Senior NFL Columnist

X's and O's: What Manning will mean to the Broncos around him


Demaryius Thomas might benefit more than any other player from Manning's move. (US Presswire)  
Demaryius Thomas might benefit more than any other player from Manning's move. (US Presswire)  

In hours and hour of watching tape of Tim Tebow as the starting quarterback for the Denver Broncos, I came to notice the Denver receivers' favored routes.

They weren't go routes. Or post-corners. Or slants.

They were hands-in-air-as-you-run routes, just praying Tebow might possibly see them, even as they crossed the field wide open.

That will change.

Get your hands down. Peyton Manning will see you, and hands up will just annoy him.

The Broncos are legitimate again in terms of having a passing game.

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That's what getting Manning means. It means the Broncos are no longer being forced to "gimmick up" an offense to try and move the football.

They now have a big-boy, NFL offense with a big-time NFL passer.

Going from Tebow to Manning is like going from a fourth-grade piano student to Elton John on the keyboard. Or some kid in the school play to multiple Oscar-winner Sean Penn.

We still don't know if Manning will be the same Manning he was with the Colts, the guy he was before getting his neck cut a reported four times. But indications are he has thrown the ball well and he has looked every bit the same guy.

Whether that happens with a pass rush in his face remains to be seen, but I expect he'll be fine.

So let's assume he is that -- and more. The Broncos have a three-year window to win a Super Bowl. Do they have the pieces around him? Here's a look at several areas of the Broncos and how they relate to Manning coming on board.

The offensive style

Who the heck knows what it is after last season? That was the bastardization of playing quarterback in the NFL.

Coach John Fox has always been a run-first coach. He preaches it. But with Manning in and John Elway above him, that will change.

This will be Manning's offense. Coordinator Mike McCoy is considered one of the bright young offensive minds. He can use Manning to springboard himself to a big-time job.

McCoy was a holdover from the Josh McDaniels staff. So he had to try to mix what the Broncos did with McDaniels with what Fox wanted. That took time, and when Tebow took over as the starter, it really had to change.

McCoy will work well with Manning. When Manning was in Indianapolis, the offense was actually simple. There weren't a lot of formations and movement. They just did it better than defenses did trying to defend it because of Manning's ability to read the field.

I imagine with Manning, the ball will go down the field more. Don't worry about him fitting into the Broncos style of offense. Fox is smart enough to know the offense has to fit Manning.

Offensive line

There will be a good, young line in front of Manning. He has a nice pair of tackles in Ryan Clady and Orlando Franklin, who improved as a 16-game rookie starter in 2011. Franklin was much better as a run-blocker, so he will have to improve now in pass protection.

The inside of the line has two decent guards in Chris Kuper and Zane Beadles, and center J.D. Walton is solid. There is talk Jeff Saturday, Manning's center with the Colts, could be coming to Denver. The center is key to making calls at the line, with Manning under center making some many of his calls there.

This is a young group that needs to grow together. They will have to adjust the way they play some without the read-option in place.

It's a solid group, certainly as good as any of the lines Manning had in Indianapolis. And that's the thing about Manning. His ability to feel pressure and slide away from it always seems to make the line better than maybe the talent would indicate.

Skill players

The happiest guy today should be receiver Demaryius Thomas. He is about to be a star.

Thomas, a former first-round pick who was slowed by injuries, had a nice second half of the 2011 season. He also caught the game-winning touchdown against Pittsburgh in the playoffs, showing off his great size-speed ratio on the 80-yard catch and run -- mostly run. Manning will love him.

Memo to Fantasy fans: He is a high pick now.

There isn't a lot after him. Eric Decker is a nice possession receiver who will fill the Austin Collie-Brandon Stokely role for Manning. Decker will become Manning's crutch in tough situations.

Manning loves a tight end who can split out, so I imagine the Broncos will make a call to Dallas Clark. Virgil Green is a raw player who could develop into a pass-catching threat as well.

As for the running game, Willis McGahee is the type of back Manning needs, a grinder who can pick up blitzes in pass protection. The Broncos could use help there.


When you have Manning on one side of the field, the best thing to have on the defense is a fast, speedy pass rush.

Manning teams play with the lead, which allows the pass-rushers to play up-tempo.

The Broncos have that in Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller. They are both fast edge rushers who create problems for teams trying to play from behind.

Those two will fill the roles that Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis did in Indianapolis, racking up sacks as the Colts played with the lead. Dumervil and Miller will love having Manning on the opposite side of the ball. They might have a race to 15 sacks.

The rest of the defense is spotty, but it is a unit that made improvements as the season moved along. There is some good, young talent.

Manning will make them all better because playing with a lead is a lot easier to do.


There are some nice pieces for Manning's style of play. The Broncos still need to add more at receiver and maybe Clark at tight end and find a speed back. On defense, they have to get stouter in the middle and better in the secondary. But Manning will make this team not only a competitor in the AFC West but in the AFC as a whole.

Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.

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