Nationals

Manning has found comfort zone, seeks consistency

201210071540564363154-p2.jpeg

Manning has found comfort zone, seeks consistency

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) Ever since his three-interception first quarter at Atlanta in Week 2, Peyton Manning has assuaged any doubts about his comeback, any leftover concerns about his arm strength and remaining misgivings about his surgically repaired neck.

He's thrown 165 passes without a pick, completing 103 of them for 1,221 yards and eight touchdowns since matching - interception-wise - the worst quarter of his 15-year career.

``I don't know if he is way up on the list of my worries, to be quite honest with you,'' coach John Fox said.

It's Manning's supporting cast that has to tighten things up now, not just on offense, but on defense and special teams, heck, even on the sideline.

The Broncos (2-3) have lost to three of the league's biggest heavyweights, the unbeaten Falcons and Texans by six points each and at New England by 10 last weekend after Willis McGahee fumbled at the Patriots 11 with a chance to make it a three-point game late in the fourth quarter.

Denver has been dogged by too many turnovers, not enough third-down stops and a dearth of takeaways.

There was even a coaching gaffe last week when the Broncos called for a Lance Ball carry on third-and-4 at midfield and then punted the ball back to Tom Brady, whose offense left Denver's defenders looking bruised and battered.

Producing 89 snaps and 35 first downs, Brady's breakneck offense kept Manning cooling his cleats on the sideline for long stretches, much like Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger did in the opener when he took an astonishing 41 out of 44 snaps at one point before the Broncos prevailed.

Manning recently gathered his teammates at practice and admonished them to ``get your minds right.''

He's done his part.

``I think he's gotten a lot better,'' Fox said. ``I think he's gotten more comfortable. His teammates have gotten more comfortable with him, and vice versa. Again, we're adjusting, the coaches and coaching staff and implementing things that hopefully put us in the best opportunity to be successful. I think that'll just get better. It's kind of where we are as a football team right now. We're going to get better.''

The Broncos have been unbelievable in the fourth quarter, outscoring opponents 58-6, an indication they believe they're never out of it with Manning on their side.

But it's been a case of too little, too late way too often.

``Fourth-quarter comebacks are great, but it usually means you've screwed up in the first three quarters,'' Manning said. ``The nice thing would be to eliminate some of the misses early in the game and let's kind of keep the game on the field, if you will, keep it a one-score game or have a lead. It'd be nice to have a lead in the fourth quarter and work on holding that.''

Then, those frenetic finishes won't be so necessary and the Broncos would be able to unleash Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller, who helped seal wins over the Steelers and Raiders by teeing off on the quarterback.

``We love our chances when we turn it into a one-dimensional game with our pass rush,'' linebacker Keith Brooking said.

The Broncos are focusing on ball security this week after receiver Demaryius Thomas had a huge fumble after a big pass play for the second straight week on Sunday and McGahee missed a wide-open fourth-down pass in the fourth quarter before coughing up the ball to kill Denver's comeback hopes last week.

They're also fixated on finding ways to produce more takeaways and getting off the field on third down.

If they can do all these things Monday night at San Diego, they'll have a much better chance of reaching their bye at .500, tied atop the AFC West with the Chargers at 3-3.

Their treacherous early-season schedule lightens up after that, and they can start to forget the fumbles, stumbles and tumbles that have marked their first month and a-half.

``Just need to protect the ball better. That's the simple and short of it,'' Manning said. ``We focused on ball security today. It's a point of emphasis for us. It needs to start in practice and then carry over to the game as well. Certainly any time you're turning the ball over, it's not good, and then any time you turn it over in scoring position, it stings a little more. It's something we're addressing. I believe we will fix it.''

Manning made immediate adjustments after his three-interception first quarter at Atlanta on Sept. 17. He pored over the pictures on the bench and played the rest of that game and every one since then with much greater precision.

None of this is surprising to slot receiver Brandon Stokley, Manning's security blanket, who spent four seasons with the four-time MVP in Indianapolis.

``I guess he had a tough first quarter there, and that was about it,'' Stokley said. ``You know, there's going to be rocky points in the season for every player. I think the spotlight was just so much more on him than everybody else.''

Chargers coach Norv Turner certainly doesn't see anything different about Manning, who missed all of last season after a nerve injury sapped his arm strength.

``He looks outstanding. He looks like Peyton to me,'' Turner said. ``Making great decisions, accurate, moving the ball, the ball's going up and down the field, they're outstanding in the red zone. Those are things that I think you're looking for from your offensive team and your quarterback.''

What Manning and the Broncos are searching for is more cohesion.

``We've played well in spurts, but we're looking for a bit more four-quarter consistency,'' Manning said. ``We're certainly capable of that, but we have to go out and do it. We have to try and find a way to not get so far behind. We've shown the ability to come back and make it close, but we'd like to avoid getting into that hole.''

Notes: The Broncos were awarded receiver-returner Trindon Holliday off waivers from Houston and waived S Duke Ihenacho to make room. ... WR Matt Willis was excused from practice for undisclosed reasons. ... Thomas (hip) and Brooking (concussion) were limited.

---

Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

---

Follow AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter:http://twitter.com/arniestapleton

Quick Links

Stephen Strasburg makes history at the plate against Atlanta

stephen_strasburg_nationals_pitching_usat.jpg
USA Today

Stephen Strasburg makes history at the plate against Atlanta

Stephen Strasburg had the best hitting performance of his career against the Braves Thursday night, going 3-3 at the plate with two singles and a 420-foot three-run bomb. 

