Broncos coaches John Fox (left) and Mike McCoy (right) are googly over quarterback Peyton Manning (center), who owns more wins than any other active quarterback in the NFL. (Image courtesy of The Globe and Mail)
One man can make a difference.
When it comes to the difference between winning and losing, the Denver Broncos have found their man in quarterback Peyton Manning, who owns the fourth-most regular season wins (146) by a quarterback in NFL history.
During the offseason, much was made about the fact that Denver’s John Fox owned a 38-3 coaching record when teams under his command have scored 26 points a game. Hoopla abounded in Denver as Manning had averaged 26.7 points per game during his time in Indianapolis, foretelling a successful marriage to come with Fox and the Broncos’ offense.
Manning, not one to disappoint, has been near perfect since arriving in Denver, scoring 26 points in five games, winning all five of them. The Broncos have actually scored 30 points in three consecutive games (five times total this season), going 5-3 with losses to only Atlanta (8-0), Houston (7-1) and New England (5-3).
In all but one of Denver’s losses the team has fallen by six points or fewer, with Manning managing to post remarkable numbers each week. Owning the NFL’s highest competition percentage (69.5%), yards per competition average (8.2), and passer rating (108.6), Manning ranks in the top five of every major passing statistic this season.
The NFL’s active leader in nearly every major passing category, Manning is also on pace to top franchise records — set by the great John Elway and others. During his phenomenal sixteen year career, Elway never threw for more than 27 touchdown passes in a single season. Years later (2004), Jake Plummer matched Elway’s 27 mark and in 2008, Jay Cutler came close with 25.
Midway through the 2012 season, Manning has already thrown for 20 touchdowns, well on his way to smashing Denver’s single season record of 27. Manning is also on pace to break Elway’s record of 4,030 passing yards in a single season, set in 1993. With 2,404 yards, Manning is primed to surpass 4,800 yards on the season.
If Manning squeezes in an extra 200 yards somewhere along the way and reaches 5,000 yards, it would mark just the sixth time in NFL history a QB has conquered the 5K milestone.
We know the story of Denver’s courtship of Manning and we know that Manning has excelled under Fox and Offensive Coordinator Mike McCoy this season. But how have Peyton and Co. been scoring 26 points a game, and how is Manning completing such a high percentage of his throws? We’ll briefly examine some of Manning’s methods below:
The Broncos’ favorite offensive formation has been a three wide receiver, one tight end, one running back set (pictured above). Using that alignment, Peyton has excelled in quickly getting the ball into receiver’s hands, allowing them to make plays.
In the play below, Manning sees that the cornerback is blitzing and makes a hand signal (and perhaps verbal communication) to wide receiver Brandon Stokley, informing him to cut off his route early, knowing that Stokley will be uncovered for a brief moment.
As the play develops, Stokley simply runs a short dig route, opening his chest to Manning just moments after the snap of the ball. Before the cornerback can even reach Manning, the football is in Stokley’s hands.
Stokley caught the ball in space, made a quick cut inside and ran for a first time, moving the chains. Manning tried to execute a similar audible with Matt Willis several weeks ago against San Deigo. On the play, Willis wasn’t on the same page as Manning and Peyton’s pass was intercepted and returned for a score.
Stokley has more experience with Manning than Willis and remains Denver’s best slot receiver. As the season has progressed, Stokley’s fellow receivers have started to develop a similar understanding of Manning’s pre-snap adjustments.
In the play below, Manning reads a multiple defensive back blitz and signals to wide receiver Demaryius Thomas to cut off his route at the first down marker, right behind the blitzing cornerbacks.
Knowing that the middle linebacker (blue) has the flat responsibility and the non-blitzing cornerback (green) will be preoccupied by the far receiver running a fly route, Manning puts Thomas in a situation to be wide open, making a completion easy.
As Manning expected, the two defensive backs rushed and Thomas easily beats the middle linebacker to the flats, leaving only the non-blitzing cornerback as a possible defender. Getting the ball into Thomas’ hands before the rush reaches him, Manning helps Denver move the chains once again.
By the time the cornerback sniffs out the play, Thomas has already caught the ball with forward progress and a first down. Meanwhile, the Mike linebacker still hasn’t reached the flats — as Manning released the ball before the linebacker could get into position to make a play.
Both plays diagrammed above came on third downs and resulted in first downs.
After evaluating how Manning reads defenses and gives his teammates opportunities to make plays, it’s not surprising to see that Peyton leads the league in completion percentage (69.5%) and in the top ten in first down percentage (38.7%). Dubbed one of the league’s smartest quarterbacks, Manning certainly hasn’t disappointed thus far.
If he consistently reads—and defeats—defenses as the second half of the season rolls on, Manning and the Broncos up-tempo offense will continue to evolve into a nightmare for opposing defenses. Which would be a dream come true for Broncos fans.
Jon Heath is a Social Media Manager at BroncoTalk and a Featured Broncos Columnist for Bleacher Report. Heath has covered the Denver Broncos since 2008 and can be found on Twitter, @JHeath_DEN.