Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos are good, but they’re far from great.
Manning, who was playing in his first Monday Night Football game since November 28, 2005, struggled through a miserable first quarter.
The veteran playing in his 15th professional season looked much more like a rookie on the big stage early in the game, too pumped up by adrenaline to make the right reads and forcing footballs into too tight of coverage.
Manning threw one jump ball that resulted in an interception, was completely fooled by a four-deep coverage that turned into the second pick, while his third throw was simply lofted up to 14-year pro Brandon Stokley that was ultimately turned over to Atlanta.
Sure, Manning and his offense came back to make it 20-7 at halftime, and 27-21 with 3:25 remaining on the game clock, but the final two scores were too little, too late.
Because the defense couldn’t force a punt by the Falcons, even though they held them to a third and five situation.
Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan—who put on his best Peyton Manning impression Monday—tossed it to Julio Jones to convert a first down heading into the two minute warning.
Yes, on the drive before, stud linebacker Von Miller bull rushed his offensive tackle, even fighting through a double team, to make it to Ryan and end force the Falcons to punt.
But when the Broncos needed it most, they allowed the first down and allowed Atlanta the win.
The Falcons are undoubtedly one of the top teams in the NFL today.
The Broncos are still trying to figure out how good they can be.
Yes, Denver brought in the biggest free agent in the history of the NFL, but it doesn’t mean there won’t be learning curves to overcome for offensive players along they way to greatness.
Manning’s not only come in and taken the reins of the Broncos’ offense, he’s brought his own offense to the Mile High City.
Sure, Mike McCoy continues to be the Denver offensive coordinator, but with Manning calling so many audibles at the line, it might as well be known as the Manning offense.
It’s based in the no-huddle, which has paid off more often than not this season. The Broncos won their Week One battle against the Steelers after shifting to the no-huddle in the second quarter, and they nearly found a way to comeback from 20 points down and win Monday night.
Of course, it still has to be worked on and the rapport between the quarterback and his extremely young receivers must be ironed out.
Certainly, though, Manning understands he doesn’t have much more time on top of his and the NFL game.
It’s why he inked the five-year deal with Denver in March, basically ensuring he’ll end his career as a member of the Broncos.
But if Manning and his playmakers—Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker—don’t get on the same page, it will be nothing more than a wildcard round playoff exit for the team.
Sure, slot man and fellow ancient player Brandon Stokley and Manning think the same, as does starting tight end Jacob Tamme—and they’ve been asked not only to perform on the gridiron, but explain the new Peyton offensive terminology to their teammates.
Forget about offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, if these Broncos want to go anywhere, it’ll be with the offense Manning calls.
But, when the legendary quarterback moves his team to the line in a hurried fashion, he has to be sure that Thomas and Decker—along with Stokley and Tamme—are all on the same page, running the hot route the QB expects, therefore moving the team downfield for a first down and ultimately scores.
Bill Polian, who drafted Manning and built the legendary Colts teams that flourished under him, explained Monday night that the amount of affinity there must be between receivers and the quarterback, as each one learns exactly what the other one wants to do, even before they do it.
There’s simply not enough time for Manning and his youthful and explosive receivers—who are each raw and learning in their own right what it takes to be great—to become exceptional this season.
Plus, running back Willis McGahee is taking a beating as the Broncos main back, he’s wearing down and there’s not telling how much more he has in the tank.
And the offensive line has played downright disastrously, allowing too much pressure on the quarterback while not blocking with fire on run plays either. Starting right guard and captain Chris Kuper has been missed, but he’s the the final answer to the Broncos offensive line woes either.
The problems don’t just lie on the offensive side of the ball, unfortunately, because the Broncos are suspect on defense.
Their defensive line has already been hurt by season-ending injuries to Jason Hunter and Ty Warren, and they were the weak link to the team in the first place.
The linebacking corps isn’t much better, where D.J. Williams continues to sit through the first six weeks due to a PED suspension, and Von Miller is a standout among backups playing in starting roles.
In the secondary, the corners are among the best in the game—with Champ Bailey and Tracy Porter—while the safeties—Mike Adams and Rahim Moore—can’t tackle and can’t make a play on the ball in the air to save their lives.
What it all adds up to on defense is a decent unit, one that’s learning under first-year coordinator Jack Del Rio what it takes to be great. It’s a thrown together squad that must bend and not break, allowing field goals instead of touchdowns all year if the Broncos want to win the West.
Yes, the Broncos will be good. They may even be borderline great.
Denver should win the AFC West, which has been extremely weak for years, but they shouldn’t be expected to win a playoff game, let alone the Super Bowl.
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news Broncos fans, but this just isn’t your team’s year.
Maybe 2013 will be that magical season—with Manning in the organization for his second year and other players being added—when the Broncos go back to the Super Bowl.
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Rich Kurtzman is a freelance journalist. You can follow Rich on facebook or twitter for all your Denver Broncos news.