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Can anyone slow Peyton Manning’s pursuit of perfection?

By: The News-Sentinel (Fort Wayne, Ind.
October 12, 2013 Updated: October 12, 2013 at 4:14 pm
Caption +
Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) gestures during 4th quarter action of a NFL football game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium, Monday, Sep. 23, 2013, in Denver, CO. The Broncos defeated the Raiders 37-21. (Kent Nishimura, The Gazette)

There aren’t any unused adjectives for Peyton Manning’s start, but there’s one that would be fun to revive at the end of this percolating Denver Broncos season: perfect.

Is there anything left for Manning to prove as an NFL player except that he can deliver the perfect season?

Coming up short of perfection — losing a game or two — won’t be failure. Manning’s season could end up historic nonetheless. But perfection, that elusive possibility robbed from him by the small-picture Indianapolis Colts’ brass in 2009, would go above and beyond what is already an unfathomable season.

Perfection still being a ways away, how long can Manning keep up this passing pace?

Everyone knows Manning’s first five games are unprecedented. He has 1,884 yards, 20 touchdowns, 75.8 percent completion percentage and a mere one interception. That pick seems like a tease, raising false hopes for defenses so they can think they have a chance before Manning tears them apart.

Logic says Manning’s pace must slow as the season progresses. He’s on pace for 64 touchdowns and roughly a million yards. Logic says he’s 37 and bound to get hit a few times even under today’s two-hand touch (Bernard Pollard’s description)game.

Logic has taken a holiday with Manning, who missed an entire season two years ago with neck problems that led to the self-destruction of the Colts roster and his unfathomable release from the team. (Jim Irsay has a lot of notable lines in his resume. “I released Peyton Manning” is the most incredible, even as it has worked out well for the rebuilt Colts.)

But let’s play devil’s advocate, pointing out some contributing factors to the crazy start that helped inflate Manning’s numbers.

First, a qualifier: Manning deserves all the credit for his numbers. He went out there, read defenses, exploited them and looked like he was part of a video-game demonstration with a teenage boy using the Denver controller and the boy’s grandmother on the other.

Take a step back, however, and it’s worth noting where the five defenses he’s ripped apart stand today. Keep in mind he may have broken their spirits.

We’ll use surface numbers, flawed by generalities but interesting nonetheless.

None of the five teams (Ravens, Giants, Raiders, Eagles and Cowboys) rank among the top 10 in the three long-standing pass-defense rankings of yards allowed, completion percentage allowed and touchdowns allowed.

In fact, except for Baltimore’s 11th-best standing in completion percentage allowed, Denver’s early schedule was full of teams that were, and are, pass defense suspect. The Ravens, Giants, Raiders, Eagles and Cowboys all rank in the bottom half of the NFL in pass defense (based on yards allowed). The Giants are 25th, the Eagles 30th and the Cowboys 31st.

I’mDon’t not trying totake away anything Manning has done. He made those defenses look silly. I’m just saying, outside of the Ravens — who would rank better if they hadn’t been blindsided by Manning in Week 1 — the NFL’s finest haven’t encountered Manningyet.

Five top-10 pass defenses remain on the schedule, including the No. 1-ranked Texans, No. 4 Chiefs (twice), No. 6 Colts and No. 9 Titans. The Patriots are in the mix, too, tied for third in fewest touchdown passes allowed and seventh in lowest completion percentage allowed.

The fifth top 10-ranked pass defense is this week’s Denver opponent, Jacksonville, which goes to show you statistics don’t tell the whole story. Since the Jags are surrendering 160 yards a game on the ground, who needs to pass much?

(I have a feeling the Jags’ secondary will be tested by Manning. I don’t think they’ll pass that test.)

It’s fascinating that the first solid pass defense Manning will face will be the Colts on Oct. 20 at Lucas Oil Stadium.

That game was tagged as epic long before Manning’s great start, due to Manning returning to his old stomping rounds. The building itself probably doesn’t get built without Manning. It’s possible the Colts might even be in Los Angeles today without Manning. That’s how much he meant.

But between the lines, the showdown looming is the Colts defense’s shot at being the first to slow Manning this season.

They’ve shown some ability to bring pressure on mobile quarterbacks, such as Seattle’s Russell Wilson. Colts rush end Robert Mathis leads the NFL in sacks, and I can only imagine his interest in sacking Manning.

Presumably, the Colts’ secondary will be healthy, with safety LaRon Landry back in the fold, by the time the Broncos roll into town.

If Manning can put up his average (an inadequate word) four touchdowns against the motivated and talented Colts, there’s a good chance his incredible play could stretch further and further. I know the Chiefs are off to a great start, but it still seems premature to envision them as the team with the juice to slow Manning’s offense.

Logic says Manning can’t play his best football at age 37. Logic says he can’t continue this torrid start, toying with NFL defenses as if he knows what they’re planning before they do. Logic says he’ll cool off.

Better defenses await Manning in the coming weeks. Will better be good enough? Nobody’s perfect, but Manning sure looks like it now.

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