He has already thrown four interceptions on third down this season, more than the 3 he had all last year in that category.

On a third down pass play in Oakland (also in the red zone) Manning had locked in to Owen Daniels before the snap and threw the ball way behind him and way over his head into the waiting arms of Charles Woodson, who was the most wide open receiver on the field.

Manning has made a habit of making pre-snap reads throughout his NFL career, but he’s now made a habit of making pre-snap decisions of where he’s going to throw a ball. Those types of errors simply cannot happen even though the conundrum here is that the blitzes are coming in hot, and Manning has to make a decision quickly with the ball.

The Broncos had grown accustomed to running rub routes in the past with Adam Gase to get players free so Manning could make those quick throws on third down and extend drives as well as keep the defenses honest despite not really ever having a ‘great’ running game in his time with Denver.

Where have those rub routes been this season? Why does it look so hard for the Broncos to get anything going offensively?

It’s largely because the Broncos have asked Manning to change the way he plays, and he’s not adjusting very well at all. Manning’s arm strength is not the primary issue here — it’s his inaccuracy and inability to make the right reads with the football.

The Broncos have gotten away from what worked the last three years in Denver and with a quarterback that has virtually no mobility, if you can’t utilize a quick-hitting passing game, you are going nowhere and you’ll get there faster than anyone else.

Manning and the Broncos need to adjust. They need to change the strategy and basically throw away the offense that’s been run to this point. If the running game is going to struggle like it is, the Broncos need to create a running game by utilizing a much more appropriately designed quick passing game with rub routes and quick slants and running back screens, plays that are inexplicably never used by this team.

Everyone can see that Manning has physically regressed, but the mental regression this season is what’s been really alarming. He still knows the game of football more than any of us, and he still knows what he’s doing out there, he’s just making bad decisions with the football and that’s where he’s most hurting the Broncos.

It’s time for Manning to change the way he plays again and realize that he doesn’t need to carry this team anymore, but he does need to take advantage of the opportunities he’s being given.

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