More to Broncos Offense than Peyton Manning

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He's good.

Scratch that. He's really good – five-time-NFL-MVP good.

The San Francisco 49ers know the type of quarterback they'll defend this Sunday night. They're well aware that they're going to face a first-ballot Hall of Famer in Peyton Manning.

And if the constant film study wasn't enough, reporters have brought up Manning's name throughout the week as they prepare for a key non-conference matchup.

But there's more to the Broncos high-powered offense than just its conductor.

Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio knows Manning well. He also knows Denver's third-ranked scoring offense is a unit that utilizes the running game more than the football-viewing public thinks.

"They're committed to it," Fangio said on Thursday. "They will run the ball a fair amount of times. They're running the ball out of all their formations. Peyton enjoys calling running plays. If he thinks you're light (in the box), he likes to call the running play if he thinks you're playing too much to the pass.

"He'll do that freely and easily and enjoys doing it. If you're not good against the run, you'll get a steady dose of it. Last week, that really helped them turn their game around against the Jets. They started running the ball well."

It's true.

Denver trailed 7-3 on the road in New York last week. But a steady ground attack allowed the Broncos to take control of the game and rack up 138 yards on the ground against the league's 12th-best rush defense.

Back to Manning.

Fangio has known the Broncos quarterback from their days in New Orleans. Fangio was the Saints linebackers coach and Manning was the son of Archie Manning, the proud franchise quarterback for the team on the Bayou.

"Peyton used to come around to our practices," Fangio shared. "Back in those days, there were no OTAs. If you had guys around, you maybe have a little skelly (7-on-7). And some of the times, he was a freshman and sophomore in high school, he came over and quarterbacked in those. So I've known him a long time."

Manning and Fangio worked together in Indianapolis as quarterback and defensive coordinator for the Colts.

"He would spend a lot of time at the facility," Fangio recalled. "I'm talking day and night. Many times, I'd walk by the film room where he was watching tape. He'd pull me in and ask me what the defense was doing here, why they're doing this or he'd come in my office and ask me. We would always have football conversations. He loves football. He really does."

Fangio knows Denver's 38-year-old passer to be a true "football junkie."

Fangio is also looking at ways to stop his former colleague - specifically, how to shut down Manning's weapons. The 49ers doubled their season sack total last week with a five-sack outing against the St. Louis Rams. That's part of the game plan, for sure.

The other would be to apply sticky coverage to Denver's array of pass-catchers, a group led by tight end Julius Thomas and his league-leading nine touchdown receptions through five games.

Fangio said the 49ers will mix coverages up against Thomas, using both defensive backs and linebackers against the athletic tight end.

The coverage challenge could, at times, fall on the shoulders of rookie linebacker Chris Borland. It's not known if Joe Staley will miss this game with a toe injury, but cornerback Perrish Cox, a former Broncos draft pick, hinted at Willis' likely being out of action.

Borland, at 5 feet 11 inches, has sharpened his coverage skills in practice while facing the likes of Vernon Davis and Garrett Celek. But when it comes to facing Thomas, the rookie will be facing one of the NFL's top play-makers and one of Manning's favorite targets.

And if an underrated running game and elite tight end were not enough of a hassle to prepare for, the 49ers will have to know the whereabouts of Broncos wide receivers Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders and slot receiver Wes Welker. All three of the receivers have at least 24 catches.
* *So back to the original idea to this piece: Manning is great. So are his cast of weapons.

San Francisco must be at its best to defend all areas of the field at all times.

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