Ravens pro­vided Su­per blueprint

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - MARK KISZLA Den­ver Post Colum­nist

Pey­tonMan­ning is Trent Dil­fer. All this fuss about who should start at quar­ter­back for the Bron­cos in the play­offs has been loud, out­ra­geous fun. But the de­bate be­tween Man­ning and Brock Osweiler also misses the point.

It’s not about the quar­ter­back. It can’t be about the quar­ter­back, if Den­ver is go­ing to have any re­al­is­tic shot of win­ning the Su­per Bowl.

Are the Bron­cos le­git­i­mate cham­pi­onship con­tenders?

“I feel great about our chances. We’ve got a great foot­ball team,” run­ning back C. J. An­der­son said af­ter Den­ver se­cured the No. 1 seed in the AFC for the play­offs.

The lone way the Bron­cos will hoist the Lom­bardi Tro­phy, how­ever, is on the strength of the topranked de­fense in the NFL. The quar­ter­back’s job? Don’t mess it up.

That’s how the Bal­ti­more Ravens won the Su­per Bowl 15 years ago, led by line­backer Ray Lewis, with some quar­ter­back named Dil­fer along for the ride.

Ev­ery­body in Bron­cos Coun­try has an opin­ion on the quar­ter­back coach Gary Ku­biak should start in the play­offs. The de­ci­sion is tough be­cause, quite frankly, nei­ther Osweiler nor Man­ning is play­ing at any­where near an elite level.

Osweiler is young and in­ex­pe­ri­enced. Man­ning is over the hill.

Truth be told, nei­ther Den­ver quar­ter­back is sig­nif­i­cantly bet­ter than Dil­fer was dur­ing the 2000 NFL sea­son, which ended with Bal­ti­more beat­ing the New York Gi­ants in Su­per Bowl XXXV.

Man­ning is one of the great­est quar­ter­backs in league history. But, at age 39, Man­ning is Dil­fer, to such an ex­tent it’s al­most eerie. Let’s com­pare the reg­u­lar- sea­son sta­tis­tics of Dil­fer in 2000 with Man­ning’s pro­duc­tion in 2015. The num­bers don’t lie.

Dil­fer: 1,502 yards pass­ing, 59.3 com­ple­tion per­cent­age, 12 touch­downs, 11 in­ter­cep­tions, 76.6 quar­ter­back rat­ing, 7- 1 record in eight starts.

Man­ning: 2,249 yards pass­ing, 59.8 com­ple­tion per­cent­age, nine touch­downs, 17 in­ter­cep­tions, 67.9 quar­ter­back rat­ing, 7- 2 record in nine starts.

Yes, the sta­dium was filled to ca­pac­ity with goose bumps when Man­ning en­tered the game in the

third quar­ter against San Diego and sparked Den­ver to a come­back vic­tory. He called smart au­di­bles against the Charg­ers, but his pass­ing per­for­mance was av­er­age. To call Man­ning the hot quar­ter­back of the mo­ment? That would be a stretch.

Truth be told, what Man­ning did best was turn around and hand off the foot­ball. Af­ter be­ing hum­bled by in­jury and booed at home when he was benched dur­ing a loss to Kansas City in Novem­ber, Man­ning has ac­cepted this of­fense isn’t all about him, and the game plan can’t be catered to his whims, if the Bron­cos are to suc­ceed.

Of the 28 snaps Man­ning took against the Charg­ers, 14 were un­der cen­ter, in­clud­ing two kneel- downs in the vic­tory for­ma­tion as the fourth quar­ter ex­pired. Man­ning threw nine passes for 69 yards. The Bron­cos ran 19 times for 139 yards. That’s how Ku­biak’s of­fense is meant to work.

If the Su­per Bowl is won by an elite quar­ter­back, Den­ver is in trou­ble. At least six quar­ter­backs in the tour­na­ment are dis­tinctly su­pe­rior to any­body on Den­ver’s ros­ter: Tom Brady, Cam New­ton, Car­son Palmer, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roeth­lis­berger and Rus­sell Wil­son.

I have ar­gued that Den­ver should start Osweiler and use Man­ning in re­lief for two pri­mary rea­sons: 1) There’s rea­son­able doubt the health of Man­ning can hold up be­hind un­re­li­able pass pro­tec­tion, and 2) The skill set of Osweiler fits bet­ter with Ku­biak’s run- heavy at­tack. When the Bron­cos have rushed for more than 125 yards in a game this sea­son, their record is 7- 0.

But I will not try to trick any­body into be­liev­ing the stats of Den­ver’s 25- year- old quar­ter­back have been spec­tac­u­lar, de­spite his big vic­to­ries against New Eng­land and Cincin­nati.

Osweiler: 1,967 yards pass­ing, 61.8 com­ple­tion per­cent­age, 10 touch­downs, six in­ter­cep­tions, 86.4 quar­ter­back rat­ing, 5- 2 in seven starts.

The de­fense is in charge of Den­ver’s cham­pi­onship dreams. The Bron­cos need three vic­to­ries to make those dreams re­al­ity.

“Let’s keep go­ing. We’ve got three games?” line­backer Von Miller said Sun­day. “Let’s knock th­ese three games out.”

Man­ning is Dil­fer. Osweiler isn’t much bet­ter.

If the Bron­cos want to win the Su­per Bowl, it can’t be about the quar­ter­back.

Bron­cos quar­ter­back Pey­ton Man­ning runs off the field Sun­day at Sports Author­ity Field at Mile High af­ter play­ing in his first game since Nov. 15. Man­ning led Den­ver’s win over San Diego. He­len H. Richard­son, The Den­ver Post

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