When breaking down film in preparation for Sunday’s game against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Cleveland Browns coach Pat Shurmur saw the same Peyton Manning that he did when the veteran quarterback played for the Indianapolis Colts.
“It’s fair to say that in this league, as a quarterback, Peyton Manning is rare air,” Shurmur said. “He’s established himself as one of the great players at quarterback, especially of our era (and) all-time. You’re starting to see his style of play and the style of offense in Denver like he had played all those years in Indy.”
Manning, who missed the entire 2011 season while recovering from four neck surgeries and was subsequently released by the Colts back in March, has led the Broncos to an 11-3 record, the AFC West Division championship and a potential top seed in the AFC playoffs.
This year, Manning has completed 347 of 511 attempts (67.9 percent) for 4,016 yards and 31 touchdowns against 10 interceptions.
“What’s important is we’ve got to put together a plan,” Shurmur said. “We have to go play fast; we have to go play aggressive. It’s important that we do what we do. We really can’t try to let who’s playing quarterback put us on our heels. We’ve got to be aggressive and I think that’s important. We do know that he tries to change things and make sure he’s not snapping the ball into a bad defense. We’re aware of that and we’ve got to do what we can to stay aggressive, disguise some things and play hard.”
During his time in the NFL, Manning has become known as a quarterback who uses the audible to change plays at the line of scrimmage based on what the defense is showing. After initially lining up, Manning will survey the defense, and then, make calls or checks with the running backs, wide receivers and offensive linemen.
Shurmur said the Browns will “try to mock it up” during the week of practice.
“There are times when he’s audibling; there are times when some of what he’s doing is theatrics,” Shurmur said. “That’s just part of what he does and it’s important that we prepare for the plays that we think he’s going to run or they’re going to run, try to do what we do and also disguise things to try and cross him up. That’s what we’ll practice.
“You kind of know what’s happening. If we line up in a two-deep shell and it’s first or second down and they recognize it, typically, a run play works better. If we line up and we’re all up in there, the run play may not be so good. There are times where what he’s doing could be a dummy audible. We do the same thing. Everybody does it to some degree. In their system, they just try to snap the ball into a good defense, where the run or the pass are favorable.”
EXPECTING A CHALLENGE
With this year’s AFC West Division championship, the Broncos have won back-to-back division titles for the first time since the 1986-87 seasons. Last season, the Broncos went on a six-game winning streak in the middle of the year, and then, defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first round of the playoffs.
“The Denver Broncos were a playoff team a year ago and they added a quarterback, which has kind of helped them take it to the next level in terms of who they are,” Shurmur said. “It’s going to be a big challenge for us, but I do really believe we can beat anybody we play. We’ve also proven that if we make mistakes and don’t overcome them, you can get beat by anybody that you play. That’s the thing to remember.”
On Tuesday, the Browns played defensive back T.J. Ward on the injured reserve list, which ended the third-year safety’s season two games short of the finish line.
At the time of his placement on injured reserve, Ward ranked second on the team with 68 total tackles, fourth with 50 solo stops and first with three forced fumbles.
“T.J.’s done a nice job,” Shurmur said. “(The injury) didn’t require surgery. It’s just going to take a little bit of time. He was doing a nice job, had an interception the last game and we’ll move on and play other guys. He’s done a good job, got production with the turnovers, and did a good job tackling.”
PLAYING TO THE END
Even though the Browns were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention with last Sunday’s loss to the Washington Redskins, Shurmur had no trouble motivating his team when they met on Wednesday morning.
“I reminded the players that coaching and playing is what we do,” Shurmur said. “At some point, somewhere, somebody’s going to tell them they can’t do it anymore and they’re going to miss it. I said, ‘What we owe ourselves and each other is that you prepare as well as you can, you get hydrated, you get on the plane, go out and play good football and try to win the football game. That’s what we all owe each other. That’s what we do.’”
DEFENDING THE RUN
Manning may lead Denver’s offense, but he has gotten a lot of production from running back Knowshon Moreno over the past month. Moreno has carried the ball at least 20 times in each of the last four games and accounted for 391 rushing yards. On the season, Moreno has gained 406 yards and scored three touchdowns on 102 carries.
“He’s a very good running back and he fits well in their scheme,” Shurmur said. “He’s a good runner from the shotgun and he has a feel for finding a hole and then, he can break a tackle. He’s been a good fit for them, a really good fit for them. I think there’s times where they run the ball into a favorable defense, and he’s done a good job. They do a good job up front blocking for him as well.”
Linebacker and special teams standout,
“It’s another good choice,” Shurmur said. “He’s been a steady performer on special teams around here for a long time. Then, he’s added to that with some outstanding play, in my opinion, at linebacker.”