Nationals

Manning has made all of the Broncos better

Manning has made all of the Broncos better

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) John Elway insisted that every one of the Denver Broncos was better the second Peyton Manning put his signature on that nearly $100 million contract last spring.

Indeed, all have prospered from the arrival of the meticulous quarterback whose work ethic generated, as coach John Fox also predicted, a lifting of all boats.

Teammates on both sides of the ball are better. So are the coaches. Heck, even the team's ticket sellers and concessionaries have upped their games.

While Manning was turning what began as a season of mystery into one of magnificence, several of his cohorts enjoyed breakout or bounce-back years as the Broncos (13-3) thundered into the playoffs as the AFC's top seed and winners of 11 straight.

Not since Elway was leading comebacks on the football field instead of from the front office have the Broncos been the odds-on favorites to win the Super Bowl like they are now.

Wide receiver Brandon Stokley suggests we call it, ``The Manning Effect.''

Manning sets his standards so high that ``it just makes the players work harder and want to do better,'' said Stokley, who traded in retirement for a reunion with the four-time MVP. ``With Peyton, everything has to be so precise, detail-oriented, it just rubs off on everybody else.''

Players see the league's most decorated quarterback working as though he's on the bubble to even make the team, and they take heed.

``I think when you have someone of his stature pushing himself to the ultimate level that it makes everyone push themselves to that level, too,'' said Denver tight end Jacob Tamme, who also played with Manning in Indianapolis. ``The fact he's had the success he's had but still works so hard still at this point, I think shows why he's had the success that he's had in the first place.''

Young receivers (Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas) and cornerbacks (Chris Harris, Tony Carter) blossomed under Manning's tutelage. Tailback Knowshon Moreno revived his career. Guard Zane Beadles broke through in his third season and linebacker Wesley Woodyard did so in his fifth. Von Miller, last year's top defensive rookie, became a bona fide superstar, and several veterans such as Stokley looked young again.

Offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, the architect of the hybrid offense Manning ran so adroitly in putting up numbers that surpassed those from all four of his MVP seasons, is such a hot head coaching candidate that he's holding his very own jobs fair this weekend in Denver, meeting with one team after another.

Manning helped them all do their jobs better over the last 10 months.

It all began in the spring on local high school football fields with receivers working hard at not rounding off their routes lest they get an earful from No. 18 and then at team headquarters with cornerbacks picking Manning's brain to figure out how he was picking them apart.

It grew fast from there, the Broncos getting better and bolder by the week as the 36-year-old quarterback put to rest any lingering doubts about his health or age.

The Broncos' offense rose from 23rd in the league last season to fourth, and Denver's defense jumped from 20th to second. They scored 481 points a year after scoring 309. And their defense allowed 289 a year after yielding 390.

``Well, it makes you grow up faster because, for one, he's not going to let you get away with constant mistakes,'' Champ Bailey said. ``Maybe one here, one over there, but the same mistakes over and over, he doesn't want you in there. And that's the same way on defense. You make too many mistakes, you're not going to play.''

The ones that did play sure did well.

About two dozen players on the Broncos' 53-man roster put up their best statistical seasons in 2012. Others had the best performances in years.

``I'd say on both sides of the balls and special teams, there's guys that have been playing some of their best football,'' Decker said. ``Offensively, as skill players, having Peyton Manning has helped tremendously, helped the line tremendously, and defensively, with the scheme they're doing and how they're doing, it helps everybody.''

Not all of this ripple effect is intangible. Miller and Elvis Dumervil combined for 29 1/2 sacks in large part because of the leads Manning's offense provided, allowing the pair of pass-rushers to, as the saying goes, pin their ears back and get after the quarterback.

``He puts everybody in the best position to show off your skill-set even if you're a grunt guy in the middle taking on double teams,'' said defensive tackle Mitch Unrein, who posted a career high in tackles and even caught one of Manning's 37 touchdown passes when he lined up as a fullback.

While Elway, the Broncos' Hall of Fame quarterback-turned-executive, scaled the mountaintop to land Manning, he also climbed the league's scrap heap to find the likes of veteran castaways Keith Brooking, Trindon Holliday, Jimmy Leonhard, Jacob Hester and Dan Koppen, all of whom have, like Manning, revived their careers in Denver.

Manning, who's the best quarterback the NFL has ever known when it comes to decoding defenses, was especially helpful for Denver's secondary.

``DBs, we're known as the cocky bunch anyway. But we're definitely confident going out their having gone against Peyton Manning every day in practice,'' safety David Bruton said. ``I don't feel like there's a quarterback we'll face that will do anything on the field that we haven't seen in practice.''

The Broncos spent their bye week having their starting offense square off against their starting defense, and Woodyard said that when Manning scored on a sneak Wednesday, he spiked the ball and talked a little trash.

``Peyton comes to work excited about being here,'' Woodyard said. ``He's excited about a shorts practice and I've never seen a quarterback like that, amped up every day, getting guys better.''

To be sure, some of the uptick in so many players' games is a natural progression as they gain experience. Some of it is because of the way the focused Broncos have had their blinders on all season, never looking beyond the day's work or the next opponent.

Manning, though, sits atop the credits.

``I think there's a direct correlation because when you have a guy of that caliber, he gives everybody confidence,'' Fox said. ``Not just the guys on offense, the guys on defense. And that's where I'm talking about him raising all boats.''

