Joe Mahoney/Associated Press
Joe Mahoney/Associated Press
ENGLEWOOD – Turns out, Peyton Manning does have a favorite wide receiver in Denver – the one who’s open.
That’s the thing about the Broncos quarterback: He doesn’t particularly play favorites. The four-time NFL MVP is so adept at spreading the wealth around that he’s not choosy about his choices.
All he demands is a little bit of open space.
Manning completed passes to six different receivers in a season-opening win against Pittsburgh, simply by taking what the Steelers’ defense gave him. His ability to stay patient in the pocket and quickly scan the entire field is what makes Manning, well, Manning.
And it also makes his receivers work that much harder down the field, even if they’re the fifth option on a play.
“If you’re open, he’s going to find you,” said Eric Decker, whose team will play in Atlanta on Monday night. “That’s why he’s so good.”
Not to mention so hard to defend. He’s steadily building a rapport with each of his receivers as he learns precisely what they can do.
Sure, it’s just one game, but after the Steelers game, this much appears clear: Demaryius Thomas is the big-play threat and Decker the possession receiver. Brandon Stokley, Manning’s good friend and former teammate in Indianapolis, is the security blanket after coming up with several clutch third-down grabs.
There are plenty of receptions left for players such as tight end Jacob Tamme, who caught all five passes thrown in his direction, including a 1-yard touchdown.
“I think we do a good job here moving all our receivers in some different spots, giving them different routes,” Manning said. “If they’re not open, I don’t necessarily think you should throw it to them.”
Probably a good idea, given that somebody else just might be.
“The great quarterbacks in the league right now – Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Matt Ryan – all these guys, have about seven, eight, nine guys catching the ball every game,” said Decker, who had five catches for 54 yards. “That’s because they’re not forcing it to one or two guys. They’re spreading it out and letting the game come to them.”
Now, the Broncos will go to work against a dinged-up Falcons secondary after they lost one of their top cornerbacks in Brent Grimes, who tore his Achilles tendon at Kansas City. Atlanta will shuffle around the secondary in nickel coverages with career reserve Christopher Owens playing the middle.
“Being a backup in the NFL is probably the toughest position to play because when the starter gets hurt, everybody in the building and everybody in the locker room is expecting the backup to come in and perform at the same level as a starter,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said.
Make no mistake, Manning will find the new guy and pick on him.
Nothing personal, just business.
Should a defense try to blitz Manning – to take some of the pressure off the secondary – that typically doesn’t turn out well, either. Manning thrives under pressure.
So, just how good is Manning at finding the open man?
“Well, he’s played a lot of football, and he’s one of the best of all time, so he’s pretty good at it,” offensive coordinator Mike McCoy said.
Thomas took his turn in the spotlight against the Steelers, hauling in a simple screen pass from Manning and racing 71 yards for a score in the third quarter.
Next week, it could just as easily be Decker or Stokley or anyone else for that matter.
“You never know who’s going to be the No. 1 target because he spreads the ball out so much,” said Thomas, who caught five passes for 110 yards. “I feel like I got a big play and caught it at the right time, and it just happened to be that I had the most yards and the touchdown.”
For Smith, the verdict is in – Manning is back to his customary form. Smith was that impressed with the veteran QB who’s coming off four neck surgeries, especially when the Broncos turned to the no-huddle and picked apart the Steelers.
“I thought he had a very good command of the offense, threw the ball extremely well, had some throws to the wide side of the field that looked like the old Peyton,” Smith said.
Aaron Ontiveroz/Associated Press file photo