Elway: Broncos' run game will be Manning's best friend

Two autumns ago, Peyton Manning finished sixth all-time with a whopping 659 single-season pass attempts. He won't come anywhere close to that mark in 2015.

By all indications, the Broncos are planning to churn out an even-keeled attack that allows Manning to make more use of his backs -- just as John Elway did in Denver over his final two Super Bowl-winning seasons in 1997 and 1998.

"Number one, we're going to have good balance on the offensive side," Elway, now the team's general manager, said Thursday. "What I can say, late in my career, that was my best friend, the running game. And I think that running game will be Peyton's best friend also."

Elway acknowledged that learning coach Gary Kubiak's new playbook will "be a little bit of an adjustment" for Manning, but we already know the Broncos plan to mesh Kubiak's ground-friendly scheme with the attack Peyton ran under former Denver play-caller Adam Gase.

After throwing 54 passes last season against the Rams in Week 11, Peyton's attempts dipped to 35, 34, 20 and 20 over the next four games. Playing through the pain of a torn right quad sustained in Week 15, Manning fought through the injury to whip 44 passes in Week 16 and 37 in the season finale before tossing 46 balls in a demoralizing playoff loss to the Colts.

It's clear that Elway's hiring of Kubiak -- beyond their mutual trust -- was an attempt to save the final years of Manning's career with a scheme better aimed at surrounding the 39-year-old arm with more help.

Elway shot down the idea that his quarterback might not be open to transitioning away from a high-flying aerial assault, saying: "Peyton understands that his commitment to come here, when he came here, that we're going to do everything we can to win a world championship."

Speaking directly about the relationship between Kubiak and Manning, Elway said "there was never ever a thought in my mind that this was not going to work."

We'll find out soon enough, but Elway exuded confidence on Thursday, outlining a game plan that could mean heavy work for runners C.J. Anderson, Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman. None of those backs, though, are the equal of Terrell Davis, the Hall of Fame-worthy talent who ran for 1,750 yards and 2,008 yards over Elway's final two seasons.

How different is today's game? It's worth noting that Manning has thrown 1,256 passes over the past two seasons. Elway attempted just 858 over his final two years in the NFL.

More balance makes sense, but the fate of the Broncos still boils down to Peyton's arm functioning the way it did before last year's swoon. If he can't make those key downfield passes, Denver's Super Bowl dreams are done.

The latest Around The NFL Podcast discusses Tom Brady's lawsuit and debates which veteran players are most likely to be cut.

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