He didn't just set personal records but reached rare air in baseball history. He's the second pitcher ever with at least three hits, a HR, and five RBI since the DH debuted in 1973 and the fifth pitcher in the last 50 seasons to get two hits in an inning including a home run. 

Strasburg set franchise firsts with his performance, dating all the way back to the Expos. 

An extraordinary milestone for the Nationals' ace, hopefully Strasburg's performance will inspire the team during a crucial four-game series with Atlanta. 

MORE NATIONALS NEWS:

Quick Links

‘The Redskins love Alabama guys’: Washington could run old draft playbook in 2020 to fill huge need

jerry-jeudy-henry-ruggs-usat.jpg
USA TODAY Sports Images

‘The Redskins love Alabama guys’: Washington could run old draft playbook in 2020 to fill huge need

Perhaps no position group on the Redskins has more questions or uncertainty than the wide receivers.

Josh Doctson enters the final year of his rookie contract, and has yet to record over 550 yards in any of his three professional seasons. Washington signed Paul Richardson to a five-year deal in 2018, but he just played in just seven games for the Burgundy and Gold in 2018 before having season-ending shoulder surgery. Second-year receiver Trey Quinn is expected to fill the role in the slot after Jamison Crowder departed for the New York Jets this offseason but has yet to prove anything on the NFL level. 

The Redskins addressed the position during the 2019 NFL Draft, selecting Terry McLaurin in the third round and Kelvin Harmon in the sixth round. But it's unclear how much either one will contribute to the Washington offense in 2019.

So, it's likely the Redskins will need to address the position during the 2020 NFL Draft, and probably very early on it. Well, this works in Washington's favor, because the 2020 wide receiver class is loaded. 

On a recent episode of the Redskins Talk podcast, J.P. Finlay and Pete Hailey spoke with NFL Draft expert Jordan Reid (no, not the Redskins' tight end) about the top wide receiver prospects heading into next year's draft, and which players the Redskins could potentially target.

Before diving into the top 2020 prospects, Reid gave an initial assessment of the current Redskins' receivers.

"The Redskins just don't have that headliner, top go-to guy," Reid said. "They were expecting Josh Doctson to be that when they did draft him in the first round of 2016. But he's had some injuries, and he's already come out and said he's looking forward to free agency. That just not something you want to hear."

Reid was high on McLaurin, though, the first receiver the Redskins selected in 2019.

"They drafted Terry McLaurin in the third round, I liked him a lot even going back to the Senior Bowl," he said. "I think he's going to have a really good year, not just as a receiver but the special teams phase as well. He's going to flash in a lot of ways."

As far as the 2020 draft wide receiver class, one school stands on top, and it's a school the Redskins are very familiar with: Alabama. The Redskins used their first-round picks in 2017 and 2018 on 'Bama guys and signed another Crimson Tide alumni this offseason in safety Landon Collins.

"We know the Redskins love Alabama guys, and there's a lot of [wide receivers] coming out this year," Reid said. "It's not just Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs is another guy that's getting a lot of steam. They're going to have the chance to get the receiver they want. This is a very special wide receiver class."

Crimson Tide receiver Jerry Jeudy is the consensus top receiver in next year's class, but Reid believes his speedy teammate could challenge him for that spot by season's end.

"With Ruggs, I think he's a bit more as far as polished a route runner [than Jeudy]," he said. "I think his hands are a bit better, and I wouldn't be shocked if he runs below a 4.3 at the combine. He can absolutely fly."

If the pair of Alabama receivers currently hold the top two spots for best wide receiver prospect, there's another guy who's right on their heels: Oklahoma's Ceedee Lamb.

"He reminds me a lot of DeAndre Hopkins coming out," Reid said on Lamb. "He's not a thick guy, but he plays much stronger than what he indicates. Very reliable hands, and his body control is out of this world. He had a one-handed catch against UCLA, it didn't count, but it's truly amazing."

As a true sophomore, Lamb totaled 1,158 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2018. Sure, it may have helped to have Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray under center, but Lamb has proven he's an elite talent.

Two other prospects Reid is keeping an eye on are Colorado's Laviska Shenault Jr. and Texas' Collin Johnson.

"He's not as polished as some of these other guys, but he's more of a do-it-all type of receiver," Reid said on Shenault Jr. 

Where Shenault may be a do-it-all receiver, Johnson plays to his 6'6 size.

"He's a really good route runner," Reid said on Johnson. "It's just a matter of how consistently can he separate, and how fast he is. If he goes to the Senior Bowl, I think he can light it up."

While many of these guys seem like sure-fire guys, there's still a full season of football to be played before the draft. Players will rise, but just as many, if not more, will fall off.

"You just have to let this play out, that's what happens with the draft process," Reid said. "Guys fall off, and then you have guys that come out of nowhere. Quinton Williams from last year is a prime example. He was a 270-pound defensive end at this time last year; we had no idea who he was and he ends up being the No. 3 overall selection."

But if everything plays out close to how it's expected to, this wide receiver draft class will be one to remember. 

"This class is special man," Reid said. "I think it's going to rival 2014, with Odell Beckham Jr., Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans and all those guys, Jarvis Landry, Davante Adams too. It's going to be very similar to that. It's very special."

MORE REDSKINS NEWS: