NFL Nation: Peyton Manning

CINCINNATI -- If Peyton Manning ends up playing for the Denver Broncos on Monday night, the Cincinnati Bengals could be without one of their best weapons for combating him.

Lamur
Lamur
Although he practiced Saturday morning for the first time this week, linebacker Emmanuel Lamur was listed later in the day as doubtful on the Bengals' final injury report of the week.

He could be a game-time decision.

"He's made a lot of progress," coach Marvin Lewis said. "With the extra day this week, obviously that helps a lot."

Lamur had an extra day early in the week to rest his sore hamstring, and he will have time even early Monday to get it treated several hours before the game if need be.

"It wasn't real severe, and we shut him down right away," Lewis said of the injury.

Lamur was run from last Sunday's 30-0 win against the Browns because of the issue.

If Lamur is ruled unable to play, the Bengals likely will use a combination of backups Marquis Flowers, Chris Carter and Nico Johnson at the "Sam" linebacker position he occupies in the base defense. When Cincinnati shifts into nickel packages as it likely will do often against the Broncos' multi-receiver and tight end sets, safety Taylor Mays likely will come off the bench and shift into Lamur's role as the cover linebacker. Despite playing the "Sam" in base, it has been Lamur's responsibility to defend tight ends in passing situations this season.

Last season, with Lamur out for the season, Mays moved down into a linebacker role. He was covering tight ends in a similar capacity before suffering his own season-ending shoulder injury in Week 8.

In addition to watching Lamur, eyes will be on Manning before Monday's game, too. After fighting through a thigh injury and an illness this week, the quarterback was listed as questionable on the Broncos' Saturday injury report.

Here is Cincinnati's full injury report*:

DOUBTFUL
WR James Wright (knee)
LB Lamur (hamstring)

QUESTIONABLE
QB AJ McCarron (illness)

PROBABLE
WR Brandon Tate (illness)
OL Mike Pollak (knee)
CB Dre Kirkpatrick (Achilles)
DE Carlos Dunlap (calf)
TE Jermaine Gresham (toe)
DE Margus Hunt (ankle)
CB Terence Newman (ankle)
OT Marshall Newhouse (illness)

Receiver A.J. Green was taken off the injury report. He's healthy after dealing with an illness this week.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Denver Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders was sent home Saturday from the team’s complex because he suffered from what head coach John Fox called "flu-like symptoms."

Sanders
Sanders did not participate in the team’s practice and was officially listed as questionable for Monday night’s game against the Bengals. However, Fox said Sanders will make the Sunday afternoon trip to Cincinnati with the Broncos and is expected to play in the game.

Sanders is the team’s second-leading receiver with 89 catches and 1,261 yards.

Quarterback Peyton Manning was limited in Saturday’s practice because of a right thigh injury he suffered in this past weekend's win against San Diego, and also listed as questionable. However, Manning, too, is expected to start. He threw in drills during the workout after participating in the team’s walk-through.

Other than when he missed the 2011 season following spinal-fusion surgery, Manning has not missed a start in his 16 other NFL seasons. Asked about Manning’s workload in Saturday’s practice, Fox said:

"(It was) fairly normal to the rest of the season ... He looked good in practice."

Manning also participated in the walk-through and threw in individual drills Friday. On Thursday, Manning participated in the Broncos’ walk-through, went through the team stretch and then went back into the Broncos’ complex to get treatment.

Manning, who played Sunday’s game with flu-like symptoms after getting four IVs Saturday night and Sunday morning combined, injured his thigh when he rolled out right to throw a 12-yard completion to Sanders with 5 minutes, 39 seconds remaining in the first half.

Manning stayed in the game for the next eight plays, but left the field following a C.J. Anderson run for no gain on a third-and-goal from the Chargers’ 1-yard line. Brock Osweiler finished out the first half before Manning played the entire second half.

Also Saturday, linebacker Brandon Marshall (left foot) and tackle Paul Cornick (toe on right foot) did not practice and will not play Monday night. Marshall is the Broncos’ leading tackler.

Running back Juwan Thompson (hip, knee), running back Ronnie Hillman (left foot), left tackle Ryan Clady (right thigh), and cornerback Kayvon Webster (right shoulder) were also limited in Saturday’s practice and officially listed as questionable for the game. Clady is expected to start at left tackle, and Thompson and Hillman are expected to be available to play.

Hillman has not played since he suffered his injury Nov. 9 against the Oakland Raiders.

Center Will Montgomery (knee) and tight end Jacob Tamme (ribs) participated fully Saturday and will play. Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (right ankle), Anderson (left ankle), and tight end Julius Thomas (left ankle) all took part fully in Saturday’s practice as well and will play.

Stop the run to stop Peyton Manning

December, 19, 2014
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CINCINNATI -- It's the most odd formula for beating a quarterback the caliber of the Denver Broncos' Peyton Manning, but it may be the Cincinnati Bengals' best hope for claiming a crucial 10th and playoff-clinching win.

The Bengals believe if they can stop the run and force Manning to pass, they will have a chance Monday night when the teams meet at Paul Brown Stadium.

An utterly absurd concept, right?

Maybe not.

"[That's] crazy to say with the quarterback they have," safety George Iloka said, "but you don't want them to have the running game and the passing game going."

It's all about forcing the Broncos into having a one-dimensional offense. If the Bengals can get the Broncos to pick an aspect of the game to lean on early, it could bode well for the home team by the end of the night.

With the way things have been going of late for Denver, it makes sense the Bengals would want to make the Broncos rely on their passing attack -- as bizarre as that might sound. One reason why? Because, across the past three games, Manning hasn't passed as well as he did in the first 11.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Manning has averaged 15.7 fewer passing attempts in the past three games than in the first 11. He also has thrown for 128.5 yards per game less in the past three weeks than he had at earlier points this season.

Manning's accuracy has been an issue, too, particularly overthrows and under-throws. Per Stats & Information, his off-target passing percentage skyrocketed in recent weeks from 16 percent across the first 11 games to 27 percent in the past three. That accounts for the second-worst off-target passing percentage in the league across that stretch. Only Colin Kaepernick's 33 percent is worse.

The veteran quarterback also has had problems inside the opposing 20. After leading the league in red-zone completion percentage, touchdown passes and total QBR in his first 11 games, he ranks outside the top-20 qualified signal-callers in those same categories the past three games.

Inside the red zone, his completion percentage has nosedived from 77.8 percent the first 11 games to 42.1 percent in the last three. Also, after averaging two red-zone touchdowns a game in the first 11, Manning has averaged just 0.3 in the last three. Part of those drop-offs could be attributed to tight end Julius Thomas missing three games due to an ankle injury and getting used in a limited capacity last week against San Diego.

While the Broncos' passing numbers have gone down, their rushing numbers have soared. Since Week 12, they lead the league in rushes (148) and rushing yards (659). Running back C.J. Anderson has been the ground game's spark, gaining more than 160 yards in two of the four games in that stretch. That's yet another compelling reason why the Bengals must focus on shutting down the run early.

"You stop the run in November and December, it puts your team in a good position," Iloka said.

Hey, it did work last week against the Browns. After rushing 52 times in a 21-point win over the Bengals in November, Cleveland could only muster 53 yards on 17 carries in last week's 30-0 Cincinnati win. The game plan: stop the run to stop Johnny Manziel.

Do the same thing this week, and maybe, just maybe, the Bengals can beat Manning for the first time in his career.

Broncos vs. Bengals preview

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
8:00
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When: 8:30 p.m. ET Monday Where: Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati TV: ESPN

Peyton Manning is good. Under the lights, the Cincinnati Bengals are not.

But if the Bengals have plans of joining the Denver Broncos as a playoff-bound team, they will have to overcome the future Hall of Fame quarterback and put to rest their atrocious recent prime-time showing.

Since 2011, the year Andy Dalton became its starting quarterback, Cincinnati is 2-9 in nationally televised playoff games and night games on Monday, Thursday and Sunday nights.

Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold and Bengals reporter Coley Harvey are here to preview this week's "Monday Night Football" game:

Harvey: Manning is 8-0 against the Bengals, including a 3-0 mark against them in December. He has thrown 10 touchdowns and no interceptions against them in December. For the Bengals to have any hope of stopping him, what are two things their defense must do?

Legwold: As an opposing defensive coach told me this season, "I don't know why anybody needs to list the stats for him; let's just assume they're good against everybody and go from there." Manning has won at least eight games against 10 different teams in his career. And defensively, the formula is not complicated, yet difficult to do. Defenses who succeed against him generally create some kind of consistent pressure in the middle of the field -- they win the A gaps -- keeping him from setting his feet, and they don't give him room to climb the pocket to step into his throws. Those defenses also limit the Broncos' ability to use their variety of crossing routes. They play physically against the Broncos' receivers and limit yards after the catch because they tackle well. Not rocket science, but difficult to do because the Broncos are creative in play design. Manning delivers the ball quickly and consistently makes defenses pay for sending extra rushers (game video shows Manning had five completions this past weekend against the Chargers' blitz for 111 yards and a touchdown). So, a defense has to get all of that done largely by rushing four players, and it can't miss assignments behind that rush.

Defending a rookie in his first NFL start is one thing, and the Bengals did well in a 30-0 win against the Cleveland Browns with Johnny Manziel behind center last week, but how do you expect them to defend Manning?

Harvey: You just summed it up perfectly, Leggy. I'll add this. A defense can best stop Manning by sending a standard four-man rush and hope and pray the coverage downfield holds up. Last week, in fact, this was exactly what allowed the Bengals to bully Manziel. Only twice did they send blitzes on the mobile young quarterback. The rest of the time, they did exactly what you prescribed: They attacked the A gaps with great interior pressure from the line and forced Manziel to roll to his right. Obviously, Manning isn't rolling anywhere, but the Bengals have to hope Geno Atkins is up to pushing back the line the way he has finally started doing in recent weeks. With the Bengals also expected to use a lot of nickel defense to counter the Broncos' multi-receiver and tight end looks, don't be surprised if defensive end Wallace Gilberry goes inside to give some extra athleticism to the interior rush.

