ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning has only been sacked a league-low five times. This is happening despite All-Pro left tackle Ryan Clady being on injured reserve, a center who never started an NFL game at the position until this season, and playing out of a wide-open, three-wide receiver look most of the time.
It is all a combination of how the offensive line has played, including Manny Ramirez at center as well as Clady’s replacement, Chris Clark. But it is also because the Broncos keep opposing defenses off balance with both Adam Gase's play-calling and Manning’s ability to draw defensive players offside and keep them from settling in up front.
“You’ll see the defense not set on the field,’’ said Jaguars coach Gus Bradley.
Already this season opposing defenses have been flagged twice for offside, five times for neutral zone infractions and three times for encroachment.
Manning has also gotten rid of the ball quickly so far, on his way to 20 touchdowns and a 75.8 percent completion rate. In fact, according to ESPN’s Stats and Information, Manning is the fastest quarterback in the league this season. He is averaging 2.8 seconds before releasing a pass -- Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford and the Chargers’ Philip Rivers, are both average 2.9 seconds. The Bengals’ Andy Dalton is next at three seconds.
“Peyton knows what he wants to do with the ball,’’ said Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey. “Those kind of guys are hard to get to because they already know where they’re going before the snap.’’
Cornerback Chris Harris was held out of Wednesday’s practice per the league’s concussion protocol. The policy reads if a player passes a cognitive test on Monday he can usually return to a full practice on Friday if he remains symptom free. Harris, who has started in place of Bailey thus far this season, wore his helmet during Wednesday’s practice, but while his teammates were in full gear for the practice – as is customary for Wednesday practice for the Broncos – Harris did not have any pads on. However, following practice Harris said he was not experiencing any symptoms. “It was just a hard hit,’’ Harris said. “ … But they take concussions really seriously as soon as they tell me, as soon as they get me cleared, I’ll be ready to go.’’ Harris said he remains confident he will play Sunday against the Jaguars. And with Bailey having practiced fully Wednesday for the first time since he suffered a left foot injury on Aug. 17, the Broncos could have their secondary at full strength for the first time this season.
The Jaguars struggles on offense have limited running back Maurice Jones-Drew’s impact thus far. Jones-Drew, who won the league’s rushing title in 2011, has rushed for just 208 yards this season on 2.8 yards per carry. But Broncos defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, who signed with the team in free agency after four seasons with the Jaguars, said Jones-Drew should still be on the Broncos' minds this week. “He can do everything as a back,’’ Knighton said. “He can block, he can run, he can catch out of the backfield, a smaller back, hides behind his blockers … a lot of people like to compare him to [the Saints’ Darren] Sproles, but [Jones-Drew] is a totally different back … more of a power back. If you try to peek and find him, he’ll find that gap and expose you.’’ The Jaguars have trailed in games for virtually the entire time they’ve been on the field this season, so Jones-Drew has had just two games with more than 15 carries – 19 in the loss to Seattle and 17 in the loss Sunday to St. Louis. His 70 yards rushing against the Rams were a season best. “He’s a tough guy to tackle,’’ said Broncos safety Rahim Moore. “He’s stout, he’s strong.’’
In case you may have missed it, the Broncos are a substantial favorite in Sunday’s game. And it would be hard to miss it given how much attention it's gotten already this week. At one point Wednesday, Broncos coach John Fox showed his weariness with it as well when he offered; “I think Gus Bradley has done a terrific job. I know they’re going to get sick and tired of hearing the same things I’m getting sick and tired of hearing.’’ Fox has also broken out a little piece of Broncos’ history to make his point to players this week as well. Fox was the Giants’ defensive coordinator when the 13-0 Broncos played in Giants Stadium in 1998. The Giants won the game, 20-16. “In ’98 we had a 15-0 (sic) Broncos team that was a 15-point favorite coming into Giants Stadium,’’ Fox said. “They left with a loss … [The Jaguars] have beaten us, I think, four out of the last five times we’ve played, the last three in a row. So, there’s nobody here taking anybody lightly.’’
Manning on point spreads: “It’s completely irrelevant to me.’’