It would be easy to lose focus for the Broncos after an opening round bye in the playoffs. It would also be easy to get too tight, and overcompensate.
Instead, Manning makes finding the balance look easy.
“He got the best of us and spiked the football on us,” conceded linebacker Wesley Woodyard. The usually much maligned Manning took pleasure in scoring against one of the best defenses in the league, even if it was just in practice. “I think that’s what it’s all about, when your star quarterback is able to have fun and not be tight all the time it relaxes the team.”
The strategic ploy, the touchdown and celebratory exclamation point, is just another way Manning has made his mark in Denver.
The other, the more obvious and tangible effect of one of the great quarterbacks in NFL history is his constant and consistent pressure on himself, and translating to others, to get better. His work has made the offense a leader in yards per game with 397.4, making it the fourth best in the league, but it has also transformed the defense into a monster in its own right.
The Broncos are tied for the league lead in sacks with 52.0, second in yards given up per contest at 290.8, and fourth in points allowed with only 18.1 each game.
“If we come out here and we finally face him in practice, he’ll embarrass us,” Denver’s leading tackler Woodyard, with 117 total tackles, said. “We don’t want to get embarrassed anytime so there’s definitely a game time situation every time we play him out here and it’s translated on Sundays.”
Denver thrives off each other’s play in games, inside the walls of Broncos headquarters, on the practice fields it’s a completely different story. Rather than rooting each other on, they are jawing across the line of scrimmage.
“We’re kind of going against each other this week, there’s a lot more trash talk about what we can do,” said Bailey about the banter between the offense, Manning being heavily included, and the defense. “I don’t know how close you guys [media members] are to the building when we’re out here, but it’s pretty loud.”
Don’t expect a spike or even a smirk if Manning rumbles into the end zone on Saturday, he’ll be dialed in. Until then, his poise leading up to their matchup with the Ravens, a mix of exuberance and exhaustive study, with suffice.