Jeff, it seems like over the past seven weeks, running back C.J. Anderson has exploded onto the scene for Denver. First, why did it take so long to get him involved in the run game, and second, what did Buffalo do so well to hold him in check two weeks ago?

Legwold: During the Broncos' offseason work, especially in minicamp, there was some thought around the team that Anderson's spot was pretty tenuous and that he might not make the roster because he had tried to bulk up a bit and looked sluggish. Anderson showed up to training camp leaner and looked far better, but Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman had already pushed their way in front of him. Anderson had routinely flashed in practice and in his limited game work, at least enough to stay in the mix, and when injuries forced the Broncos to hand him the ball, he showed patience and vision as a runner -- perhaps more than they thought he had -- and he almost always made the first defender miss or powered through the attempted tackle. If you're looking for a play that got everybody's attention, it was his 51-yard catch-and-run touchdown in Oakland when he made a one-handed grab on a screen pass -- a play Manning said he thought was "going to be a 1- or 2-yard loss" -- and five different Raiders had a chance to bring Anderson down and did not. In terms of Buffalo's plan, it was a sound group that was assignment-disciplined and tackled well; defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has faced Manning plenty over the years because of Schwartz's time with the Titans. The Bills came into the game against the Broncos leading the league in sacks, and they didn't sack Manning in the game. Anderson did pound the ball into the end zone three times, but his 2.8 yards per carry were the lowest since he became starter.

The Bengals are one of six teams averaging more than 30 rushing attempts per game this season; the Broncos are No. 2 in run defense. Do you think the Bengals will still try to pound away some to limit the Broncos' possessions, or because they believe they will be able to make some running room?

Harvey: One of the Bengals' most recent additions is NFL Players Association president Eric Winston, an offensive tackle who, before coming to Cincinnati three weeks ago, spent six seasons with the Texans and one with the Chiefs. He had an up-close look at Manning twice a season during the Texans' AFC South games when the quarterback still played for the Colts, and saw him twice in Kansas City in 2012. This week, Winston said those teams' mindset against Manning always involved running. So yes, I believe the run should, and will, be the Bengals' approach. Besides, Jeremy Hill has been running well in the past six weeks, topping 140 yards three times in that span. His hard running and guard Kevin Zeitler's constant pulling made for a nightmare day for Cleveland's defense. Also, I noticed that of the four times this season when teams have run 25 or more times against Denver, they beat the Broncos three times. To me, Cincinnati's best hope of winning is to run well, run often, get a late lead, and play keep-away from Manning.

Jeff, I'm sure the Broncos' many pass-rushers will be hounding Dalton all night, but why has Denver's front seven been so good against the run?

Legwold: Defensive tackle Terrance Knighton is -- even nationally, perhaps -- an undervalued player when it comes to what he means to the Broncos' run defense. He's disruptive, ties up blockers and doesn't get turned in the hole. He stays square and takes away run lanes. The Broncos also have plenty of team speed across the front and pursue the ball well. Even their pass-rushers, like DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller, are disciplined in their run fits. Ware especially has shown himself to be reliable in how he sets the edge, and as a result, offenses haven't been able to run the ball to the inside shoulders of Ware and Miller because they play with some vision as they move up the field. That wasn't always the case earlier in Miller's career, when offenses would catch him at times being a little too aggressive as he tried to get upfield. The Broncos have tackled well for the most part, too. They have helped themselves with good work on first down, as well. Offenses are routinely facing second-and-8 or third-and-7, and that takes those offenses out of any rhythm to run. For example, the Chargers ran the ball 10 times on first down last Sunday. Only one of the runs went for more than five yards -- an 11-yard run by Branden Oliver early in the fourth quarter -- and six went for three or fewer yards.

Few players take as much heat for their prime-time and/or postseason performance as Dalton. Is there significantly more pressure on him in this one given it is the "Monday Night Football" regular-season finale and the Bengals need the win to keep the inside track for a shot at the division title?

Harvey: It's more of the latter, Jeff. The pressure will be raised on Dalton this week because the Bengals simply have to get it done. Though there is an outside shot they will sneak into the playoffs as an AFC wild card if they lose the next two games, they would do themselves so many favors if they won at least one. The finale at Pittsburgh next week won't be a cakewalk, either. The heat Dalton has taken is real and deserved. It seems like he's mostly great at 1 p.m. on Sunday afternoons. But turn on the lights and he's not. From a personal standpoint, Dalton wants to make up for his last nationally televised outing. The Bengals lost to Cleveland 24-3 in a Thursday night game last month in which Dalton registered a 2.0 passer rating.

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- When defensive tackle Terrance Knighton offered his quasi-promise -- his "we won't be satisfied" belief -- that the Denver Broncos would win the Super Bowl, it raised the expected hackles in the social media world.

