For what will likely be the final time as an NFL player, quarterback Peyton Manning is returning to Indianapolis to play a football game this Sunday in the stadium that is a standing testament in downtown Indianapolis to his legacy.
Manning, now in his fourth season with the Broncos after spending the first 14 seasons of his career with the Colts, holds a 1-2 career record against his former team, something he'll certainly be looking to improve this weekend. Furthermore, two significant career records loom within grasp for Manning to reach this Sunday in his former home. He's just one win away from breaking a tie with Brett Favre for the most all-time and he's just 284 passing yards away from passing Favre to become the NFL's all-time leader in that category.
While Manning hasn't been close to his production of old this season, the numbers are there for a reason: he's one of the greatest of all time and will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer just five years after he decides to hang it up. As such, the Colts know that number 18 still presents a huge challenge to defend against.
"[I see] the same, he's a huge challenge still," Colts head coach Chuck Pagano said on Wednesday. "He's still playing at a high, high level. Right when they said, ‘Hey, he's this, that and the other.' Just turn that tape on and he's running the offense. He's got great command of that offense. He gets them in the right play 99 percent of the time. It's a great challenge for your defense to try and disguise and disrupt. The ball is coming out really, really quick. It's hard to get to him, but you've got to get to him and you've got to put pressure on him. You've got to make him uncomfortable. If you can get to him and sack him, that's good, but it's difficult the way their offense is run. They run the ball extremely well, and they've got two good runners. Their play-action pass game off of it is dangerous if you allow the run game to get going. There are a bunch of challenges, but again, it's Peyton Manning. Arguably one of the best, if not the best to ever play the game at that position."
This season, Manning hasn't been as good as in the past, and in fact he ranks 31st in the league in passer rating among players qualified. The only two quarterbacks rated worse? Andrew Luck and Ryan Mallett. Manning has completed 62.8% of his passes for 1,864 yards (7.01 yards per attempt), 7 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions through seven games this year, good for a passer rating of 75.1. Manning hasn't had a great year, but he's coming off of his best performance, one in which he completed 21 of 29 passes (72.4%) for 340 yards (11.7 yards per attempt) against the Packers.
"What you've seen last is what's fresh on your mind," Pagano told Denver media this week on a conference call. "You talk about the Green Bay game and they were firing on all cylinders, so to speak. It's just the same guy that I see. Right when everybody is ready to write the guy off, he comes back and is the same old Peyton to us. He's still playing at a Pro Bowl level. He has great command of an offense. There's nothing that Peyton hasn't seen. You try to disguise, do this and do that. He's seen it all. When he gets them in the right play, they're running the heck out of the football.
"(C.J.) Anderson, (Ronnie) Hillman, they do a great job with that scheme," Pagano continued. "I've faced Coach (Gary) Kubiak, who I have great respect for, in the past in the division. That stretch-cut run game is very difficult and the play-action pass that comes off of it. They have a ton of weapons and obviously have a new toy to play with and Pro Bowler in Vernon Davis. Another match-up nightmare besides (Demaryius) Thomas, (Emmanuel) Sanders, (Andre) Caldwell, Owen Daniels and you can go on and on. Peyton is doing a great job. He has great command of the offense and anytime there's change, it takes a little bit of time for everybody to come together and it looks like, not only on special teams and defense, but now the offense is hitting on all cylinders. It'll be a huge task for us."
While Manning won't say it publicly, you know that he'd like to even up his record against the Colts at 2-2 and set those career marks in Indianapolis - he's a lover of football history, and that would be very fitting. At one point, 284 yards in a game from Manning would almost be a given, but this year that hasn't been the case. Even still, the Colts know that he's a dangerous quarterback to play against and they're not taking him lightly.