Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 7/25/12
The Denver Broncos' acquisition of Peyton Manning set the football world on fire in late March.

The move was followed by instant rush to envision everything his decision would result in, ranging from how he would look in a Denver uniform (strange) to how he would change the team’s previously run-focused offense.

Many claimed that Denver, coming off of a playoff appearance, would instantly become a title contender with Manning under center.

These predictions were not surprising: it’s a rare event when a player with Manning’s credentials hits the open market. Manning has 11 Pro Bowls, four MVP awards and a Super Bowl MVP award on his resume. Under his guidance, the Colts dominated the AFC South and were perennial contenders.

However, there is no guarantee that Manning can perform at this level anymore. After all, he is 36 and coming off of a well-documented lost season due to neck surgery. Manning is fully expected be be under center when the Broncos kick off their season on September 9th against Pittsburgh, but legitimate concerns remain about Manning’s ability to fully regain the arm strength that makes him such a dangerous passer.

Losing a little zip on his fastball (Denver Post reporter Mike Klis estimated that Manning was at “85 to 90 percent” earlier this month) could be the difference between completions and interceptions with a quarterback who throws into tight windows as often as Manning does.

Manning’s age does not help to alleviate these concerns; he is dangerously close to the time when quarterbacks without degenerative nerve conditions begin to see a decline in arm strength. Even if Manning does play, he isn’t a sure bet to throw for his customary 4,000 yards.

Even if Manning does play well, it’s unlikely that he’ll be able to cover up the team's many weaknesses. Denver had a lot of rushing yards in 2011 but mostly due to scheme, misdirection and the abundance of rushing attempts. According to Profootballfocus.com, Denver’s offensive line play ranked 30th in the league last year.

A porous offensive line protecting a quarterback who could be one bad hit away from retirement is a recipe for disaster. Denver’s move to a more conventional offense will mean the scheme can no longer cover up the line’s deficiencies.

A good running game could help alleviate some of that pressure, but that is in the hands of a historically-inconsistent running back who is on the wrong side of 30. It is highly unlikely Willis McGahee will replicate last season’s 1,199 yards. McGahee is backed up by Knowshon Moreno, a former first-rounder who has been mostly ineffective in his three-season career, and unproven rookie Ronnie Hillman. In other words, Manning will need to shine for this offense to move the ball.

The Broncos' defense doesn’t look too hot either. They received a good deal of positive press during Denver’s much publicized 7-1 stretch Tebow stretch, as the defense kept several of those games low scoring until Tebow time.

However, this doesn’t take into account the quality of their opponents. The once-prolific offense they faced during that stretch (Detroit) shredded them for 45 points. The teams they beat during that stretch include Miami, Kansas City, Minnesota, the New York Jets and a Chicago team without Cutler and Forte. Not exactly murderers row.

The stats back up this assessment. Denver ranked 22nd in the league against the run last season. They actually appear to have taken a step back, losing defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley to free agency and linebacker DJ Williams for the season’s first six games to suspension.

Denver is counting on contributions from a 31-year-old defensive tackle who hasn’t played a game in two full seasons (Ty Warren) and a cast of largely unproven or unremarkable players (including rookie tackle Derek Wolfe, and linebackers Joe Mays and Nate Irving) to replace that production.

The Broncos do have a potent pass rush thanks to Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil. However, they are far too reliant on the pass rush due to a porous secondary. Denver did make some moves to improve here, as they signed cornerbacks Tracy Porter and Drayton Florence to play alongside Champ Bailey, but neither of these guys are coming off of stellar seasons.

Questions still remain at safety in the wake of Brian Dawkins’ retirement. Poor safety play can very quickly erase the good play of the other nine players on the field (Bears and Patriots fans slowly nod their heads agreement).

The 2011 Broncos had one of the flukiest seasons in recent memory, backing into the playoffs in spite of their often mediocre play. They then won a playoff game against an injury-depleted Pittsburgh team before bowing out to New England.

The fact of the matter is the Broncos were 9-9 in 2011 despite having nearly every bounce go their way for long stretches of the season. Without Manning, this roster would not sniff the playoffs. With him, they have a chance, especially playing in a division with no standout team. However, this is far from the slam-dunk many have assumed.

Of course, this is not to say that signing Manning was a poor decision; even 75 percent of Manning is an upgrade from Orton and Tebow.

However, it will require an MVP-type season for Manning to drag this team to the playoffs, where they will likely meet teams that are far deeper and more well-rounded. In short, I wouldn’t get my hopes up too high for year one of Peyton Manning’s Denver career.


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