It certainly got the expected venom from the New England Patriots' faithful, some of it directed toward Knighton himself, who saw their team defeat the Broncos 43-21, on Nov. 2 in Foxborough, Massachusetts.

It even drew the "we'll do our talking on the field" quote from Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. The one place it hasn't registered all that much on the football Richter scale is in the Broncos' locker room.

"[Knighton] is a grown man, [Coach John Fox] talked to him a little bit, I guess, talked to the team a little bit," said cornerback Aqib Talib, who played just under two seasons in New England before he signed with the Broncos this past March. " ... If that's how he was feeling when the question was asked, that's how he was feeling when the question was asked ... everybody in the league, it ain't no secret, he just said it, but everybody in the league is thinking it. He was just the one who said it. It ain't no big deal to us."

"I think Terrance has got a lot of confidence, I think that's a good quality about him," said quarterback Peyton Manning.

Following Sunday's win over the San Diego Chargers that clinched Denver's fourth consecutive AFC West title, Knighton was asked about the team's postseason potential. He then told Denver Post columnist Mark Kiszla:
It doesn't matter what happens. At the end of the year, we're hoisting that trophy. I don't care if New England doesn't lose again. I don't care where we have to play. I don't care who our opponent is. We're not going to be satisfied until we hoist that trophy. So if we've got to go to New England [in the playoffs] and win somewhere we're not used to winning, we're going to make it happen. Write that. And put a big period after that one.

Following Thursday's practice Fox, much like he did earlier in the week, chose to simply deflect Super Bowl talk. The Broncos, from John Elway on down, have said since the start of the offseason program they wanted another shot at the title game after the blowout loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII last February.

Many players have said anything less than a Super Bowl win this time around would be a major disappointment. A theme many Broncos players believe has been expressed in many other NFL outposts, so Knighton's teammates haven't seen what much of the fuss is about.

Fox simply deflected away from the topic following Thursday's practice with: "I think there is no doubt we've had a lot of goals this season and right now our goal is to focus on Cincinnati."

And Knighton? Well, he's treated this like he does run defense much of the time, as in he has dug in and is not being pushed off his spot. After practice Thursday, Knighton, a Connecticut native who has repeatedly said he was a Patriots fan growing up and that many of his family members are still Patriots' fans, was still feeling good about the Broncos' chances.

"I feel like our defense right now is playing the best of any defense right now in the NFL," Knighton said. "And we want to carry this team to a Super Bowl victory. I stand by what I said, I don't care who we play, where we play, put the ball down and we're going to come out with a victory."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning participated in Thursday's practice on a limited basis, then left the field for the bulk of the main practice in order to get some treatment on a right thigh injury he suffered late in the first half of Sunday’s victory over the San Diego Chargers.

Manning took part in the team’s walk-through and team stretch, then returned to the locker room once the main practice began. After taking most Wednesdays off in the second half of the 2013 season, this was the first time Manning had left the practice field this season.

Manning
The 38-year-old is expected to practice Friday and was walking without a limp when he left the field to go to the locker room as well as following practice. Because the Broncos play on Monday night in Cincinnati, the players did not practice on Tuesday or Wednesday, so Thursday’s practice mirrored what the team would have normally done on a Wednesday.

“He’s day-to-day," said Broncos head coach John Fox, who is routinely reticent on any injury. “Tomorrow’s a new day, we’ll keep you posted."

Manning, who played Sunday’s game with flu-like symptoms and received four IVs on Saturday night and Sunday morning, injured his thigh when he rolled out right to throw a 12-yard completion to wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders with 5 minutes, 39 seconds remaining in the second quarter.

He stayed in the game for the next eight plays, but left the field following a C.J. Anderson run for no gain on a third-and-goal from the Chargers’ 1-yard line. Brock Osweiler finished out the first half; Manning played the entire second half.

“I feel OK," Manning said following practice. Asked if he would be ready to play Monday night, Manning said; “I certainly hope so."

Manning also said after practice that his illness was behind him and he was simply receiving treatment on his leg at the moment to go with his usual work with the strength and conditioning staff, which Manning does each week to prepare for games since he returned from spinal fusion surgery that kept him out the entire 2011 season. And because he's always ready with a quip, Manning gave a nod to New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick when Manning answered a smattering of questions with "we're on the Cincinnati."

Also Thursday, linebacker Brandon Marshall (left foot), tackle Paul Cornick (toe on right foot) and running back Juwan Thompson (hip, knee) were also held out of practice.

Running back Ronnie Hillman (left foot), who has missed the last five games, took part on a limited basis Thursday as the Broncos continue to hope he will soon be ready for some situational work in the offense.

Left tackle Ryan Clady (right thigh), center Will Montgomery (knee), tight end Jacob Tamme (ribs) and cornerback Kayvon Webster (right shoulder) all participated Thursday on a limited basis. Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (right ankle) and tight end Julius Thomas (left ankle) took part fully in the practice.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The question came up on our MVP roundtable debate, which can be found here: Will the timing of Aaron Rodgers' bad game -- one he called a "stinker" -- last Sunday in the road loss against the Buffalo Bills hurt his MVP chances?

