By Eric D. Williams The News Tribune
DENVER — Seattle’s talented defensive backfield faces perhaps its toughest challenge of the exhibition season when the Seahawks take on the Denver Broncos, led by future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning.
The 36-year-old quarterback is looking to shake off some rust after sitting out the 2011 season because of neck surgery that threatened to end his football career. Manning is expected to play the first quarter and perhaps into the second quarter today.
Manning experienced a whirlwind offseason that included his longtime team in Indianapolis releasing him. He generated a lot of interest in free agency. Seattle was one of several teams to go after Manning, with head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider going so far as to fly to Denver in team owner Paul Allen’s private jet in an attempt to woo Manning to Seattle.
Seattle’s efforts were rebuffed, and Manning eventually signed with the Broncos.
No matter. Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman, who faced Manning’s replacement in Indianapolis, Andrew Luck, every day in practice at Stanford, says his team doesn’t feel any added pressure in taking on a quarterback of Manning’s stature.
“Unless you can find a quarterback that can teleport the ball into a receiver’s hands, it’s all the same,” Sherman said. “They still throw interceptions. They still throw incompletions and good defenses can stop them.”
Seattle’s starting defense was in regular-season form against Tennessee last week, forcing former Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck into two interceptions, including one returned by Brandon Browner for a touchdown.
Seattle held Tennessee to 146 total yards and 3 points in the first half.
But the last time Seattle faced Manning, he made quick work of Seattle’s defense. Manning finished 31 of 41 for 353 yards and two touchdowns in the Colts 34-17 win over Seattle in Indianapolis in 2009 — Jim Mora’s first and only year as Seattle’s head coach.
Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said he’s interested to see how his defense responds to the challenge of facing Manning.
“I’ll be excited to see him and see how we do against him,” Carroll said. “We’re going to take that very seriously knowing that he’s as equipped a quarterback as you can go against.
“I don’t know what they’ll try to do or how much they’ll try to use all of the great stuff that he brings — all the tempo he can bring, all of the checks he makes at the line of scrimmage.
“I don’t know what they’ll try to do against us. … That would be a good test for us right out of the chute and its fun for the young guys to play against him. There are a lot of the guys are looking forward to that.”
Sherman said he understands the unique challenge that Manning brings as one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game, but he still believes he and his teammates will have the opportunity to make some game-changing plays.
“He’s a great quarterback; his resume speaks for itself,” Sherman said. “But I don’t think we look at him any different than anybody else. Because any time you start marking games and saying this quarterback is above another quarterback, you start making other quarterbacks look better than what they are.
“So, we prepare for him just like we prepare for (John) Skelton or (Kevin) Kolb or any of the other quarterbacks out there. We prepare for everybody equally. We check out the film, because at the end of the day the quarterback can only do so much. The play calls are out there. The route concepts are out there, and they’ll be the same regardless of who’s under center.”