NFL Preview - Washington (2-4) at Denver (6-1)
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - Peyton Manning has lost a Super Bowl, a conference championship game, plenty of playoff appearances and came up empty in his return to Indianapolis.
When the lights are brighter and the stakes are high, Manning tends to crumble under pressure. Manning will have to put another emotional loss behind him when he leads the Denver Broncos versus the Washington Redskins Sunday in the homecoming of Mike Shanahan.
Manning and the Broncos dropped a 39-33 decision to the Colts last weekend at Lucas Oil Stadium, where fans paid tribute to their former savior. Manning was appreciative of the gesture and even rallied the Broncos from a 36-14 deficit and completed 29-of-49 passes for 386 yards, three TDs and an interception.
"I threw a lot of wobbly passes," admitted Manning, who said the experience will be something he will remember. "This is a game we need to learn from."
The Broncos fell from the ranks of the unbeaten and sit behind the 7-0 Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC West with a 6-1 record. They had won 17 in a row in the regular season and a team-record eight-game road win streak came to an end. The Broncos were done in by the three turnovers and are 26th in giveaways this season with 13, including 10 fumbles.
"We didn't play very smart and play the way we needed to play to win the game," said Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker. "We talk about protecting the ball and we have to go out there and do it."
Denver has won 10 in a row at home in the regular season, last losing there Sept. 23, 2012, and should have no trouble scoring points and moving the football against the Redskins. Denver is first in passing yards (361.3), total yards (469.3) and points scored (42.6), while Washington's defense is 22nd against the pass (262.8), 25th in yards allowed (389.0) and 30th in points (30.7).
Manning, as usual, is the X-factor. He leads the NFL with 2,565 yards passing with an average of 366.4 per game and has 25 TD passes to three interceptions. His completion percentage is one of the best at 71.6 and Manning owns a 3-1 mark against the Redskins. He has shredded the 'Skins for 10 touchdowns passes and has been a nightmare to stop at home, going 11-1 with 38 TD passes to only four INTs and a 120 QB rating. Manning is nursing a sore ankle and missed Wednesday's practice, but it's not serious enough to miss Sunday's game.
On a day the Broncos are calling "Orange Sunday," the hosts hope to keep the points coming and have totaled 298 so far, the most by a team through the first seven games of the season. It helps to score 30 or more points in seven consecutive games (11 dating back to last season, including the playoffs).
After the Broncos host the Redskins they will enter the bye week.
Not to be overshadowed in the valley of the Denver offense, the Redskins can accumulate yards and points as well. They have won two of their last three games and pulled within a game of second place in the NFC East with Sunday's 45-41 outlasting of the Chicago Bears at FedEx Field.
A 21-point second quarter and three rushing touchdowns by Roy Helu spearheaded the attack and his three-yard TD run with 45 seconds remaining put Washington ahead for good. The comeback was orchestrated by quarterback Robert Griffin III, who passed for 298 yards with two TDs and an interception and ran for a season-high 84 yards on 11 scrambles. Griffin III appeared to show no signs of rust on his surgically repaired knee.
"This was definitely the most emotional comeback for me in the NFL. It was a great team win," Griffin said.
Griffin III connected with tight end Jordan Reed for a game-best 134 yards and a touchdown on nine receptions and Aldrick Robinson added a 45-yard TD catch. Redskins running back Alfred Morris was kept out of the end zone, but did manage 95 yards on 19 carries. Morris is averaging 101.3 rushing yards per game since Week 12 of last season and may struggle this weekend because the Broncos are first against the rush, allowing just 77.1 yards per game.
Morris, though, helped his team compile 499 yards offensively, the most since 511 yards versus San Francisco back in 1999. That game went into overtime. The last time the Redskins posted at least 499 yards in a game that ended in regulation was on Nov. 10, 1991 against Atlanta. Washington has gained 932 net offensive yards in the last two weeks against Dallas and Chicago, and that total will rise against the Broncos defense rated 30th in yards allowed (397.0) and dead last in passing yards (319.9). RGIII should like that.
The Redskins are hoping to carry the momentum into the Mile High City, where Shanahan will return for the first time since his coaching tenure ended there in 2008. Shanahan, who was a part of the organization for 21 seasons, won two Super Bowls with the Broncos and registered a 146-91 combined regular season and postseason record.
"I think any time you're at a place for 21 years, that's quite a long time, I think," he told The Washington Post. "In football years, that doesn't happen very often. So yeah, it's been where we raised our kids. It's head coach there for 14 years, assistant for seven. You've got a lot of great friends there. You look forward to that type of rivalry. Obviously you always want to play your best. I'm looking forward to playing there."
Washington and Denver have split 12 matchups, including the playoffs, and are meeting for the first time since a 27-17 win by the Redskins back on Nov. 15, 2009. The Redskins handed the Broncos on a 42-10 loss in Super Bowl XXII.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The Redskins defense will be in for a real treat if they're not prepared for Manning and his bag of weapons. The 'Skins were able to contain the Bears on Sunday, largely due to the fact that quarterback Jay Cutler was knocked out of the game with a groin injury. That means pressure up front is imperative.
Washington outgained Chicago, 249-46, in the first half of Sunday's win, but the Bears were able to claw their way back to take the lead in the fourth quarter. The Redskins also limited the Bears to 22 first-half passing yards and 46 total yards through the first two quarters.
That WILL NOT happen against the Broncos. Manning can get more than 22 yards on one pass play and has four different receivers to do it with. Eric Decker (627 yards, 3 TD), Demaryius Thomas (610 yards, 5 TD), Wes Welker (474 yards, 8 TD) and Julius Thomas (422 yards, 8 TD) all have ignited Denver's offense this season and will face what could be a depleted Washington secondary.
Safety Brandon Meriweather (suspension) will miss Sunday's game after having his two-game suspension reduced to one game for repeated violations of the sport's player safety rules. He had two penalties on Sunday. Safety Reed Doughty (concussion) is not expected to play either. It will get ugly if Bacarri Rambo, E.J. Biggers, Jose Gumbs and Trenton Robinson see extended time and the high altitude won't make it any easier.
Safety Jordan Pugh was re-signed by the team after his release on Oct. 15.
Denver's top receiving threats in Decker, Thomas and Welker are on pace to become the sixth trio to record 1,000 receiving yards each. Broncos veteran cornerback Champ Bailey is impressed with all three.
"You take your pick, they all play like No. 1 receivers," Bailey said. "I don't care where they play, or where they line up, that corner is going to have his hands full."
DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson are those corners, but are talented to step up to the challenge. Another task for the Washington defense is to get to Manning early and often. The Colts were able to do it and held on in the end for a win. Defensive linemen Barry Cofield and Chris Baker each had a sack against the Bears, while Manning was taken down four times, including twice by former teammate Robert Mathis.
In milestone news, 'Skins linebacker London Fletcher is set to play his 247th consecutive regular season game and 206th consecutive regular season game as a linebacker. Linebacker Derrick Brooks holds the NFL record at 208 games.
Shanahan's return to the Mile High City will be memorable, but not for an upset over the heavily favored Broncos.
The Redskins like to run the ball and the Broncos are the best at stopping it. The Redskins can also throw the ball, but the Broncos do it better. In order to keep pace with the unbeaten and surprising Chiefs, Manning and the Broncos want to erase the memories of last week's drama and get back on track. And what a better person (Shanahan) to do it against.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Broncos 41, Redskins 24
10/24 16:05:29 ET