Rodgers
Apparently not much, at least according to one oddsmaker.

The online sportsbook Bovada.LV still has Rodgers as the favorite. Two weeks ago, the same sportsbook listed Rodgers as a 1-to-2 favorite to win the MVP. This week, Rodgers was listed at 1-to-3. Tom Brady (5/1) was listed second with J.J Watt (7/1) third.

Here are the full odds for MVP this week (with the odds two weeks ago in parenthesis)

QB snapshot: Peyton Manning

December, 16, 2014
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A quick observation of quarterback Peyton Manning and how he played in the Broncos’ 22-10 victory in Week 15:

Manning
For the second game in a row Manning was 14-of-20 passing in a Broncos win, this time for 233 yards and a touchdown against the San Diego Chargers on Sunday.

In the last three Broncos wins Manning has completed 17, 14 and 14 passes as the team has tried to balance out the offense a little bit with the postseason approaching. Sunday, Manning was also ill, having had, he said, four IVs Saturday night and Sunday morning combined just to try to play against the Chargers.

So things were a bit of a struggle for him, as well as a thigh injury just before halftime he attributed to being dehydrated. In the end, the Broncos might have thrown a little more on a postcard kind of day if Manning had felt a little better.

But overall there is a reason his completion totals of late have raised some eyebrows around the league, as the Broncos have tried to adjust to defenses doing everything possible to take away the middle of the field.

Denver is trying to give Manning more options. But his 28 combined completions in Weeks 14 and 15 mark Manning's lowest total in consecutive games he has started and finished since Weeks 12 (15) and 13 (13) in 2005. His recent three-game total of 45 completions is the lowest of his career (in games he started and finished); Manning's previous low was 50 in 1998 -- his rookie season.

As Manning said, he’s "comfortable with winning," however the Broncos do it. This recent trend also indicates defenses are going to have to adjust by moving a player or two out of coverage. That’s when the Broncos believe they will be ready to crank things up in the passing game once again.
SAN DIEGO -- It was close, as in rough night, bad morning, caught some kind of renegade germ close.

But Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning said following the team’s 22-10 victory over the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium, that he had to think long and hard about playing on Sunday.

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
AP Photo/Denis PoroyPeyton Manning made his 46th straight start for the Broncos despite falling ill on Saturday night.
"I had a rough night, I’m not gonna lie," Manning said. "It was not an enjoyable night. I don’t know what happened, it just kind of came out of nowhere. ... Obviously, you can play just to play, to be out there to start.

“I take a pretty honest assessment of myself, can I perform? Am I going to hurt the team? I have zero selfishness when it comes to I have to be out there. ... I was counting on [offensive coordinator Adam] Gase, [head coach John] Fox to look at me, evaluate me, kind of tell me what they thought as well."

Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders said the Broncos knew it was something out of the ordinary when Manning did not attend the usual night-before-game meetings at the team’s downtown hotel. Manning said he was meeting with Gase, about 6:30 p.m. locally, when he began to feel ill and his condition worsened as the night wore on.

Manning said between Saturday night and Sunday before the game he had four IVs. But Manning said he became dehydrated in the first half and attributed that to a thigh injury he suffered before halftime. The quarterback felt enough discomfort that he went to the locker room with just under two minutes remaining in the half.

Brock Osweiler played the Broncos’ last four snaps of the half. Osweiler said he was told to warm up after halftime as if he would play in the second half, but Manning came jogging out of the tunnel, helmet on, and played the rest of the way.

"Adam was kind of evaluating me this morning, how I looked, how I felt," Manning said. "I kind of thought I would feel better throughout the day. Then my leg injury wasn’t really part of the plan. I have to believe it was related to the symptoms last night, being dehydrated, if I had to guess."

Other than the 2011 season, when he missed every game following his fourth neck surgery, Manning has never missed a start. Sunday was his 254th career regular-season start, including his 46th consecutive since signing with the Broncos in 2012. His teammates will tell you that streak looked in jeopardy before kickoff.

"We knew it wasn’t just something small," Sanders said. "It wasn’t like him, how he was before the game."

Manning still kept his sense of humor when asked if he believed in flu shots.

"I had one this year -- Broncos supply those for no charge, I think," Manning said. "I believe in them."

Rapid Reaction: Denver Broncos

December, 14, 2014
Dec 14
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SAN DIEGO -- A few thoughts from the Denver Broncos' 22-10 victory over the San Diego Chargers in Qualcomm Stadium.

What it means: For the first time in franchise history, the Broncos have won four consecutive AFC West titles. The victory also clinched the playoff spot that comes with the division title and keeps the Broncos, at 11-3, on the inside track for a playoff bye. The victory also gives the Broncos season sweeps over the Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs. The Broncos have just one AFC West game remaining, against the Oakland Raiders, in Denver in the regular-season finale.

