- Jeff Legwold, ESPN Staff Writer
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This just in: Peyton Manning's arm is just fine. Manning is in his 16th season and he often talks about how he’s a different player after his neck surgeries than he was before them. It was no small thing for him to come back from a missed 2011 season. But since his return to the field last season, questions about his arm strength have taken on a life of their own. That was especially true after he seemed to struggle with his grip in the frigid playoff loss to the Ravens last January. Even Thursday night as the Broncos were knocking off the rust in the first half, there were plenty of missives about what it looked like Manning couldn’t do. Bottom line: At 37 years old, the guy just tied an NFL single-game record with seven touchdown passes -- something nobody else has done since 1969, even in these pass-happy times. In short, he can throw it however he needs to throw it. Does he throw with the raw velocity he had as a 24-year-old? Probably not, but it doesn’t matter. You don’t need a hammer if you’re a surgeon.
The Broncos will need more than 2.8 yards per carry in the run game -- you know it, they know it and the American people now know it after Thursday night’s nationally televised affair. The best way to protect Manning from opposing pass-rushers will always be the Broncos' ability to use play-action and to pound the ball when they want to close things out. And if you can't run the ball, nobody is going to spend much time being fooled by play-action, and, really, there's no reason Manning should still be taking drop-backs up 22 points with a few minutes to play, but he had to because the Broncos couldn't get a first down if he didn't.
It’s never too early to crank up the hysteria in Denver. The Broncos, amid a three-decade sellout streak, have always been this region’s sports gemstone. But they're a team that hasn’t always handled success very well in recent years, and now they'll have plenty of verbal rose petals tossed at them. After an offseason filled with bad decisions and statement after statement from team officials that included “the Broncos are aware of the incident," their organizational composure will be tested in the coming weeks.
It remains to be seen if this defense can dig in and slug it out deep into a close game, especially without Von Miller in the lineup until Oct. 20. They had their defensive difficulties deep into the second quarter Thursday night. It's easy to forget that the Ravens led 17-14 at the half and Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco’s jersey looked like it still had creases in it. Until Miller’s return, they have to generate something more from the front seven in the pass rush, especially if teams go big and the Broncos have to rush out of their base 4-3 package.