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Manning Up: Two TDs for Peyton in Foxboro loss

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Despite a weak showing in New England, Peyton still threw for two touchdown passes; a breakdown of those passes was in order.

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Peyton Manning cooking up plans with Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders on the sideline.
Peyton Manning cooking up plans with Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders on the sideline.
Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Recap of Last Week

Last week, Manning threw for three touchdown passes, all three of which were hauled in by Emmanuel Sanders. The three touchdown passes moved Manning up to 22 touchdowns on the season, putting him on pace for 50 on the season. Following Week Eight, Peyton would have needed 3.78 TD passes per game for the remainder of the season to break last season's single-season record.

Touchdown #1

Julius Thomas touchdown Patriots

23rd touchdown of the season, 33 remaining to break last year's single-season record

Receiver: Julius Thomas

Quarter/Time: 3rd Quarter/11:11

Down/Distance: 3rd and 2, NE 18 yard line (18-yard score)

Manning's first touchdown pass didn't come until the third quarter of the Broncos road game in New England. On 3rd-and-2, Peyton found Julius Thomas in the end-zone for the first time in four weeks. Despite the brief hiatus from the end-zone, Thomas became the first Broncos tight end in history with back-to-back 10+ TD seasons, and also maintained his pace to break Rob Gronkowski's single-season record for receiving touchdowns by a tight end (19).

On this particular play, the Broncos line up with Demaryius Thomas split wide left, Wes Welker immediately right of the line in the right inside slot, Emmanuel Sanders to the right of Welker in the right outside slot, and Julius Thomas split wide right. The 11-personnel look included Ronnie Hillman in the backfield, standing to the left of Manning in shotgun. On the other side of the ball, the Pats show a 2-4-5 nickel defense, with defensive backs lined up in man coverage on all four receivers,and a deep safety over the top; all four linebackers show blitz pre-snap.

FirstTDNEFormation

Off the snap, the Patriots send the two down-linemen, and the outside linebacker, Rob Ninkovich, after the quarterback. The two inside linebackers drop into short zone coverage over the middle, while Jamie Collins, the other outside linebacker, takes Ronnie Hillman in man coverage out of the backfield, as he often did on Sunday. The Patriots show a basic Cover-1 defense, with one deep safety over the top, and man coverage on the receivers. On offense, the Broncos run slants through the middle with Sanders and Demaryius, while Welker runs a deep in route over the middle. All three of these routes finish on the left side of the field, holding Devin McCourty, the lone safety over the top, in the middle of the field.

FirstTDNEPlay

Meanwhile, Julius Thomas runs a fade route against Patrick Chung on the right side of the field. Thomas uses his size and speed advantage over Chung to create separation on his way to the end-zone, where Manning finds him in stride with a perfect pass. Peyton's first read on the play is to Julius, and he never has to move on in his progression, as Thomas beats Chung over the top and McCourty is too far inside to make a play on the pass; easy six for Denver.

FirstTDNEScore

Touchdown #2

Ronnie Hillman pass touchdown Patriots

24th touchdown of the season, 32 remaining to break last year's single-season record

Receiver: Ronnie Hillman

Quarter/Time: 3rd Quarter/5:56

Down/Distance: 2nd and 10, NE 15 yard line, (15-yard score)

Manning's second touchdown pass of the game capped off a 72-yard drive that took under two minutes off the clock, showcasing the quick-strike ability of the Broncos offense. On this play, the Broncos line up with 12-personnel (one running back and two tight ends); Hillman begins split wide left, but motions back into his position to the left of Manning in the backfield. Hillman's pre-snap motion allows Manning to identify man coverage on the running back by Jamie Collins. The remainder of the Broncos line up as follows: Demaryius Thomas wide left, Emmanuel Sanders wide right, Julius Thomas tight on the end of the left line, and Jacob Tamme stacked behind Sanders, wide right. New England's defense lines up in a 3-4-4 base defense, with defensive backs lined up over top of the three wide-outs, and linebackers showing man coverage on Julius Thomas and Ronnie Hillman; the Patriots again have one deep safety pre-snap.

SecondTDNEFormation

The Patriots rush five defenders on the play, including two linebackers, Akeem Ayers and Jamie Collins. Manning, identifying Collins on the blitz (who had shown man coverage on Hillman pre-snap), dumps the ball off to Ronnie Hillman, who is running a route in the left flats. The remainder of the Broncos on the left side of the field are essentially running clear-outs, drawing their defenders deep and providing plenty of open field ahead of Hillman. With some quarterbacks, you'd question whether this was by design, or simply an improvisation that works well; however, with Manning at the helm of this offense, it's hard to believe that any of this was an accident. Once Hillman catches the ball, he turns on the jets, and beats almost every Patriots defender to the end-zone. Brandon Browner gets a shot at stopping Hillman from scoring, but the third-year back powers through the defender, grazing the cone as he's pushed out of bounds.

SecondTDNEPlay

Recap:

After throwing for two touchdown passes in Week Nine, Manning's pace on the season has dropped to exactly three touchdowns per game. It's ridiculous to think that a "drop" still yields that sort of production from Manning, but it's what we have come to expect from the legendary quarterback. Peyton's current pace would yield 48 touchdown passes, which has been his week-to-week projection following five of eight games this season. No quarterback in history has thrown for 48+ touchdowns in three separate seasons during their career; in fact, Manning would become the first quarterback ever to throw for three seasons of 40+ touchdowns if he continues his current pace. In order to break last season's record, which becomes more of a long-shot each week, the Broncos quarterback would need exactly four touchdown passes per game for the remaining eight games of the season. Denver will face off against the league-worst Oakland Raiders next week, who have not won a game yet in 2014; however, despite their dismal record, the Raiders have allowed just 1.5 touchdown passes per game to opposing QBs.

Week Current TD Count This Time Last Year (2013) On Pace For % of Last Year's Total
1 3 7 48 42.86%
2 6 9 48 66.67%
3 8 12 43 66.67%
5 12 16 48 75.00%
6 15 20 48 75.00%
7 19 22 51 86.36%
8 22 25 50 88.0%
9 24 29 48 82.76%

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