Stock watch: The Broncos continue to show they have the patience to play a run-first game and C.J. Anderson continues to show he has the mentality and physical strength to be the lug-it guy. Anderson, who missed some practice time this past week because of a left ankle injury, didn’t have any double-take runs against the Chargers' defense. Bu with quarterback Peyton Manning feeling ill before the game and leaving the lineup late in the first half because of a thigh injury, Anderson continued to grind away on a day when the Broncos needed him to grind away.

Depth tested on defense: Just when the Broncos thought they would finally have their defense back at full strength with Danny Trevathan back in the lineup, their depth chart was tested again. Linebacker Brandon Marshall, the Broncos' leading tackler, left the game late in the first half with a foot injury and did not return. That put Trevathan, who was playing in his first game since the Broncos’ victory against the New York Jets in October, back in the base defense. The Broncos had hoped to play Trevathan in the specialty packages in his first game back. Todd Davis, a player the Broncos claimed off waivers last month, was in both the base defense and the nickel after Marshall’s injury.

Game ball: With Manning not 100 percent physically, left tackle Ryan Clady out of the game with a thigh injury and the Chargers doing their best to slow the Broncos’ passing game, wide receiver Demaryius Thomas found a way to shake himself loose over and over again. By the time he scored on a 28-yard touchdown reception late in the third quarter, he had his eighth 100-yard game of the season, which tied him with Rod Smith for the most 100-yard games in a season in franchise history.

What’s next: The Broncos find themselves tied with the New England Patriots with an 11-3 record, but a game behind the Patriots in the race for home-field advantage because of a head-to-head loss on Nov. 2. So a trip to face the Cincinnati Bengals on Dec. 22 in the "Monday Night Football" finale could be a must-win for the Broncos to have a chance at home-field advantage or a postseason bye week.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- With his 51-game touchdown streak having ended in the Denver Broncos' win over the Buffalo Bills this past Sunday, and with Peyton Manning having finished each of the last two games with fewer than 180 yards passing, some have wondered if Manning is healthy.

Manning
Wednesday, Manning said he’s healthy and the Broncos’ offense is simply trying to win games.

“I’m always trying to play better," Manning said. “We always watch the film of the games pretty critically with my coaches, trying to improve, whether we won the game or lost the game, trying to see how I can do my job better in whatever phase that is. I feel good physically, (but) certainly I’m always looking to play better."

Manning has thrown for 179 yards and 173 yards, respectively, in back-to-back victories over the Kansas City Chiefs and Bills. He has thrown eight interceptions in the last six games, and at age 38 with four neck surgeries on his medical resume, some among the Broncos’ faithful wonder if things are OK with the quarterback.

It all comes as the Broncos have, following a loss in St. Louis when they ran the ball just 10 times, tried to add a little more muscle to the offense as they point toward the postseason. Denver has run the ball 109 times over the last three games, all wins.

Manning said Wednesday whether the Broncos run the ball or pass the ball, whether he lines up in the shotgun or under center, it’s all done to try to find the best way to attack the defense in front of him.

“We’re certainly doing some things on offense as we try to evolve always," Manning said. “Try to find plays that we feel are good, that are going to work for us, and I think those are good plays."

Manning also reiterated, as he said last week, that he feels better physically this season than he did at the same point in 2013, even as the Broncos were headed toward a single-season-record 606 points and he was on pace to throw for a single-season-record 55 touchdowns passes.

Manning, who is currently tied for the league lead in touchdown passes with 36, has not missed a practice this season. Last season he took several Wednesdays off after suffering injuries to both ankles against the Jacksonville Jaguars and then aggravating the injuries against the Indianapolis Colts.

“I feel pretty good. Last year I missed five or six weeks of Wednesday practices in a row," Manning said. “So, the fact I’m able to be out there, so certainly I see that as a positive. I feel pretty good."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- OK, I’ve heard the rumblings in the checkout line, read a vast array of timelines on Twitter, heard the chatter on the airwaves about the Denver Broncos.

And with a football-mad region seemingly poised over the panic button, a look at some of the Broncos' issues that have folks buzzing.

Panic: Quarterback Peyton Manning has thrown eight interceptions in the past six games, he’s had fewer than 180 passing yards in the past two and has plenty in Football America wondering if fatigue is setting in with his storied right arm.

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
Kyle Terada/USA TODAY SportsPeyton Manning handing the ball off to a running back is starting to become a familiar sight to Denver fans.
Don't panic: Three games ago he threw four touchdown passes against the Miami Dolphins, five games ago he threw five touchdown passes against the Oakland Raiders. The Broncos are 10-3, No. 5 in the league in scoring while Manning is tied for the league lead in touchdown passes and 90 yards away from his 14th 4,000-yard passing season. And he’s done that as he and the San Diego Chargers’ Philip Rivers are the only quarterbacks in the league to have faced seven teams this season currently in the league’s top 10 in scoring defense.

Panic: Manning doesn’t like the team’s run-heavy approach over the past three games and the team was built to do something on offense that isn’t anything close to a run-first approach.

