GREEN BAY – Dom Capers faced Peyton Manning twice a year during Capers’ days as head coach of the Houston Texans.
“Being in the same division with Manning when I was in Houston, I can remember leading 17-0 going into the fourth quarter and losing 20-17. He’s still tremendous at anticipating where receivers are going to be,” the Packers defensive coordinator said of Manning, who the Packers will face this Sunday night in Denver.
During his days in the AFC South, Manning was nearly always the league’s top-rated passer. In the twilight years of his career, the stats aren’t as good, but his reputation precedes him. Manning is still a feared opponent, a quarterback that can beat you with his feel for the game.
“The timing passing game, whether it’s pressure or coverage, he’s still very effective at that,” Capers said.
At 39, has Manning lost his fastball?
“If we start thinking that way, this guy can still move that team up and down the field. I see enough that we’re going to have our hands full on Sunday night,” Capers cautioned.
Sunday’s game will pit two of the game’s top three quarterbacks of the past two decades. Aaron Rodgers will be Manning’s counterpart in a game that could produce the highest TV ratings of the season.
The Broncos’ ranking on offense pales in comparison to the defense’s: No. 29 on offense, No. 1 on defense. So what are Capers’ concerns?
“This is a big, physical guy,” Capers said of Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, who’s caught 48 passes for 527 yards, including a 45-yard touchdown. “He wins the physical battle and he’s hard to get on the ground after he catches the ball.”
Emmanuel Sanders is the complement to Thomas.
“Sanders is a different type of guy. He’s so fast and explosive,” Capers said.
“We have to show tight coverage so we can force (Manning) to hold that ball in his hands,” Capers added.
Defensively, the Broncos are without weakness. They’re No. 4 against the run and No. 1 against the pass. They lead the league in sacks (26), and they’ve scored four touchdowns on returns.
“They’re pressure oriented. That’s what they try to do. They’re not complicated, but what they do they do very well,” Packers play caller Tom Clements said. “Playing a good defense on the road, it’s a difficult environment, a lot to overcome, but we’ve been in situations like this before and our guys have done alright.”
Clements doesn’t consider the mile-high air to be an obstacle.
“It’s pretty much overblown,” he said.
Special Teams Coordinator Ron Zook said Packers kicker Mason Crosby believes the thin air makes a difference.
“Mason is from out there and he’s kicked there,” Zook said.
Broncos kicker Brandon McManus has booted six field goals of 50 yards or longer. His long is from 57 yards and his only miss was from 51 yards. Sunday’s game could turn out to be an interesting matchup between two strong-legged kickers in an environment conducive to making long kicks.
The Broncos are last in the league in gross and net punting.
“They’ve had a couple of returns against them. We all know that can happen,” Zook said.
Ty Montgomery has missed practice due to an ankle injury. If he’s unable to return kickoffs, it’s likely Jared Abbrederis would replace him.
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