Jussel: Fly on the wall sees Peyton preparing for game vs. S.D.
It is dark in the hallway. Not a sound.
But wait ... whirring, a low vibration.
The tiny fly that hangs out on walls of this Dove Valley complex decides to check out the sound and a bit of light. The insect darts through an open door and discovers a large human seated behind a row of desks watching colors move rapidly across a brightened wall.
Peyton Manning is the late-night note taker at Denver Bronco headquarters. He’s munching on cold Papa John’s pizza and sipping on a near-empty Pibb Xtra.
“Hello, friend,” says the Bronco quarterback to the little creature he has just noticed. “I’m just checking out this film of the San Diego Chargers, this one last week’s win over the Cincinnati Bengals.”
The fly, now perched on the soda and eyeing the pizza, moves in tiny spurts but doesn’t launch, comfortable in the presence of greatness.
Just to break the silence, Manning decides to chat it up with his new buddy, who appears to need information about the upcoming playoff game.
“Yes, I know,” Manning says. “They beat us last time. We had a very short work week, never a good thing for me, and we weren’t ready to play. This time, we will be.”
The fly gives up on the pizza and Pibb and heads for the ever-changing lights. From there, he simply observes the mastermind as he jots note after note after note.
Manning’s first note comes from watching the Chargers on offense, and he can’t help but notice constant running on first down. The Bronco QB counts 17 first-down plays for the Chargers in the first half. They run the ball on 16 of those.
“I think I’d better mention that to the defensive coaches,” Manning says to no one in particular except, of course, the fly.
The Bronco quarterback then switches his attention to the Chargers’ defense and takes note of constant early blitzing from safeties Eric Weddle and Marcus Gilchrist and outside linebacker Melvin Ingram.
“That’s interesting,” Manning says. “Their pressure is almost always from someone in the secondary. Not a lot of pressure from the linemen.”
Manning then opens a three-ring notebook that has statistics garnered from previous games against San Diego, some of those going back as far as the late 1990s.
“You know what, fly?” he asks of his company. “The Chargers always try to fool me. They line up this way, then play that way. They’ll continue to do that until it doesn’t work.”
With that, the fly returns from the wall to the last speck of pizza, as much to study Manning’s methods as to scarf down a last bite.
The quarterback then startles the fly with a loud outburst.
“Here’s what we are going to do!” Manning says to the fly, knowing full well the Bronco game plan for Sunday will be a secret only he, head coach John Fox, offensive coordinator Adam Gase and the fly on the wall will share.
“We are not going to waste first downs running. We have gotten into that pattern. Instead, we’ll open the game in a spread formation or run play action to draw their linebackers to the line.”
“Wes (Welker) wasn’t here the last time we played, and he will be open in the middle, especially with their blitzes.
“And, with either Weddle or Gilchrist coming at me from a safety spot, that will leave Demaryius (Thomas) and Eric (Decker) one on one on almost every first down,” Manning says to his pizza-loving friend.
“We’ll jump out in front early, get them out of that rushing game and put pressure on (Philip) Rivers. He hates pressure and starts panicking,” the quarterback says. “I just need to do what I do best: Identify the defense and make them pay. We’ll pass first, run later.”
With that, Manning folds up his notebook, turns off the projector and saunters out of the room.
The fly whom the quarterback wouldn’t harm also decides to head for greener pastures and check out another wall in another room.
He leaves knowing he will check in with his new friend next week at the same time, same room, same lit-up wall, knowing there will be more pizza, Pibb and words of wisdom.
Rick Jussel is a former Daily Sentinel sports editor (think Dark Ages) and Grand Junction High School journalism teacher who belongs in the Armchair Quarterback Hall of Fame, if only there was one.