By ARNIE STAPLETON
DENVER — Peyton Manning has played the classic pick-your-poison trap all season, spreading the ball out evenly to his wide receivers while lighting up the scoreboard like no NFL quarterback ever has.
Somebody’s always singled up, and chances are that’s where the ball’s going, although Manning won’t shy away from double coverage, either, if his man gets open.
Unlike many teams in today’s air-it-out NFL, the Broncos don’t have any prima donnas demanding passes and attention, preening for crowds and cameras. These Broncos are the antithesis of those high-maintenance superstars huffing back to the huddle to let the quarterback know just how open they were.
Manning has targeted Demaryius Thomas 117 times, Wes Welker 111 times and Eric Decker 109 times.
Tight end Julius Thomas has been Manning’s bull’s-eye 69 times and running back Knowshon Moreno 58.
Those five players have caught 42 of Manning’s 45 touchdown throws.
“The plays we call, there is a progression to each play, but the credit goes to the receivers for running full-speed routes,” Manning said. “When you run full-speed routes you’re going to have a chance to get open. I think because they know we spread the ball around, guys are expecting the ball.”
San Diego coach Mike McCoy, whose Chargers visit Denver on Thursday night, was on the other side of the equation a year ago as Denver’s offensive coordinator and now he’s the one trying to figure out ways to slow down Manning.
“With his football intelligence and the way he plays the game, he’s going to take what the defense gives him,” McCoy said. “Whether it was in his early years in Indy, his late years in Indy, his time in Denver the last two years, he’s going to more often than not find the open guy. It’s not shocking at all the way he’s spread the ball around and the success the entire offense has had because of the number of touches that each guy is getting.”
Five things to keep an eye on when the Broncos (11-2) try to improve to 11-0 against the AFC West under Manning when they host the Chargers (6-7):
BREAKING RECORDS: Manning is on pace to break several NFL records, including Tom Brady’s mark of 50 TD passes and Drew Brees’ record of 5,476 yards passing. And the Broncos are on pace to score a record 634 points.
“Yeah, the one we’re concerned with is our win-loss record,” Manning said. “It tells you how competitive our division is that you’re still having to take care of business each week.”
The Broncos lead the Chiefs (10-3) by a game.
WELKER OUT: Welker will miss this game after his second concussion in four weeks, but Jacob Tamme, Manning’s former teammate in Indianapolis, is an able substitute in the slot.
Tamme was the odd-man out with the emergence of Julius Thomas, who broke Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe’s single-season franchise record for tight ends with his 11th TD catch last week. But Tamme has 10 catches for 97 yards and a touchdown over the last three weeks.
“Obviously, Julius has played well this year and Tamme hasn’t had as much playing time, but he’s had a great attitude,” Manning said. “And when his number has been called he’s come in there and been outstanding.”
CHARGERS RECHARGED: The Chargers are as healthy as they’ve been all season, and last week they welcomed back outside linebacker Melvin Ingram, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in May.
“Last week was a big step for him,” McCoy said. “He got 13 plays in the game. Now, he thinks he can play 100 plays. But that’s just his attitude.”
FOX VS. McCOY: Broncos coach John Fox missed the first game between these teams because he was in a hospital in North Carolina recovering from heart surgery.
So, this game will be the first time McCoy will face his mentor.
“It’s great to see him back out there. I wouldn’t be here today without John Fox,” said McCoy, who worked for Fox for seven seasons in Carolina and Denver.
PLAYING WITH FIRE: The Broncos have fallen behind by double digits in each of the last two weeks before storming back to beat Kansas City 35-28 and Tennessee 51-28.
“Once we realize that there will come a week where our offense isn’t going to put up 50 and we have to make a stand, then things will be better,” defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said. “Until then, it will be a dogfight.”