Don't panic: Manning does indeed have the last word on every play. He can call an audible from any play to any play in the team’s playbook. If the Broncos have a run-heavy approach, it’s a good bet Manning checked out of several plays to make them run plays. Now, he does often talk about the number of possessions the Broncos have in a game and executing in the passing game, but he’s 38, a Hall of Fame player in search of Super Bowl trips. You have to believe a player so well-versed in defensive game plans to see when the choice to run the ball is a clear one.

Panic: Julius Thomas is hurt, has missed three games. Demaryius Thomas is hurting with a bad ankle. Wes Welker has had games this season where he appears to be an afterthought who can’t shake the defensive back across from him. And the Broncos are currently using the running backs who were No. 3 and No. 4 on the depth chart when the season opened.

Don't panic: Though he didn’t take a snap Sunday against the Bills, Julius Thomas was in uniform. The Broncos obviously believe he’s close to being ready. Defenses have taken advantage of his absence, loading up the middle of the field to keep the Broncos from their favorite catch-and-run plays on crossing routes. But if the Broncos can keep running the ball with effectiveness and Thomas is again pulling a defender, or two, in tow in coverage, suddenly some additional passing lanes will open. With Julius Thomas in the lineup, Demaryius Thomas had seven consecutive 100-yard games, none in the games Julius Thomas has missed. All the pieces fit together and with Welker’s 82 yards receiving Sunday -- a season best for him – those pieces are closer to fitting together as intended for the first time since Julius Thomas left the Rams game.

Panic: The Broncos' revamped defense is 16th in the league in scoring defense -- 22.5 points allowed per game and behind the playoff heavyweights like the Seattle Seahawks (18.1 per game) and New England Patriots (20.5 per game). Kyle Orton went 12-of-13 passing on third down against the Broncos for 132 yards on those plays. And of the 12 teams, Broncos included, which have surrendered at least 92 fourth-quarter points this season (Broncos are at 92), five are among the league’s worst like the Titans (103 fourth-quarter points allowed), Redskins (103 allowed) and Jaguars (100 allowed).

Don’t panic: The Green Bay Packers are kindered spirits. The Packers (10-3) are 18th in scoring defense (23.4 points allowed per game) and have surrendered 100 fourth-quarter points. They, like the Broncos, play with the lead a lot and both have surrendered some late make-it-closer touchdowns. The Broncos are No. 4 in sacks, No. 2 in run defense and tied for No. 9 in interceptions. The unit is deeper and faster overall than they were last season and linebacker Danny Trevathan, the team’s leading tackler in 2013 who has played in just two games this season, is eligible to return to the lineup this week.

QB snapshot: Peyton Manning

December, 9, 2014
Dec 9
1:00
PM ET
A quick observation of quarterback Peyton Manning and how he played in the Broncos’ 24-17 win over the Buffalo Bills in Week 14:

Manning
Bills defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz joined the club this past Sunday. Schwartz, in his time as Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator, has seen Manning plenty through the years and had almost exclusively played two deep safeties against Manning.

The thinking was limit the big play down the field, especially down the hashmarks, make Manning chip away underneath and then squeeze down on yards after the catch with good tackling.

But this season, defenses such as the New England Patriots’ and the St. Louis Rams’ have used plenty of looks with a single safety deep to put yet another player down in the middle of the formation in the intermediate routes against the Broncos. And Schwartz, having worked for Bill Belichick in Cleveland and Jeff Fisher in Tennessee, used some of the same look on Sunday.

The result was the Bills clogged the area between the numbers and limited the Broncos’ bevy of crossing routes. They wanted to make Manning push the ball outside the numbers, throws that are, at times, more difficult for him to make post-spinal fusion surgery.

The result was a 14-of-20 passing day for 173 yards -- season lows in completions, attempts and yards -- and Manning was held without a touchdown pass for the first time since Nov. 14, 2010. Manning also threw two interceptions in a game for the fourth time in the last six games, a stretch that began against New England last month.

Manning is still tied for the league lead in touchdown passes (36) and needs just 90 yards for his 14th 4,000-yard passing season, but he will have to find an answer to this latest adjustment defenses have made against him. Once Julius Thomas gets back into the lineup, that will help Manning's cause, but it's clear defenses believe that if they commit their resources to keep the Broncos out of the middle of the field, their chances of slowing down Manning increase plenty.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Perhaps it is the sign of the times, the pervasiveness of social media, fantasy football or simply all of the above.

[+] EnlargeManning
Steve Nehf/Getty ImagesWhile Peyton Manning's passing numbers have dipped over the past two games, Broncos head coach John Fox stands by the assertion that there's nothing wrong with Denver's passing game.
But the Denver Broncos have a quarterback in Peyton Manning who is currently tied for the league lead in touchdown passes (36) and a tight end in Julius Thomas who is the league leader in touchdown receptions (12) despite missing the past three games. They have won 10 games, have a three-game winning streak and are No. 5 in the league in scoring. And on Monday, Broncos head coach John Fox still answered a question about concerns with the team's passing attack over the past three games -- all Broncos wins -- with this:

"Our passing game is fine, you never know we might put our foot on the gas and throw it 50 times," Fox said. "I can't really predict what's going to happen because a lot of it is based on what an opponent does. ...There is nothing wrong with our passing game, we've just run it a little bit more the past few weeks. Just like there was nothing wrong with our run game ... when people were blowing fuses on that."

