METAIRIE, La. — Scott Shanle watched tape of the Denver Broncos this week and knew exactly what he was seeing.
Change the uniforms from Denver orange to Indianapolis blue and, yep, Shanle says little has changed other than Peyton Manning’s home address.
“They run the exact same stuff,” Shanle said this week. “They have the same type of players at all the positions.”
Sunday night at 7:30 in what Denverites still refer to as Mile High Stadium, Shanle and his Saints teammates will face Manning for the first time since Super Bowl XLIV.
And though Manning didn’t play in 2011 because of neck surgery, those who have had to pay attention to the quarterback believe little has changed in his return. He’s still the MVP-type signal-caller ready to lead his team into any environment.
Acting Saints head coach Joe Vitt had one trend to stop anyone from questioning Manning’s ability.
“His last three games he’s thrown an average of 300 yards, three touchdowns and a 70 percent completion percentage, which is historic,” Vitt said. “No one has ever done it before.”
No doubt Manning is getting into a zone. After leading Denver (3-3) back from a 24-0 halftime deficit to beat San Diego 35-24, Manning is No. 2 in the NFL in quarterback rating (105.0) and he’s fourth in completion percentage (67.8) and touchdowns (14).
Manning is as efficient as he has ever been, working the no-huddle and shotgun offense to near perfection. He has nearly equal amount of short and intermediate throws to the right (72) and left (75), ranking No. 2 in the NFL in gaining 8.03 yards per pass to the left and no. 5 to the right at 6.44 yards.
The scary thing is he’s just now getting comfortable with receivers Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas as well as getting reacquainted with tight end Jacob Tamme from their days with the Colts.
“The more times you throw an out route to Eric Decker or Demaryius Thomas, you should be better in this week of the season as opposed to training camp, because you’ve done it more,” Manning said. “I still think you’re still learning in game situations. You’re seeing different defenses, different areas of red zone, two minute drill, whatever it may be and you have to go through those different scenarios in order to get on the same page.”
On paper, this wouldn’t appear to be a good matchup for the Saints.
New Orleans ranks 32nd in total defense, 31st against the run and 30th against the pass. This past weekend, Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman scorched the Saints’ defense for 411 passing yards as Tampa Bay compiled its second-most yards total yards in a home game.
The Saints have yet to keep an opponent to less than 421 total yards.
“We’ve been doing the same thing for seven months or however long it’s been,” Saints defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said. “Some of the things that creep up could happen if you’ve been in a system for three years. The game’s not perfect. The guys aren’t perfect. Somewhere along the way, the guys just have to make plays.”
And yet, those plays are hard to come by against Manning.
“He’s really starting to fine-tune his skills and getting back up under his feet,” Saints safety Roman Harper said. “Not playing for a whole year, you’re going to be a little rusty when it comes to game time. He’s definitely making all the throws right now.”
“I think the one thing you always come away with with your respect from him other than arm strength or his ability to make the throws is his knowledge of the game and how it’s a chess match out there,” Shanle said. “If you don’t go back and forth with him, he’ll pick you apart.”