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Dolphins not buying into Peyton Manning's recent struggles

DAVIE, Fla. -- For the first time this season, Peyton Manning looks human on the football field. He has struggled in two of his past three games, including the Denver Broncos' 22-7 defeat Sunday to the St. Louis Rams.

Manning looks hurried in the pocket behind a struggling offensive line. He's making bad throws and bad decisions, which is evident in his six interceptions the past three games. Manning also doesn't look like the same dominant quarterback with several of his supporting cast dealing with injuries.

But you wouldn't know it by listening to players and coaches with the Miami Dolphins (6-4) this week. They expect the best version of Manning -- the elite Manning -- Sunday when they travel to play the Broncos (7-3) in a big game with playoff implications.

"Peyton Manning is Peyton Manning," said Dolphins cornerback Cortland Finnegan, who has played against Manning several times in his career. "He's going to move the football. The biggest thing for us is points. He could have 500 yards passing. As long as we limit the points, that's big for us."

The Dolphins' defense, which is ranked No. 2 in yards per game, is playing as good as any team in recent weeks. The Dolphins are also ranked No. 2 in pass defense and haven't allowed a touchdown in two of their past three games. It's a major reason they are 5-2 in the past seven games.

Still, it sounds as if Miami is expecting a shootout Sunday. The Broncos are the fifth-highest-scoring team in the NFL, averaging 29.3 points per game. Manning already has 30 touchdown passes in 10 games. The Dolphins do not envision the type of low-scoring games they've had against the Buffalo Bills, Detroit Lions or Jacksonville Jaguars in recent weeks.

"That's obvious to us that we're playing one of the best quarterbacks, if not the best quarterback, to ever play the game," Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace said Tuesday. "So we have to put up some points. We don't even [have to] talk about it. ... We know we have to put up more points. We know our defense will need a little more help."

Manning isn't the first elite quarterback Miami faced this season. The team beat Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in Week 1 and lost a nail-biter to Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in Week 6. So playing a quarterback of Manning's caliber will not be foreign.

The key, according to the Dolphins, will be disguising their blitzes and coverages. Defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle has done a good job in his third year of knowing when to drop back seven or eight players and when to blitz to pressure the quarterback.

Rest assured, Manning is studying all of Miami's defensive looks this week.

"I don't know how many things Peyton hasn't seen in the years he's been playing. He is remarkable," Coyle said. "Talking with people who have been around him, he's got almost a photogenic memory. When he sees something, he locks it in and can retrieve it a year later or two years later."

The Rams and Patriots have provided a fine blueprint of how to rattle Manning this season. Both teams made sure to get plenty of pressure on the future Hall of Fame quarterback, even if it didn't result in sacks. One of Miami's biggest strengths is the defensive line, which has a distinct advantage over Denver's offensive line.

Miami's defense has played very well all season but flown mostly under the radar. Getting the best of Manning in his house would certainly raise its profile.

"This is what you play the game for, these type of games," Dolphins safety Reshad Jones said. "I think it will be a great atmosphere, a great time of the season. We're playing against one of the top offenses there is. It's our time to go out, make our plays and make a statement."