Peyton Manning on offense: 'We're still very much figuring out who we are'

Peyton Manning was sacked three times, twice during a four-play span by 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman on Saturday. Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

DENVER -- Preseason football is a different kind of physics, it is a place where every action often has an over-reaction.

And as the Denver Broncos starters, including quarterback Peyton Manning, concluded their preseason work Saturday night against the San Francisco 49ers -- the regulars will not play in Thursday's preseason finale -- the hills around their home stadium were alive with the sound of hand-wringing.

The Broncos faithful see a 3-0 preseason record, a defense that has bordered on ridiculous at times in its ability to sack quarterbacks and frazzle opponents to go with a run game brimming with get-it-done potential.

Ah, but those with even the most orange-colored glasses see an offense that is out of sorts with a future Hall of Fame quarterback in Manning who did not throw a scoring pass in what was his roughly three quarters of preseason work.

And Saturday night, in the Broncos' 19-11 win at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Manning was sacked three times, twice in a four-play span by 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman, threw an interception in the end zone as he tried to get the ball to Demaryius Thomas and also underthrew Thomas on another play that would have been a cake-walk touchdown if Manning had done what he has done so many times before and deftly dropped the ball into Thomas' waiting hands.

"Would we like to be a finely-tuned machine going into Week 1? Sure," Manning said. "With some newness, some different players and some different things that we're doing, that's what we're working toward. … Not to make excuses you can still win games as your kind of finding your identity.

"We're still very much figuring out who we are and what we're going to be as far as things we can really hang our hat on," Manning added. "I still think we can win games as we're developing kind of that identity."

But nothing, as in no thing, shakes the bee hive in the Broncos' home city these days more than than Manning being anything less than astoundingly perfect. And Saturday night, with both teams playing on a limited game plan, the Broncos looked like they couldn't protect Manning and Manning looked less than comfortable in the new playbook.

A measuring stick for comfort level is Manning to Thomas, and on attempts to Thomas in this preseason Manning is 6-of-11 passing for just 54 yards and an interception.

Thomas skipped the offseason program as his representatives tried to hammer out the eventual five-year deal he signed just before training camp opened. Manning is in an offense that is asking him to do different things, including line up under center far more than he has in recent seasons.

Toss in that wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders hasn't played in the two preseason games Manning has, that the Broncos have tried to play three starters in the offensive line that haven't played in an NFL regular-season game and you have the recipe for raised eyebrows all around.

"The biggest thing offensively is we don't have a lot to show for some of the good things that are going on," said coach Gary Kubiak. "We hold the ball for 20 minutes in first half (Saturday night), you're over 50 percent on third down, you think you'd be scoring some points, that's the thing that's discouraging. … I had us in a couple tough situations that I've got to do a better job with our quarterback. There are things we can fix. There needs to be a sense of urgency to get some things cleaned up."

The Broncos did hold the ball for just over 21 minutes in the first half Saturday, they had a 14-play drive, a 13-play drive and converted 5-of-9 third down situations. They also ran the ball for 79 yards in the half.

Those are gaudy numbers for two quarters of work, but the two field goals the offense scored, to go with three sacks and one interception were not. The Broncos say they can fix it, Manning says he's comfortable and all involved say the focus is now what happens against the Baltimore Ravens in two weeks.

Still, Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway said this week the offense was a "work in progress." Well, the clock's ticking and the Broncos certainly need to get to work because to go where they want to go, they'll need to make a lot more progress.