Today's question about the Broncos comes from Rod Ridley. To submit a question for consideration, send an e-mail to The Denver Post's Jeff Legwold.
Q: I noticed that (Peyton) Manning didn't throw deep at all (against the Ravens). Was the cold a reason for that? I'm guessing it affected his neck and arm, and he just couldn't throw the downfield passes to loosen up that defense. Your thoughts?
A: Rod, other than Kneegate, Peyton Manning's play in the frigid conditions Saturday may be the most talked about item on the discussion and rant pile that followed the Broncos' upset loss.
The Denver Post's NFL reporters post analysis, notes and more on this blog focusing on the Denver Broncos.
Some wonder if the cold prevented Manning from airing things out Saturday. Manning spent the season rehabbing his right arm and shoulder as part of his recovery from his neck surgeries. He had already admitted to wearing a glove on his throwing hand because his grip was different in his post-surgery career.
Manning had multiple surgeries to repair a disc issue in his neck that caused damage to the nerve grouping that affects his right triceps, which then impacted his ability to grip and throw the ball. He began wearing a glove on his throwing hand first in practice, then later in games as the season wore on.
Asked in the days before the Ravens game why he was wearing a glove on his throwing hand for the first time in his career, Manning said:
"I certainly don't think I would have had to wear the glove had I not been injured last year. It's part of my injury, some things that I've had to adjust. I've been pretty consistent in kind of letting you guys know that all year long, that I'm in a different body, some things are different for me. So I've had to adjust. That's the reason for that as much as anything. That's really kind of what it is."
Saturday was a historically cold home game for the Broncos — second coldest home game in team history, coldest home playoff game in team history. It was uncharted ground for both the Broncos and Manning.
He has said the cold didn't impact him physically, in terms of throwing the ball deep. And while coach John Fox didn't offer a definitive answer if the cold had an impact on the offensive gameplan and Manning's plays, he did say:
"I don't believe so."
A look at the video says it was likely a football decision to kneel down. But it may also have been a physical issue. Most medical people I've talked to about Manning's injury and recovery have said it could well be into his second season with the Broncos before the nerves have regenerated fully and that there would always be some uncertainty about how much the nerves would regenerate.
That's certainly something the Broncos knew before they signed him, and their medical people have signed off at every level. So, when we all watch him throw next season, we may see a difference. But both Manning and the Broncos say it wasn't an issue Saturday, though it likely was at least a contributing factor in some way.
But there are some football issues in there, too. After talking to several longtime defensive coaches in recent days, guys who have faced Manning many times over the years, they saw a Ravens gameplan that played the percentages. Even though Manning is one of the greatest players of all time, he is not a risk-taker by nature. He is methodical, analytical, a surgeon.
If defenses show Manning coverages to put the ball underneath, that's what he'll do. He will play disciplined, and defenses know he will play disciplined, they know he won't challenge them down the field unless he gets single coverage somewhere on the outside. The Broncos know this from playoff losses in Indy to close out the 2003 and 2004 seasons in which Manning obliterated their man coverages.
The Ravens configured their coverages to take away the deep ball with the help usually pointed toward the Broncos' wideouts. The Broncos' longest pass play of the day was a 32-yard catch-and-run by Eric Decker in the first half, and it was the only completion longer than 21 yards in the game.
By contrast, the Broncos had 57 pass plays of 21 yards or more this season and had one or fewer in just two other games this year — Atlanta (zero) and Tampa Bay (one).
In the second half and overtime periods Saturday, several hours into a cold night, the impact of the wide receivers went down decidedly. Decker had two catches for 19 yards after halftime. Demaryius Thomas had a 17-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown. Brandon Stokley had one catch for nine yards. Matt Willis had one catch for four yards.
The Ravens funneled the ball into the intermediate and short area and the Broncos/Manning followed the keys. The Broncos also did not protect well on the night. Manning lost the ball twice on pressure up the middle. And they simply did not show they could hold up to put Manning in position at all to look downfield, no matter how he felt physically.
Or as Manning put it:
"For a good bit there in the second half (they had) a lot of two-deep safeties (and) man-to-man underneath. They are going to take away some of those guys on the outside, which means you've got to beat them on the inside—the (running) back out of the backfield (and) the tight end. That's how you have to attack that defense."
And that's what Manning did. If the cold impacted him doing that, he's still keeping that to himself.