KLEE: After preseason Game 1, Broncos should take it easy with Manning

By Paul Klee Published: August 8, 2013 | 11:55 pm 0
SAN FRANCISCO - In the damp Bay Area air, Peyton Manning struck a pose that, at this point in his career, should rival any of the four times he posed with an MVP award.

The Broncos quarterback crossed his arms.

He stood straight up, with posture a mother would appreciate.

He subbed out of a preseason game and never went back in.

Fantastic move, No. 18.

Now stay there.

After watching Denver's offensive line struggle to hold back San Francisco's defenders Thursday night at Candlestick Park, I had to wonder:

Why is Peyton Manning going to suit up against Seattle next week?

Or St. Louis the next week?

The only way the Broncos aren't a contender for the Super Bowl in February is if Manning doesn't stay upright from August through January.

These preseason games don't count. Pick a game, any game, and play Manning for a half, if you really have to. Then sit him for the other two games. That's it.

The regular season is what matters, and we all know Manning will be prepared as though he's in midseason form - with or without risking injury in the preseason.

Oh, yeah. The score: Denver 10, San Francisco 6.

The result of a preseason game is so important, we're able to bury the final tally this far into a column.

Here was the best thing I heard after the Broncos won without scoring an offensive touchdown:

"I've got no injuries to report at this time," coach John Fox said outside a visitor's locker room so small it could barely fit a big shipment of Ghirardelli chocolate.

Manning answered all health-related questions in a historic return to the football field last season. After overcoming four neck surgeries and an ocean's worth of doubt, he turned in an MVP-caliber season.

So his good health wouldn't be as much of a concern if the Broncos had an offensive line that didn't look like it has been pieced together with duct tape.

Manning played one series. The offense stalled. It doesn't matter.

All I care about is that Pro Bowl linebacker Aldon Smith got to Manning just in time to affect one of the quarterback's four passes. He completed two. It doesn't matter.

Just as the pass fell to the turf, Smith gave Manning a li'l pat on the backside as if to say, "Almost gotcha, big guy."

The lone pass attempt tossed the way of big-splash free agent Wes Welker didn't make it him. It doesn't matter. He'll catch 100-plus, again, provided Manning is the one throwing the passes.

Denver is speeding up its offense to a pace that will be fast, faster and, eventually, the fastest we've seen on the Front Range.

"We're not going to be all fast," Fox said, explaining the tempo will be varied. "We're not going to be all slow."

The offensive line needs to get healthy. Ask Brock Osweiler, who ran for his Montana livelihood through two-plus quarters.

On Osweiler's first series, guard-turned-center Manny Ramirez was called for holding. It was a good call and probably saved Osweiler from being sacked, or worse.

Three plays later, previously injured right tackle Orlando Franklin got beat, badly, by a pass rusher. Osweiler was smacked back to Montana.

There is enough to evidence to scrap the idea of giving Manning a seat next to the cheerleaders for the rest of the preseason.

In 14 seasons, Manning's teams have played 224 games. He's played in all 224.

In the 15th season, the 2011 season, Manning was sidelined for 16 games due to neck surgery.

Neck surgeries tend to be the outlier.

This guy is more durable than a rubber tire at the bottom of San Francisco Bay.

Three things stood out to me in the stadium by the bay:

- Denver's defenders are making an extra-special effort to swipe, swat or strip the football and force turnovers. Four takeaways? Like thieves, these Broncos.

"It was solid," said linebacker Shaun Phillips, who scored the game's only touchdown on a fumble return. "But not where we want to be."

- San Francisco has three running backs better than the first- (Knowshon Moreno), second- (Montee Ball) and third-rounders (Ronnie Hillman) on the Broncos roster.

- The Broncos uncovered a gem in swarming safety Duke Ihenacho. The undrafted free agent wrapped up a team-high seven tackles and a starting job.

Oh, here's one more:

In the preseason, Manning looks better on the sideline than on the field.

He looks safer, anyway.

Conventional football wisdom suggests the starting quarterback plays some in the first preseason game, more in the second preseason game and much more in the third preseason game. Then he holds a clipboard, or a tub of popcorn, in the fourth.

Smarter wisdom suggests the Broncos, in this preseason, should sit their franchise quarterback more than conventional wisdom suggests.

We've seen it. Manning doesn't need the practice - or the risk.

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