Fox also said:

"Let me just say, I can't think of another quarterback I'd rather have than Peyton Manning," Fox said. "I would remind everybody whether it's two weeks, three weeks, at the end of the day we're not done with our body of work yet. We're just trying to win games. We've been blessed to win three in a row. We're going to lean on whatever we have to lean on and be efficient at both. Unless something else is created you're either running it or you're throwing it."

The Broncos (10-3) have played seven games against teams currently ranked among the league's top 10 in scoring defense. And while the Broncos are also 5-2 in those games, those defenses have effectively loaded the middle of the field against Manning and the Broncos' passing game, haven't sent extra rushers at Manning all that often and taken the go-ahead-and-run-it approach.

Three of those seven teams -- New England, Arizona and Buffalo -- have also each intercepted Manning twice along the way.

Toss in a stunning loss to the St. Louis Rams when the Broncos ran just 10 times, one of those a kneel-down by Manning just before halftime, and the Broncos' concerted effort to find more of a running game before the postseason begins as well as the entire stew of events and injuries in recent weeks have all impacted Manning and the offense's numbers. Julius Thomas hasn't played in the past three games because of a left ankle injury and Demaryius Thomas played in Sunday's win against the Bills with an injured right ankle that had been stepped on by a teammate during last Wednesday's practice.

Two players who have been the team's No. 1 running backs at different points this season -- Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman -- have missed the past three and four games respectively.

Granted, folks aren't used to seeing Manning held for fewer than 180 yards passing in consecutive games -- he had 179 yards in the win against Kansas City and 173 in the win against the Bills on Sunday. It's the first time that's happened since he had 192 and 95 yards passing in the last two games of the 2008 regular season when the Indianapolis Colts had their playoff seed wrapped up.

Sunday was also the first time Manning had not thrown a touchdown pass in a regular-season game since Nov. 14, 2010, against the Cincinnati Bengals. So the questions about Manning's age (38), his arm strength late in the season in the post-spinal-fusion part of his career and the Broncos' general reliance on Manning in putting up historical numbers in the offense over the past three seasons all swirl around the Broncos' past three wins.

"But I think you do whatever is necessary to win the game," said wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. "I'm pretty sure a lot of teams would want to be where we are. ...And Peyton? Peyton can get our offense in the right play every time and everybody knows what he can do throwing the football."

Sunday, in a key AFC West showdown against the Chargers in San Diego, will be another test for the Broncos. Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano has traditionally been more aggressive than most rushing Manning with a variety of defensive looks. Manning, however, has topped 300 yards in his two previous visits to San Diego since he signed with the Broncos in 2012.

"We're going to do what's necessary to win football games, it just so happens over the last few weeks, we've leaned a little more on one side," Fox said. "But as long as it's effective that's what helps you win games."

Rapid Reaction: Denver Broncos

December, 7, 2014
Dec 7
7:40
PM ET

DENVER -- A few thoughts on the Denver Broncos' 24-17 win Sunday over the Buffalo Bills at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

What it means: Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning had all of nine pass attempts in the first half and just 14 passes for the game. Still, the Broncos remained in control right from running back C.J. Anderson's second touchdown of the game with 3:26 left in the first half. They did it with defensive muscle and a run game fueled by Anderson and Juwan Thompson.

Stock watch: It would be difficult to say cornerback Chris Harris Jr. could raise his game from what he had been doing coming in, but he did just that against the Bills. Quarterbacks have shied away from him for the most part, but Buffalo's Kyle Orton tried to test Harris in the red zone, and he came away with an interception in the third quarter. Harris added a sack in the fourth.

Testing, testing: Cornerback Bradley Roby has been up to the task for much of the season, even as opposing quarterbacks occasionally kick the tires to see if he can hold up to the attention. But the Bills had obviously made the decision to target the rookie over and over, especially in the second half. On one fourth-quarter drive alone, Orton had completions to Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods on back-to-back attempts to go with a touchdown to tight end Scott Chandler that was negated by a penalty -- all with Roby in coverage. On a 35-yard Orton-to-Watkins completion in the third quarter, Roby had quality position but didn't turn to locate the ball as Watkins raised his hands to make the reception.

Game ball: Anderson didn't crack the 160-yard barrier for the third consecutive week, against a defense that hoped to make life difficult up front for the Broncos. But he did once again power an offense that needs other options to move the ball and score points as they begin the stretch drive. On a sore left ankle -- he played the second half with it heavily taped -- Anderson scored three rushing touchdowns.

What's next: Now 10-3, the Broncos win their fourth consecutive division title if they defeat the Chargers in San Diego on Sunday. The Broncos have a win in hand against the San Diego Chargers -- 35-21 on Oct. 23 in Denver -- and a win Sunday would make them 5-0 in division games with only the season finale, at home against the Oakland Raiders, remaining against AFC West teams.

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