Peyton Manning spreads the wealth in Denver
Seattle's "Legion of Boom" secondary led by All-Pros Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas may be able to slow down, say, Demaryius Thomas, in the Super Bowl. That doesn't mean Peyton Manning will have to tap the brakes on Denver's Lamborghini offense.
Manning doesn't have just one go-to receiver like most quarterbacks.
He has five.
The Seahawks will match up the NFL's top pass defense this season against the best passing offense of all time in the Super Bowl at East Rutherford, N.J.
"That's the matchup everybody is going to be talking about, Peyton Manning vs. the Legion of Boom," Hall of Famer and Fox color analyst Troy Aikman said. "I'm excited to see it. That's why I spoke about how disappointing it would be if conditions keep that part of it from happening the way we'd like to see because of the impact the weather may have on the passing game."
Even if wintry weather curtails his passing prowess, Manning can downshift as easily as he can dial up a deep pass. With the bunch formations and picks and rubs that got under Bill Belichick's skin, the turbo-charged Broncos have morphed into a yard-chewing, clock-eating machine in the playoffs.
With Manning dinking and dunking his way downfield, Denver's three most time-consuming drives of the season have all come in the last two weeks, 7-minute masterpieces that rendered Philip Rivers and Tom Brady short-tempered sideline spectators to Manning's magic.
He simply has more outlets than defenses have answers for.
"It's hard to catch a break with him, catch a tendency or something that you can jump," Sherman said of Manning, who sports a 40-1 TD-to-interception ratio in the red zone this season, including the playoffs — and that one interception bounced off his receiver's chest, no less.
Of all the records Manning and the Broncos set this season, the one that stands out to Denver wide receivers coach Tyke Tolbert is this: No team in NFL history ever had five players reach the end zone 10 or more times until Demaryius Thomas (14), Knowshon Moreno (13), Julius Thomas (12), Eric Decker (11) and Wes Welker (10) did it this season.
"That tells you about the players we have on our team, the way Peyton spreads the ball out, how anybody can score at any given time," Tolbert said.
No other team has ever had more than three players hit double-digit TDs.
This quintet helped the Broncos break the once-unfathomable 600-point barrier and each of them also caught 60 or more passes. No team had ever had five players do that before, either.
Manning says his unprecedented 55 TD passes and 5,477 yards through the air are only temporary records which will be surpassed by Brady or Drew Brees in no time — or by any number of other quarterbacks if owners get their way and expand the regular season to 18 games. But Tolbert thinks the 5-10 guys have nothing to sweat.
The beauty of the Broncos' offense is in its balance.
Manning targeted his three starting receivers almost identically: Demaryius Thomas (8.87 times a game), Welker (8.54), Decker (8.5). Julius Thomas, whose dozen scores broke Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe's club record for tight ends, was targeted 6.42 times per game.
Take one away and another will burn you.
"Peyton doesn't discriminate," Decker said.
"He doesn't force passes," Demaryius Thomas said.
"He just takes what the defense gives him," said Julius Thomas, the power forward-turned-tight end who caught 65 passes for 788 yards after catching just one pass in his first two seasons.
"He just goes down the line and finds whoever is singled up," offensive coordinator Adam Gase said.
"Or whoever's wide open," suggested backup tight end Jacob Tamme, who was left all alone for a TD in Denver's win over New England last week.
"Yeah, that's the truth, we've got a lot of weapons on our offense," said fellow fill-in Bubba Caldwell, who caught two TD passes against San Diego last month when Welker was sidelined. "If you shut down one guy, we've got like four or five other guys that we can go to at any other time."
The common thread among Manning's many targets, including Moreno, who had three TD catches to go with his 10 TD runs, is a refreshing unselfishness in an age where prima donnas so often demand passes and attention.
"To be an outstanding team, you have to be selfless, not selfish," Broncos coach John Fox said. "I think that speaks to the character of those guys in that room. They don't get all pouty about things like that."
Manning wouldn't put up with such shenanigans anyway.
"The only thing that makes all of us happy is if we win games, whether that's blocking all day and having zero catches or whatever it is," Welker said.
That's what Decker did before breaking out for eight TDs in December, his blocks on screens springing Demaryius Thomas, who led the league's receivers with 718 yards after the catch.
"Our whole group is like that and Decker knows that at any point in time that day can be your day," Tolbert said. "Like when we went to Kansas City, I mean, who'd have thought he'd have four touchdowns? But any day a guy can go out there, it can be a receiver, it can be a tight end, it can be a running back, any day can be your day."