Monday Night Football was supposed to be Peyton Manning’s big stage to prove he was every bit of his old self. Unfortunately, Manning clearly isn’t ready for that yet, as he readily pointed out himself, and Matt Ryan stole the spotlight.
While Manning threw three interceptions in a single quarter (all seemingly trying to prove to himself he could make the pass), Ryan simply looked like an elite quarterback for the Falcons, led them to scores and calmly moved the chains when needed.
We may yet see the real Peyton Manning later in the 2012 season, but the stud QB on Monday night was wearing a Falcons jersey and Atlanta now move to 2-0, sit atop the NFC South, and are a full two games ahead of the floundering Saints.
Denver – Three Performances of Note
Given the hole that Manning put them in, the Denver defense actually had a pretty good game and completely dominated the line of scrimmage. Nine players accounted for multiple defensive stops and the Falcons’ runners couldn’t get anything going, with the notable exception of the 15-yard run by Turner to finally ice the game late in the fourth quarter.
The most destructive player on that defense was Von Miller (+7.8). The 2011 Rookie of the Year graded well in all facets of the game, but it is as a pass rusher where he is most dangerous. He has the kind of speed and moves that can cause problems for an offense and derail a play before it has a chance to get going. On a couple of occasions he was helped by officials who overlooked the fact he seemed to jump the snap, but his sack, knockdown and three other hurries were a good return going against one of the league’s better right tackles, Tyson Clabo. Miller’s partner in crime, Elvis Dumervil (+4.7) also had a good game. He worked primarily against Sam Baker on the side, but he was helped to some of his pressure by the Falcons’ attempt to block him with wide receiver Harry Douglas. Naturally that didn’t work.
Young OL Comes Good
We took some heat last season for consistently grading the Denver offensive line poorly despite some big numbers put up by the running game. In reality much of that was manufactured by the option attack and Tim Tebow, but this season there has been a notable improvement from LG Zane Beadles (+0.7) and J.D. Walton (+1.4) in particular. They combined to allow three hurries–although neither allowed Manning to hit the floor–but each had an impressive performance run blocking, and they got the better of Falcons defensive linemen and linebackers several times.
Walton showed impressive strength at the point of attack, while Beadles was able to locate and move linebackers at the second level as Denver used him to pull and act as lead-blocker for runs in the hole throughout the game. This marks the second successive game that both players have graded positively, an good sign seeing as they had been languishing down at the bottom of our rankings in previous seasons. Peyton Manning makes any offensive line look better, but this version of Manning will be thankful for the uptick in performance of those linemen.
What to Make of Manning
This was actually the first time I had analyzed Manning this season, and I came away feeling he was some way short of 100%, including in his arm strength. He claimed that the horrible interceptions weren’t to do with his arm strength, and largely I agree with that, but his throws seemed to lack a visible zip throughout the game, and several died short of his intended targets. Even a few completed passes required his receivers to dig the ball off the turf rather than allow them to take the catch and make things happen.
Physical limitations aren’t necessarily surprising at this point in his return, but what is deeply concerning was the poor decisions he made when he threw the interceptions. The Falcons were trying to confuse him with their coverages, and showed him one thing before the snap only to roll into something else. Manning has been in this league long enough to be well used to that, and nothing they showed was particularly exotic, yet he simply threw the ball to Falcons defenders three times, leaving his receivers no chance of making a play. Rusty would be the best way of describing the -3.7 graded performance, but it was the kind of rust the Broncos can’t afford to live with for too long if they have postseason desires.
Atlanta – Three Performances of Note
Matt Ryan doesn’t put up eye-popping numbers like some of the other quarterbacks, but at his best he makes clutch plays again and again throughout the game to extend drives and keep the Falcons rolling toward points. This game was a perfect example of that. His numbers were far from poor, but completing 24-of-36 passes for 219 yards and a pair of touchdowns won’t get anybody going weak at the knees if they just read the box score.
What you need to do is watch the game and see how Ryan was able to adjust in the pocket and make stick throws in the face of defenders, often on third down when the team needed to move the chains. Ryan ended up with a +6.2 grade, and reminded people firmly why he once earned the nickname ‘Matty Ice’.
Much will be made of the stats Michael Turner (-3.4) put up, as he gained just 42 yards on 17 carries, and 15 of those came on the final meaningful play of the game. The jokes write themselves after he got caught speeding after the game, but in truth it is far from all Turner’s fault, and the offensive line struggled to open up running lanes for him all game long. None of the starting offensive linemen graded positively for the game, and Tony Gonzalez earned a -3.9 grade run blocking-he was routinely beaten to his inside on the edge to allow defenders to chop down Turner as he tried to break the line.
The Falcons were once able to pound the ball at will, but since they lost Harvey Dahl they have never quite been able to replicate that form, and Turner is the player who is suffering. Unless the offensive line improves this team will go only as far as Matt Ryan can take them.
Losing a player of Brent Grimes’ ability will hurt any team, but with Asante Samuel (-1.7) and Dunta Robinson (+3.4) the Falcons are better able to deal with it than most , assuming both players live up to their talent and abilities. This was the best game Robinson has played for a long time, maybe his best game in a Falcons uniform. He allowed just a pair of receptions for 18 yards and a touchdown from his seven targets. The touchdown required a ludicrous piece of toe-tapping skill from Demaryius Thomas in order to complete the play, and Robinson also notched himself a pass breakup in the game.
Samuel allowed more receptions, 7 from 10 targets, but he was good at keeping it all in front of him. He allowed just 64 yards from those completions and came up well most of the time to make the play. The problem Atlanta have is with depth, as the players lower on the depth chart are far less inspiring, even if Dominique Franks (+1.2) and Robert McClain (+1.5) in particular made big plays in their snaps in this game. With the technique Samuel uses to make tackles it’s also just a matter of time before he injures himself and forces someone else into the lineup.
– Robert McClain saw just two snaps on defense for the Falcons, but one of them was his interception, where he played his deep third of the field perfectly.
– Peyton Manning went deep down the middle of the field four times in the game, completed none of them, threw three picks and had a QB rating of 0.0 on those plays.
– Under pressure, Matt Ryan had a QB rating of 93.0
PFF Game Ball
There’s no way I can avoid giving Matt Ryan the game ball, but the play of William Moore (+3.9) was at least good enough to get a share of it. Moore not only picked off Manning, but sacked him and broke up another pass as well in one of the best all-around games of his career.
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