LOS ANGELES—Peyton Manning flaps his arms, stamps his foot and plays traffic cop, sending Denver Broncos teammates this way and that. All the while, the play clock is winding down.
Manning isn’t just playing quarterback. He’s playing chicken with the defense, baiting it to reveal strategy. His success before the snap is a reason he is counted among the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, and it’s a tactic he will use Saturday in a divisional playoff game against Baltimore at Sports Authority Field.
“I’m betting that 90 percent of the time before he gets the ball, he knows where he’s going with the ball,” said Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway, the Broncos’ top football executive. “That helps with getting rid of it, and it also helps with his accuracy, because if he knows where he’s going with it, it’s a hell of a lot easier to get the feet set and get it going to the right spot.”
Manning, the league’s only four-time most valuable player, is a leading candidate to pick up his fifth award. In his first season with the Broncos, he led the NFL with a 68.6 completion percentage, was second with a 105.8 passer rating, third with 37 passing touchdowns and sixth with 4,659 passing yards.
To get as long a look at the defense as possible, Manning frequently runs a no-huddle offense. He never has to turn his back to the opposition. The Broncos have become increasingly effective in that mode, and their style of no-huddle differs from that of other NFL teams’.
For example, while the New England Patriots with Tom Brady are adept at changing tempos, shifting in and out of the no-huddle in a flash, and giving opposing defenses precious little time to make personnel changes, the Broncos tend to take their time and use the scheme so that Manning can take a long look at what he’s facing on a particular play.