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Mohammad to the mountain

Sep 9, 2012 - By Randy Tucker

Peyton Manning is the former, and the Denver Broncos are the latter.

"If you can't bring Mohammad to the mountain bring the mountain to Mohammad" is a phrase often attributed to the Quran but in reality is far removed from the Prophet by time and distance.

The idea is juxtaposed to a phrase written by Francis Bacon in the early 17th century when the English bard wrote, "If the mountain will not come to Muhammad, then Muhammad must go to the mountain."

Bacon's intent was simply to indicate that if people don't get what they want, then they must find an alternative method to reach their goal.

Simple enough. We've all had to change our plans to overcome an unforeseen hurdle.

In our world the changing of plans is a constant.

But this is a commentary on football rather than a dip into the religious realm, although many Americans can't tell the difference as fanaticism reaches its zenith each year on opening day.

When the Pittsburgh Steelers open play Sunday night in Denver against Peyton Manning and the Broncos it will be a moment worthy of Baconian satire.

I had the opportunity to interview Pittsburgh Steeler Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau earlier this summer and pointedly asked him the difference between preparing for the Broncos with Tim Tebow at quarterback or with Peyton Manning calling the shots.

His answer surprised me.

Tebow & Co. stunned the Steelers in the playoffs last season and ended their post-season hopes. This year anticipation among Denver fans is possibly higher than it was three decades ago when they drafted John Elway out of Stanford University.

LeBeau related that Tebow was an unknown, and unknowns create nightmares for coaches.

"You didn't know what he would do," LeBeau said. "He ran when he should have thrown, and you had no idea where he was going to throw. With Manning it's more predictable. You just have to figure out how to stop him."

In discussing the same situation with former Greybull standout Brett Keisel at the St. Vincent's Camp and with Steeler legend "Mean" Joe Greene, they reiterated the unpredictability of Tebow along with the known element that is the play of Peyton Manning.

All three men also noted that the entire Bronco organization was changing to fit the playing style of Manning.

LeBeau's career as a player and coach dates back over half a century and his insights on Manning's abilities was unique.

"There is no doubt that he is a great quarterback, he is a franchise player that can change a game in an instant," LeBeau said.

"But so were Johnny Unitas, Otto Graham and Norm Van Brocklin."

LeBeau noted that these men would not just be good quarterbacks today but would still be stars in a league full of stellar athletes.

Keisel was quick to praise the play of his quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

"Ben is a franchise player," Keisel said. "He is our leader, and we're committed to following him."

When asked how they planned to prepare for Manning and the revamped Bronco offense, LeBeau indicated that the game plan would be one of the easier ones to prepare for during the upcoming season.

"We played the Colts maybe a dozen times since I've been here," LeBeau said. "We're not even scouting the Broncos that much. We've just pulled one of the previous game plans we used for the Colts off the shelf, and we'll go with that."

Peyton Manning has that much status in the league.

The entire Denver offense will change to meet his playing style. Similarities to this practice abound in prep athletics as well. Coaches in larger schools find players that fit their system and toss aside those that don't. In smaller programs the coach has to work much harder in finding a system that matches the skills of the limited number of players he has to work with.

You can count the Denver coaching staff in the ranks of the smaller program.

Even the Denver defense will change with the arrival of Manning's ability to sustain long drives and manage the clock. The defense was on the field constantly under Tebow but should get a lot more rest this season.

So, the mountain (in the form of number 19) has come to Mohammed (figuratively the other 44 Bronco players along with the entire organization.)

What the mountain does when he finally takes the field is open to conjecture, at least until tonight.

Joe Greene had the answer with the greatest quarterbacks of an earlier era. Joe just pounded away at them until they couldn't play anymore. Keisel concurs.

"We'll have break the pocket and force him to throw," he said.

When all your eggs are in one basket you either spend all your time protecting the investment or you risk losing everything in the wink of an eye.

As long as there isn't a landslide on the mountain it should be an interesting season.

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