I'm not sure if you have seen Greg Cosell's article (which can be found here) on how Seattle was able to dominate us so thoroughly, but it was very insightful. It was plain to see while watching the game that Manning was very uncomfortable and early. I'm sure the botched snap/safety caused some of it, but Peyton Manning could surely get his offense to calm down after that.... right? Wrong. Manning stayed rattled the entire game. The Seahawks were able to generate constant pressure, oftentimes by rushing only 3 or 4 men (they only blitzed five times the entire game). Yes, that's on the offensive line... for a line that's played so well for the most part. We've seen it before, though. In a handful of games (this one being the main one) the OL got their asses handed to them. The Jaguars, Colts, Chargers (both times), and Seahawks were able to rattle Manning by getting in his face and knocking him down.
Our wide receivers didn't do an excellent job of beating press coverage and getting open, but there were plenty of opportunities. That starts with Manning. When Cliff Avril started victimizing Orlando Franklin (that may have been Franklin's worst game as a pro), and pushing him back, Manning panicked and started throwing the ball way too soon. I know that all pocket QB's struggle with pressure in their face, but Manning looked downright freaked out. He looked that way in most of those games I listed above. The Peyton Manning of old would get absolutely smeared on a play only to pop right back up and burn the defense for a TD. Why now is he responding so poorly to pressure? Is it his ankles? His neck? His age?
As you'll see in the article, there were chances to get out from behind the 8-ball and shake off the jitters from the opening blunder, the safety. A big part of why we never got anything going is because Manning got rattled when pressured.... instead of sticking in there or trying to step up/evade the rush, Manning stood there like a deer in the headlights and delivered inaccurate passes way too early. For a guy who demands so much from the entire team, this is simply unacceptable. Tom Brady doesn't fold when the heat comes his way. Stick in there and take a hit... it's the Super Bowl.
Unless we have perfect blocking from here on out, Manning is going to get this way from time to time. I'm hoping it's because of his ankles or some other injury that was bothering him. It's really out of character for him. It is very possible it's because of his surgically repaired neck. At any rate, we HAVE to come up with a backup plan on these outings when the opposition is playing us tough, getting in Manning's face, and taking away all the short/intermediate/crossing/pick routes that the Manning offense is built upon.
Like Richard Sherman said... throw some double moves in there and we could've been exposed. We did that in the Ravens game to open the season... we switched some of our plays up on them and threw in some double moves, which resulted in a few TD's. Of all games, this one was the one to do it again. I'm not sure why we felt so comfortable doing the same thing... we've seen it fail before, this season! We have to get tougher in the run game, we have to block better (Clady coming back and possibly Franklin moving to guard will rectify a lot of it). Our receivers have to stop crying for flags and finish their route... fight for the football, you're huge men!
In closing, don't take me wrong. I'm very thankful for this team and Peyton. Peyton is as classy as it gets and he is one of the best QB's of all time. I can't call him THE best, though. The truth hurts and I've seen Peyton fold way too many times in the face of pressure... whether that be from a defender or in a big game. When our field general is rattled, the soldiers do the same. Our defense did everything in their power, as a beat-up, skeleton crew unit, to keep our offense in the game. It all rested on Peyton and the offense. Sure, the receivers got swallowed up more times than not and the OL, especially the bookends, had their worst game of the season, but Manning still left a bunch of plays on the field. He took the two yard completion or threw too early for a pick instead of sticking in there and delivering. Peyton needs to take a page out of John Elway's book on staying cool and calm under pressure and John has to find a way to improve our team so we can run more effectively during those games when Peyton is not himself... the offensive staff has to come up with a "plan B" on these occasions too.