BEREA - Chalk it up to one of life's little mysteries.
For a quarterback that entered this season with a career 94.9 passer rating, Peyton Manning has been strangely non-descript in five games against the Browns. He threw two touchdown passes in one game and none in the other four. He was picked off six times and has a combined passer rating of 74.2.
Those games - all wins for Manning - were played when he was with the Indianapolis Colts. Manning is now starting for the Denver Broncos in a reincarnation of his career after sitting out all of last season with a serious neck injury.
Manning's lack of success hasn't gone unnoticed to Browns linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, who's faced Manning only one time. One of the secrets might have been the Browns' ability to play a physical style of defense.
"He's about timing," Jackson said. "He wants his routes run a certain way. He puts a lot of pressure on his guys to overachieve. Anywhere he's been he's been successful. Denver is reaping the benefits.
"If we can re-route those guys and get them off that timing that they've established, it works to our benefit. Another thing is he's great at three-step reads and reading the defense. Whatever hand you're showing, he's great at putting the offense into the right run or picking up blitzes. Hopefully, our front four gets after him a little bit. He helps his O-line by getting rid of the ball quickly."
The surprising thing about the success the Browns have had against Manning is that they've done it with three different coaches. The Chris Palmer-led Browns lost on a last-second field goal, 29-28, in the 1999 season finale. Butch Davis was on the losing end three times during a run from 2002-05. Romeo Crennel lost, 10-6, in 2008.
They key thing in all five games is that Manning finished on the winning end. He didn't play well, but he did enough to win. That's obviously a sign of his greatness.
Manning isn't the same quarterback he was before the neck problem. His passes don't have the same velocity, but his timing and accuracy are still impeccable.
"It's not surprising at all that he's having the season he's having," Jackson said. "He knows his tools aren't the same as they were when he first came into the league, so he's adjusted. His accuracy is unbelievable. He's not throwing that fastball like he used to, but he's been successful by throwing a floater or adjusting to the game."
What hasn't changed about Manning's game is his ability to read defenses and use audibles and occasionally dummy audibles to confuse defenses. He's a master surgeon.
"There are times when some of what he's doing are theatrics," Browns coach Pat Shurmur said. "That's just part of what he does. It's important that we prepare for the plays we think they're going to run and try to do what we do.
"You kind of know what's happening. For instance, you line up in a two-deep shell on first or second down, typically a run play works better. If we line up when we're all up in there, where the run play might not be so good. There are times when what he's doing could be a dummy audible. They just try to snap the ball into a good defense."
It's worked well for Manning throughout the years.