By Jeff Legwold
When Mike Shanahan was hired by the Denver Broncos in 1995, he inherited a future Hall of Famer at quarterback in John Elway. Shanahan proceeded to help turn the Canton-bound Elway into a champion by constructing an offense that asked Elway to do less, not more.
By building around Elway, the Broncos only had to break the hero-needed glass when there was a football emergency.
So it shouldn't be a shock that Elway, now the Broncos' chief football executive, will look to use the same template to build around his own Canton-bound quarterback in Peyton Manning as the Broncos recover from the bruises left behind by a 35-point Super Bowl loss. In many ways the 2013 season was an almost weekly coronation of the passing and scoring numbers the Broncos put up, but it's already clear just a few weeks into this offseason that 2014 will have a
little different flavor.
|AP Photo/Tom DiPace|
The hope is that a little less of Manning could mean one win more, at least if the Broncos get what they want out of all this.
“We're still going to have the same personality we had offensive and defensively ... our personality is not going to change because of Seattle and they won the Super Bowl,'' Elway said. “Our personality is going to be the same and we're going to get better. We're going to continue to do what we do, but obviously we've got to get better in the running game, take some pressure off (Manning).''
That's because Elway remembers history and would be more than happy to repeat it.
Elway was everything to the Broncos for much of his career. Miracle comebacks, remember-when plays, annual slices of athletic history people still call up off the mental hard-drive when the games are topics of conversation.
But until Shanahan arrived, until the Broncos stumbled onto a running back they had selected in the sixth round of the draft named Terrell Davis, until they were all stirred together in an offensive playbook that was perfect in its time and place with pass-catchers Rod Smith, Shannon Sharpe and Ed McCaffrey, Elway was not in an offense that could consistently remove some of the responsibilities from his shoulders very often.
At no time before Shanahan's arrival did Elway play in an offense that rushed for 2,100 yards in a season. In the four seasons Shanahan was Elway's head coach the Broncos topped 2,300 yards rushing three times and won Super Bowls in two of those seasons.
Now, times have changed, offenses have changed, the rules book has certainly changed as the game has taken flight. But helping your Hall of Fame quarterback is as important as ever.
Teams that find a way to put enough defense and enough of a run game around the uber-passers are the ones who will still succeed the most. Teams that find a way to have their one-of-a-kind quarterback do what he does and yet still find a way to keep him from having to do everything, will enjoy victories.
The one-trick ponies don't win the races nearly as often in January and February.
The Broncos were a never-before-seen affair on offense this past season. A 606-point colossus that saw Manning toss a record 55 touchdown passes. OK, they've been there, they've done that.
Now it's time to get down to the business adding more to the mix. Adding more, so the Broncos can consistently stop opponents on third down, can consistently get to other quarterbacks and consistently pound the ball at somebody else's defense to keep them from sending all they have at Manning. Elway threw at least 25 touchdown passes in five of his 16 seasons with the Broncos. Four of those seasons came after Shanahan's arrival -- Elway's last four seasons in the league -- and those four came when the Broncos had a top-five run game.
A better run game meant a more well-rounded Elway, a more well-rounded Elway on a more well-rounded team resulted in two titles. And as the guy who gets the last word before the ball is snapped, Manning will have to buy in just as Elway once did.
It is why, even as linebacker D'Qwell Jackson is the first prominent free agents set for a visit to Dove Valley, the coming decisions will reflect Elway's continued desire to have Manning finish his career with the Broncos as Elway finished his.
That Manning's best chance for a title is in the idea of him doing less to get it.