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Lose to Virgil Green in Madden? Blame Peyton Manning.

The Broncos tight end said playing against Manning has helped him diagnose defenses in the video game. Virtual reality intersects with playoff urgency Sunday when the Broncos host the Pittsburgh Steelers in the divisional round.

At 39, Manning receives criticism for his advancing age, ailing foot and lack of arm strength. What remains beyond reproach is Manning's mental excellence. When it comes to decoding an opponent at the line of scrimmage, Manning exists in a class of his own.

"Honestly a lot of my schemes in Madden come from what I have learned from what Peyton has done to defenses," Green said Wednesday. "You learn to understand the way Peyton thinks. He knows how to attack weaknesses and patterns. When you play with Peyton it enhances your football IQ to a whole other level."

Question and expect to be questioned: This is the operating premise at Dove Valley this week with Manning starting at quarterback. As the five-time NFL MVP walked through the locker room Wednesdsay, running back C.J. Anderson apologized to Manning for a mistake on a play in practice. Manning provided an immediate explanation, using his hands to simulate the formation. Such is the attention to detail that Manning meets individually with the running backs and center Matt Paradis.

"18 is a little more amped up, to be honest. His energy, everything," Anderson said. "He's making sure we are more dialed in during meetings, practice, knowing about something that might happen in the game. It keeps you on your toes."


This type of recall can benefit the Broncos against a Steelers team that likes to blitz. What separates Manning in these situations is his calm, players said. He won't panic over audibling to the right pass protection. The simple answer might be a run, which happened multiple times in his successful relief appearance in the season finale against San Diego.

"He knows we don't always have to pass the ball. We can take a few yards on the ground, to set up something to hit 'em later," said Green, who is a Madden whiz according to teammates. "Peyton does a great job of winning the chess match."

In the past, Broncos coach Gary Kubiak's offense possessed a narrowly defined audible system. The quarterback would leave the huddle with the play and, if killed, a second option at the line of scrimmage. Multiple players said the entire playbook is at Manning's disposal on audibles. This creates a weapon that quarterback Brock Osweiler used but not to Manning's extreme.

"The first thing we said when Peyton came back, 'It's all live.' Everything," Anderson said. "Whether we are huddling up or on the ball in uptempo, if he sees something he can change it."

Playing a team such as Pittsburgh within a month figures to bring similarities. However, Manning maintains a reputation as the master of recall around the league. Opponents will wait years between repeating a look, only to watch him go back to the same play that worked the first time.

"There's nothing he hasn't seen," Kubiak said. "He's just very comfortable in the group and getting them in the right spot. And they have a lot of confidence that he'll get them in the right spot."

Wide receiver Jordan Taylor understands. The practice squad receiver spent weeks working with Manning as he rehabbed his foot. Those sessions were therapy for his injury and calisthenics for his mind.

"He would create invisible defenses and make audibles," Taylor said. "It's so impressive how much he knows and sees. It makes you better and work harder just being around him."

Troy E. Renck: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or @troyrenck

Read between the lines

Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning makes a living reading defenses. Teammates have discussed how it helps in audibles:

— The entire playbook remains at his disposal.

— He doesn't panic on blitzes, checking to runs as easily as passes.

— It forces attention to detail and players to see the game, in some ways, through his eyes.

— His ability to recall information limits trick coverages and looks from opponents.

Troy E. Renck, The Denver Post

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