Notes: The Broncos' season home attendance of 613,062 was the highest in the team's 53-year history. ... Left tackle Ryan Clady didn't practice all week, but the team isn't required to give an injury report until Tuesday. Clady has dealt with a bothersome hamstring of late but has never missed a game in his career.

---

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

---

Follow Arnie Stapleton on Twitter:http://twitter.com/arniestapleton

Quick Links

Kevin Long dissects Juan Soto’s World Series Game 1 home run off Gerrit Cole

Kevin Long dissects Juan Soto’s World Series Game 1 home run off Gerrit Cole

Before the Nationals faced off with the Houston Astros in the 2019 World Series, Washington’s hitting coach Kevin Long sat down with FOX Sports analyst Tom Verducci. Long told the veteran reporter that he guaranteed young phenom Juan Soto would hit a home run off a high fastball from Gerrit Cole.

It was considered a lofty prediction, as Cole was in the midst of a Cy Young-caliber year and had allowed just one earned run in 22.2 postseason innings thus far that October. But sure enough, four innings into the first game of the series, Soto did exactly that.

In his first at-bat, Soto looked overmatched and struck out on three pitches. He got his second look three innings later and must have learned something, because he took Cole’s 1-0 pitch—a fastball high and outside—and sent it 417 feet to the opposite field.

At the Nationals’ annual WinterFest event, Long spoke with NBC Sports Washington’s Todd Dybas about what went into that prediction and why he felt compelled to make it.

“First and foremost, I do believe that Juan Soto is one of the best high fastball hitters in baseball,” Long said. “I’ve seen him numerous times take high fastballs and take care of business. Gerrit [Cole] doesn’t pitch in much, so I figured it was going to be out over the plate.

And the other factor there is, we weren’t getting much credit. They basically were cashing that game in as a loss. ‘We can’t beat Gerrit Cole. Gerrit Cole is too good. Gerrit Cole hasn’t lost since May.’ So I just said, ‘You know what? Let me just make a prediction, because I’m sick of hearing about how we’re not going to be able to do anything against this guy…and it ended up working out, it’s pretty cool.”

LISTEN TO THE FULL INTERVIEW ON THE NATIONALS TALK PODCAST BELOW

The Nationals entered the World Series facing the longest odds Las Vegas oddsmakers had given to an underdog since 2007, when the Boston Red Sox were heavy favorites over the Colorado Rockies. Given that Washington went on to stun the baseball world and win in seven games, it isn’t surprising that most national fans didn’t quite yet understand what kind of player Soto is when the series began.

“I’ve had numerous people come up to me and say, ‘That was one of the most impressive home runs I have ever, ever seen,’” Long said. “As a left-handed hitter, number one. A 97-mph fastball and how far he hit it was remarkable. It truly was.

“We were putting together pretty good at-bats off him in those big situations you just need one guy to come through and that was Juan Soto’s moment. He got the pitch, he didn’t miss it and I don’t know if Gerrit was admiring it—I’m sure he wasn’t—but he was probably like, ‘Wow, this kid is pretty special.’”

Now, Soto is entering the 2020 season as the undisputed top hitter in Washington after Anthony Rendon departed for the Los Angeles Angels in free agency. Long doesn’t want Soto to change his approach too much, but rather just focus on what got him to this position in the first place.

“He doesn’t have to do a whole lot extra, he’s just got to basically be the Juan Soto he’s been,” Long said. “His swing is really, really good. He makes adjustments really well. He’s smart. He gets it, and at 21 years old that’s what makes him certainly unique.”

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.

MORE NATIONALS NEWS:

Quick Links

Lamar Jackson, Mark Andrews help lead AFC to victory in Pro Bowl skills competition

Lamar Jackson, Mark Andrews help lead AFC to victory in Pro Bowl skills competition

Lamar Jackson was excellent this season finding his receivers across the field en route to an MVP caliber season. 

As it turns out, he’s not so good at hitting targets that aren’t human. 

Jackson struggled in the precision passing event, an event with moving targets labeled from one to five points and scored just two total points on 17 throws. 

But Jackson’s poor performance in the first event didn’t hurt the AFC, as it won the 2020 Pro Bowl skills competition over the NFC.

“A lot of bad throws,” Jackson said of his performance in the first event. “A little wind with me. It’s all good.” 

As soon as the event aired, Jackson immediately took to Twitter.

The events that followed were: The Gauntlet, Best Hands, Thread The Needle and Dodgeball. 

Jackson and teammate Mark Andrews competed in the Best Hands and Thread The Needle competitions. 

The duo’s obvious chemistry resulted in the second-best time, 49.4 seconds, out of four total pairings. 

The next drill was another passing drill called ‘Thread The Needle,’ which Jackson fared better in. He scored 12 total points, tied for the second-best of four passers. The concept of the drill was to throw the ball past a defender guarding a wall with nine targets, each with a corresponding point total.

In the final event of the night, the AFC beat the NFC two games to zero in dodgeball — led by Jackson and Andrews’ division rival, Browns wideout Jarvis Landry.

Jackson didn’t start the night well, but thankfully for him, the next targets with numbers he’ll see will be actual receivers at the Pro Bowl on Sunday afternoon.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.

MORE RAVENS NEWS: