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Peyton Manning, John Fox and the Offense of Benign Neglect

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If Denver's John Fox were a woman, some folks would be wondering what, um, favors he provided in order to get another head coaching job. As it is, one assumes that he gives the greatest interview on the planet.

Fox's coaching career is certainly not based on his media savvy: "I think balance is key. I've been coaching defense in this league for a long time. I know what's difficult."

Huh? This is exactly the kind of statement that had Carolina Panthers fans tearing out their hair. Is he running for office? "Balance is key?" There's a revolutionary gridiron thought.

"I know what's difficult?" Um, would that be offense? Because the finer points of the game's scoring side have been sorely lacking thus far.

Now, before Broncos fans grab their pitchforks and torches -- I do not literally mean that Fox doesn't understand football. One can assume that he expresses himself more eloquently in the locker room than he does in front of microphones.

And he does personify defensive coaching excellence. The Panthers' D was ferocious until it was decimated by injury and free agency. He is clearly on his way to building a tough group of defenders at Mile High. But Fox's idea of balanced offense is having a multi-runner backfield.

During his head coaching reign in Charlotte, the same pantomime played out every week. When the offense was on the field, Fox was deeply and animatedly involved in coaching up the defense -- which was sitting lined up on the bench in rapt attention. When the defense was on the field, the head coach's focus was zeroed in on them. The offense was left to literally mill about behind the Gatorade tables. Jake Delhomme was 35 feet down the field -- listening to Rodney Peete, who was the only one coaching offense on that sideline.

This is disheartening when the signal caller is a youngster out of New Orleans named Jake Delhomme. When it's a mature Big Easy QB named Peyton Manning -- not so much. John Fox's offensive indifference may have been a source of intense frustration for Panthers' fans, but it was a far more positive attribute when it came to Manning's selection of the Denver Broncos as his second-act home.

Much has been made of John Elway's unique insight into No. 18's psyche. While the two legends may indeed come to share a rarified bond, Peyton's father was a professional quarterback. It's not as if he has been lacking veteran counsel. What he needs is autonomy.

A few years ago on Monday Night Football, Jon Gruden flatly stated, "The best offensive coordinator in the NFL is Peyton Manning." I believe him. Pat Bowlen, Elway and Fox believe him.

Did anyone truly think that Peyton Manning would choose to be directly coached by Jim "it was a really firm handshake" Harbaugh? And Mike Munchak was undoubtedly going to want some say in how his offense went about their business. He may have been an O-lineman, but the emphasis was still on the "O." Let's not forget that Munchak was the eighth overall draft pick his rookie year, played 12 seasons, went to nine Pro Bowls and would have been the longest-tenured Oiler/Titan lineman of all time had a gent named Bruce Matthews not also worn powder blue. And then there's the whole yellow jacket thing. Yeah, he would have wanted some input.

Ask any competent A-type on the planet what they most want once they have achieved professional mastery and the answer is some version of "Leave me alone and let me do my job." None want to be second-guessed and over-managed. "If I'm in charge of the results, let me do it my way." It's Bill Parcells, the groceries and stay off of my practice field.

Does anyone doubt Manning's credentials when it comes to masterminding an offensive game plan and then personally overseeing the execution -- while simultaneously being the primary executor? Former Buffalo defender Marcellus Wiley, who played personally against both Tom Brady and No. 18, offered this (somewhat paraphrased) summation last fall on ESPN Radio's Max and Marcellus "When you played against Tom Brady, you knew you'd been in a fight. When you played against Peyton Manning, you knew you had been thrown on the operating table and surgically sliced to pieces."

Manning/Fox may be an arranged marriage, but it comes with an ideal best man. Mike McCoy is both a Fox loyalist and a demonstrably open-minded offensive coordinator. If he can run the scheme that allowed Tebow to, well, be Tebow, McCoy can play the "Tom Moore" role for Peyton while also making sure that Fox's interests are protected. I have no doubt that Mike will excel at letting Manning, well, be Manning. And that is a very good thing for Denver Broncos fans.

Peyton Manning and John Fox were made for each other. The defensive architect and the generational offensive talent. John Fox doesn't have to be bothered with all of those annoying offensive details (like two tight end sets, audibles and short-yardage packages). And the future hall of fame quarterback on the field can chat with the current hall of fame quarterback off the field -- while happily running his own side of the football. It's practically pigskin perfection.

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