The story was Peyton Manning and how he was finally back on an NFL field after nearly two years of inactivity. The last game Manning played in was on January 8th, 2011 in a Wild Card Playoff loss to the New York Jets. Manning was on the field for one drive on Thursday night for 11 plays, drove the Broncos 50 yards down the field in 5:39 minutes of action before ending the night with an interception to Bears defensive back Major Wright.
As I wrote before, Manning had a solid performance, and it was a step in the right direction for not only Manning, but the Broncos themselves. This isn't just in relation to Manning as an individual player, it was a step in the right direction for the offense as a whole. The first-team offensive line, in their first in-game action blocking for the Manning coming off of four recent neck surgeries, had an excellent night.
Yes, Brian Urlacher and Julius Peppers did not play. Even considering that the Bears' two best defensive players were not on the field, it was a positive sight to witness the Broncos' starting offensive line (minus Chris Kuper) block effectively for the much less mobile Peyton Manning (in comparison to Tim Tebow).
Manning had seven pass attempts – eight, if you include a pass completion to Demaryius Thomas called back to a holding penalty on left tackle Ryan Clady. There was not a single time that Manning got hit, fell on his rear, or was even touched. He had all of the time to throw and looked as comfortable as he ever did in Indianapolis. And that's the key word – comfortable.
On six of Manning's seven pass attempts, the Broncos lined up in the shotgun formation. They frequently used extra receiver sets, lining up in three or four wide receiver sets. In other words, it's not as if they lined up in max protection with two tight ends. They ran a similar type of offensive set that Manning was seen running in Indianapolis. Why is this a positive sign? There wasn't a lack of confidence in the offensive line to block for Manning by having extra blockers back.
When tight end Jacob Tamme was lining up, he wasn't lining up as an extra blocker for Manning and the offensive line. He was on the field to be a receiver. He was a target on two of Manning's seven pass attempts.
Manning was able to side step, step up and comfortably into his throws and even stand comfortably in the pocket while awaiting one of his receivers to get open. If you watch the 3rd-and-17 completion for a first down to Eric Decker, Manning stood in the pocket seemingly forever. That is a credit to the offensive line for not only providing the time needed for such a long completion, but also providing Manning with a mental sense of security, despite this being his first actualy game in over a year and a half.
What can be analyzed after Thursday night's game other than the usual Manning talk? The offensive line came out and protected Manning. That was one of the main concerns heading into this game and the season. That is a good sign for 2012.
It is up to Ryan Clady, Zane Beadles, J.D. Walton, Chris Kuper and Orlando Franklin to continue these types of performances as the 2012 season gets under way.
Or else we might see Caleb Hanie. Chicago Bears fans can tell you all about that one.
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