NFL Preview - Arizona (3-0) at Denver (2-1)
By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - Arizona head coach Bruce Arians and assistant head coach Tom Moore had a first-hand look at the growth and success of Denver quarterback Peyton Manning.
The two hope to keep Manning from reaching another milestone this Sunday in Mile High as the unbeaten Cardinals try to secure their first ever road win over the Broncos in a matchup of two teams coming off their bye.
Arians and Moore have helped turn around the Cardinals, leading the franchise to its third 3-0 start in 41 years and 10 victories in the past 12 games overall. Arizona now has a chance at the eighth 4-0 start in franchise history and just the second since 1975, having also opened up the 2012 campaign with four straight wins.
Any inside information the two have on Manning will be helpful. Arians served as quarterbacks coach in Indianapolis from 1998-2000, Manning's first three seasons in the league, but Moore's relationship with the signal-caller stretched through 2010.
Moore joined the Colts as offensive coordinator the same year the franchise took Manning first overall in the draft and Manning never played a game without Moore, whose contract with the Colts expired following the 2010 season.
Manning, meanwhile, did not suit up for Indianapolis in 2011 due to neck surgery and was then released at the end of the season, leading to his signing with Denver.
"Peyton's very, very special," Moore said "He's a special individual and his work ethic and his preparation are just meticulous. Peyton makes everybody in organization better.. He made me a better coach and I'll be the first to admit it."
"It's pretty rare for coordinator and a quarterback to stay that long together," said Manning of his partnership with Moore. "People used to always tell both of us, 'Boy, you're lucky you got the same coordinator every year and they tell him you've got the same quarterback every year.' I think we both kind of say, 'Hey, if you call good plays and you play good quarterback, they're going to keep you.'
"We were both proud of the fact that we were able to stay together that long because we both did our jobs ... I'll always be indebted to him."
Manning has thrown 100 touchdown passes since joining the Broncos, including eight this season. That has given him 499 in his career, leaving him one shy of joining Brett Favre as the only players in NFL history to pass for 500 career touchdowns.
The 38-year-old completed a pair of TD passes in Week 3's Super Bowl rematch with Seattle, both in the fourth quarter as Denver erased a 17-3 halftime deficit to force overtime.
However, the Seahawks' Marshawn Lynch score a six-yard rushing touchdown in the bonus quarter to hand the Broncos a 26-20 setback.
Denver was coming off wins over Indianapolis and Kansas City and will play three of its next four at home.
"I think when we looked at the schedule, six out of the first eight were playoff teams from a year ago and the team (Arizona) coming to town somehow didn't make the playoffs," said Broncos coach John Fox. "Obviously it was the rules but they were 10-6, very, very good football team that's sitting at 3-0. Bruce has done a great job with that football team. They've got very good players really in all three phases and it will be a tough, tough test here in Denver."
While Fox is set under center, Arians may be going with backup quarterback Drew Stanton for a third straight week as Carson Palmer continues to battle an issue with his right shoulder.
Palmer has not played since Week 1 and appeared on track to return for this game, but ended up getting excused from practice on Wednesday to go see a specialist.
"He threw a bunch last Thursday and Friday and then regressed, so we're hoping we can find out why," said Arians, who noted Palmer won't play until he is at full velocity.
Stanton, meanwhile, has guided Arizona to wins over the New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers. In those victories, he has passed for 411 yards and two touchdowns while not turning the ball over.
So, it could be Stanton who tries to lead the Cardinals to their first victory in five trips to Denver.
The Broncos are 7-1-1 overall in this matchup, winning seven straight before a loss in Arizona on Dec. 12, 2010 when the clubs last met.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Another week, another milestone watch for Manning.
With a struggling running game, Manning has the Broncos operating with the eighth-best passing attack at 264.0 yards per game.
Manning has plenty of targets, hitting tight ends Julius Thomas and Jacob Tamme for fourth-quarter touchdowns versus Seattle. Thomas is second on the club with 14 receptions and leads the NFL with five touchdowns.
Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders set career highs with 11 catches and 149 yards in Week 3 and has hauled in 25 passes from Manning on the year. However, he is still looking for his first touchdown catch in a Denver uniform and will try to get his hands on Manning's 500th.
"That's a heck of an accomplishment within itself. I mean, Peyton has broken so many records, and every season he continues to break several other ones," said Sanders. "Hopefully I'll be on the other end of catching that ball but right now Julius Thomas is hot and hopefully he stays hot."
Manning wasn't always this hot. In his first season under the watchful eye of Arians and Moore, he set an NFL rookie record with 28 interceptions, a mark that still stands.
Of course, Manning has gotten a tad bit better since then and also credits Arians.
"Bruce would coach me hard and I would kind of learn sort of what I did wrong and I really used that experience and got a lot better my second year and we kind of turned it around," Manning said. "So I'll be indebted to Bruce, as well. He taught me a lot of fundamentals in those first three years that I still use today."
Perhaps Stanton has picked up some of those fundamentals as he helped rally the Cardinals back from an eight-point halftime deficit to a 23-14 win over the 49ers.
Behind Stanton and Palmer, the Cardinals have opened a season without throwing an interception through three games for the first time in team history.
"My biggest goal is to not let my teammates down," Stanton said on Arizona's website. "That's what I need to continue to do. That's what motivates me."
Rookie wide out John Brown has clicked with Stanton, catching two TD passes versus San Francisco to become the first Cardinals first-year player to have three scoring receptions through the first three games since Steve Lach in 1942.
Brown also hauled in a scoring pass from Palmer in Week 1 and the Broncos don't believe that Arizona's offense will change much regardless of who is under center.
"They don't care who plays quarterback so we shouldn't care who plays quarterback," said Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib.
Arizona's defense, meanwhile, has not allowed a point in the fourth quarter this season, with the club outscoring its opponents 30-0 in the frame.
Cardinals cornerback Antonio Cromartie also has some past success over Manning to lean on. He picked off the former MVP three times in a game on Nov. 11, 2007 while with San Diego.
The Broncos are saying all the right things, but they have to be viewed as the favorite in this game despite the Cardinals' unbeaten record.
"The job that that team's done and that coaching staff has done for your backup to go in and perform like they did, it's tremendous," Fox said of the Broncos. "They've got a top-5 defense that they can lean on, and rightfully so. It's a very, very good football team."
So are the Broncos. Both teams come in fresh and looking to get back into rhythm. Advantage Peyton, who should slide right back under center and perform much easier than the inexperience Stanton.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Broncos 27, Cardinals 16
10/05 07:52:31 ET