BURDEN HIGH ON BRONCOS QUARTERBACK
Look for Manning to take fewer shotgun snaps, with the run game now revved.
Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning provides a presence when he steps into the huddle. But entering the divisional playoff game Sunday against Pittsburgh, he might also offer balance.
At the Broncos’ regular-season finale, fans waited for one man. That man waited 49 days for his moment of redemption.
As the Broncos steered and veered toward the playoffs, quarterback Peyton Manning stood in the shadows, his injured left foot creating concern that he might not play again this season.
With the Broncos trailing San Diego 13-7 on Jan. 3, Manning entered as a reliever for the first time in his NFL career, rallying the Broncos to their fifth consecutive AFC West title and a No. 1 playoff seed. His return provided a Red Bull energy boost, while creating some interesting looks.
Not counting kneel-down plays, Manning spent 10 snaps under center against San Diego and 12 in a shotgun formation. Such balance remained largely absent earlier this season with Manning. In the 39-year-old’s last start, against Kansas City on Nov. 15, he worked under center only twice, and a penalty nullified one play. He operated in the shotgun 28 times.
Manning provides a presence when he steps into the huddle. But entering the divisional playoff game Sunday against Pittsburgh, he might also offer balance.
“That’s how he played against San Diego. He can do both. There are no hold backs or anything we have to do. He’s ready to go,” Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said Monday. “He’s working in everything we do.”
The Broncos watched the AFC playoff games Saturday as fans, but once it was clear they would play the Pittsburgh Steelers in the divisional round Sunday, a smile emerged on a few of their faces. A chance at revenge. An opportunity to avenge one of their toughest losses in a 12-4 season.
Denver lost to the Steelers 34-27 in Pittsburgh on Dec. 20 after leading 27-10. The Broncos are adamant the rematch won’t have the same result.
“It’s a lot of stuff that’s different. The 70,000 that are on our side this time. They got guys banged up,” said Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib. “We got our farmers back, our bangers back. It’s a totally different ballgame.”
“Farmers” and “bangers” refer to Denver’s free-roaming safeties — Darian Stewart and T.J. Ward — who missed the first battle with the Steelers because of injuries.
Pittsburgh has injuries too. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has a shoulder injury that left him severely limited at the end of the Steelers’ 18-16 victory at Cincinnati on Saturday. Wide receiver Antonio Brown is in the NFL’s concussion protocol. Running back DeAngelo Williams missed Saturday’s game and visited a foot specialist Monday. None are guaranteed to play Sunday, but the Broncos aren’t preparing for their backups.
“Come on, man,” Talib said. “Ben will be there. And A.B. will be there.”
Brown had a great game against the Broncos on Dec. 20, catching 16 passes for 189 yards and two touchdowns.
“That game we weren’t as physical as we know we could be,” Stewart said. “We just didn’t tackle as well. We have to be great tacklers again.”
The Broncos watched the film, then put the Dec. 20 game behind them. Except for one issue: a late helmet-to-helmet hit from Steelers center Cody Wallace on Broncos safety David Bruton. A few Denver players want retribution. “I’m mad,” Stewart said of Wallace’s hit. The Broncos want to stick up for Bruton, but they watched Cincinnati lose Saturday because it lost its composure. The Steelers have a reputation of dragging opponents into physical games.
“They try to get under your skin,” defensive end Malik Jackson said. “Conniving. They definitely know what they are doing.”
Brock Osweiler was back to backing up quarterback Peyton Manning at Broncos headquarters Monday. Manning is 2-3 in playoff starts, and 47-15 overall, with the team. Steve Nehf, The Denver Post
Steelers running back DeAngelo Williams hurdles Broncos inside linebacker Danny Trevathan in Pittsburgh on Dec. 20. Williams was unable to play Saturday at Cincinnati because of a foot injury. AAron Ontiveroz,The Denver Post