Analysis  

 

AFC West coaches already feeling Peyton Manning's presence

David Zalubowski/AP
John Elway's courting of iconic QB Peyton Manning might have shifted the balance of power in the AFC West.

PALM BEACH, Fla. -- He wanted to be happy for them. Really, he did.

But when Oakland Raiders coach Dennis Allen saw his old friends in Denver land Peyton Manning last week, just two months after Allen left his post as the Broncos' defensive coordinator to join a division rival, he knew exactly what it meant for him.

"I was thinking, 'Could it get any tougher for us?' " Allen laughed Tuesday. "First head-coaching job, taking on a new challenge, and you've got to take on one of the best that's ever played twice a year?

"It's a tough proposition, but we're excited about the challenge."

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It's very clear, at least based on some conversations at the NFL Annual Meeting this week, the AFC West has perked up its ears as a result of Manning suddenly storming the division. Could this mean a shift in the balance of power as the Broncos bolster a roster that's already coming off a division title in 2011? The landscape is definitely changing -- and it should make things very interesting.

"The biggest thing, there was a time three or four years ago, it was clear we had the best quarterback in the division and the other teams were changing all the time and struggling there," San Diego Chargers coach Norv Turner said. "We have four outstanding quarterbacks in our division that have been productive players who are experienced.

"It'll make it very, very competitive."

Keep in mind, the Chargers have won this division five times since 2004. They've been the perennial power. But the struggles of the other three teams have led to some very high draft picks. As a result, Turner says, taking the division has become a tall task for everyone.

Broncos coach John Fox recognizes an opportunity to pounce.

"I don't want to say (the Chargers have) owned the division, but over the last 10 years, they've been the most consistent team," Fox said. "But we're all at 0-0. We have new hope for this season."

And Fox, in particular, also has a new quarterback.

Turner is so cognizant of Peyton's presence, he's fully prepared to adjust his roster to make it more capable of limiting Manning's success when the two teams play twice a year. Then again, Turner said, with pocket passers now in Oakland and Kansas City, too, such roster alterations will help in all divisional bouts. He'll no longer need to worry about defending a scrambler like Tim Tebow one week and a pocket presence like Carson Palmer the next.

"One of the things that's a big emphasis for us right now will be to find ways -- players and schemes -- to pressure the quarterback," Turner said. "If you're going to play against Peyton, against Carson, against Matt [Cassel], we need to find a way to get those guys to the ground.

"I will say none of those guys are guys who are going to take off and run the ball and scramble. That part of it, our plan within our division, it won't be a week-to-week thing where you have to change dramatically. They will be fairly similar in what they do, I believe."

From a schematic standpoint -- when it comes to defending Manning -- nobody seems to be expecting anything too different than what we saw from his offense in Indianapolis. Allen does anticipate Fox will continue to preach the need for a running game, something he said the Colts also had during Manning's tenure. But if anyone is expecting this to look more like a Fox production than a Manning one, several NFL coaches made it clear they beg to differ.

"I think it's going to look a lot like Peyton's offense, to be honest with you," Jets coach Rex Ryan said.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said he doesn't know what to expect, but he'll be as interested as any fan to find out how Manning reacts in his new environment: "I don't know what their intentions are schematically, but I'm hoping we're not playing them first."


Guys like Allen and Turner, though, are likely to both play Manning early. And they'll both be playing him often, too. As a result, it should make for an interesting time in a division that's in the process of considerable change.

Fox, meanwhile, is excited about the prospect -- but he also knows offseason hype only goes so far.

"We're excited to get a guy like Peyton, for sure," Fox said. "But nothing is won on paper. You want to be the pick at the end of the year, not the pick at the beginning. What happens in the offseason influences what happens in the regular season.

"It doesn't define it."

Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @jeffdarlington

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