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Thursday, October 24, 2013
Broncos-Redskins matchup of the day

By Jeff Legwold

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos didn’t really need any reminders this week about the importance of protecting quarterback Peyton Manning. But Wednesday they got one anyway.

That's when Manning was held out of his first practice since he signed with the Broncos in March of 2012 because of a sore ankle, an injury that was the result of the punishment Manning took in Indianapolis on Sunday night. Manning had been sacked just five times in the Broncos first six games combined -- he was not sacked in three of those games -- but the Colts got him four times and hit him several other times just after Manning got the ball away.

“It’s a physical game out there and I don’t know who in their 16th year feels 100 percent at any point,’’ Manning said. “But I’ve been hit a lot, I’ve taken big hits. That’s part of playing football -- getting up, getting back in the game. There’s an opportunity right there in front of you on that next series to get back in and go play. That’s what I’ve always tried to do.’’

The Colts, especially Robert Mathis, the NFL’s sack leader, repeatedly had success as they attacked the edges of the Broncos formation where Chris Clark is already playing for Ryan Clady, who is on injured reserve, at left tackle and Louis Vasquez had moved out to right tackle from right guard to cover for the injured Orlando Franklin.

Franklin (ankle) did not practice Wednesday and is going to have to improve significantly over the next few days to play against the Redskins. He has just started doing some additional work with the team’s strength and conditioning staff during practice so it’s still a big jump from that to be game ready. But there were several moments Sunday night when Clark and Vasquez had awkward pass sets and surrendered the edges, which put Manning in harm's way.

Manning was hit by Mathis that resulted in a fumble and a safety, hit again on his interception and hit another time when a pass was tipped and ended up being underthrown to Demaryius Thomas up the sideline.

Like the Colts, the Redskins work out of a 3-4 look on defense, and have productive players in the primary rush positions in outside linebackers Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo. Orakpo has only recently started to round into form after working through an early-season injury as well as coming back from a torn pectoral that caused him to miss all but two games last season.

Orakpo had suffered a similar injury in 2011. But with his return opposing offenses have been unable to send the help to the player across from the hard-nosed Kerrigan. The Broncos may need to pump things up in their protection looks by playing a little more two-tight end looks.

The Redskins also try to often cross quarterbacks up by playing a three-cornerback, one-safety look in the secondary to disguise which player is acting like the second safety in the formation. It may be difficult to play that against the Broncos because of Denver’s no-huddle look and the fact the Redskins won’t want to get caught in the defense in certain down-and-distance situations.

But all in all, the Broncos need to keep Manning clean to get back on track.