INDIANAPOLIS – It was a scenario Jim Irsay knew was plausible back when he made probably the most difficult decision of his tenure as Colts Owner.
Irsay was cutting a quarterback that had taken the Colts to a pair of Super Bowls, knowing that the big picture of his franchise had to be first and foremost in this thought process.
An AFC destination for Manning was certainly possible, meaning that if the Colts could get back into the postseason, they could very well see the man who took them to the postseason in 11 of his 13 seasons as quarterback.
Nearly three years after Irsay took his organization in a different direction, his scenario is playing out.
"To me, it's been tremendous that my vision, at the time was it would work out this way, that Peyton would be able to go somewhere, continue his greatness, continue his career," Irsay said on Tuesday.
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Irsay said on Tuesday that Manning is still a "dear friend" to him and the two continue to communicate.
On Sunday though, Irsay will watch two of the game's finest quarterbacks duel with the Colts defense having to prepare against the future first ballot Hall of Famer.
Manning has taken a bit of a back seat from an offensive production standpoint lately with Denver relying on a consistent ground game.
The 38-year old quarterback has battled injuries over the last month of the season but practiced as a full participant on Wednesday.
Colts defensive end Cory Redding has tried to get after Manning in different stops throughout his 11-year career and points to one specific area being a must this weekend.
"Interior push is absolutely critical this week," Redding says.
"We know the kind of guy we're playing. He wants to take his steps, he wants work up in the pocket and deliver the pass to his receivers. So as interior linemen, we know that we have to get push in the pocket
The Colts will see some different personnel out of the Broncos skill players from the team's matchup in the regular season opener.
Veteran slot receiver Wes Welker is back in the lineup, meaning Pro Bowler Demaryius Thomas won't be lining up inside nearly as much as he was in Week One. Thomas had just four catches for 48 yards in the season opener, by far one of his least productive games in 2014.
Tight end Julius Thomas gave the Colts fits with three touchdown receptions in the Broncos 31-24 win back on September 7. Thomas has caught just one touchdown though since Week 10, as he tries to recover from an ankle injury.
No matter how much the Broncos rely on Anderson this weekend, there will inevitably be times in the second half where the chess match of Manning against the Colts defense will take center stage.
The Colts run defense has limited some of the game's top backs in recent weeks.
Couple that with the one-game contests the Colts and Broncos have played the last two years, and the Indy defense will get its chance to make plays against No. 18 on Sunday.
Pagano knows this, but the head coach also knows what all goes into game planning for a quarterback who has defined his 17-year NFL career on out preparing the opponent.
"Having faced (Manning) in the past over the years, I think the mindset's got to be you're not going to shut him down completely," Pagano said. "You try to slow the offense down. You try to make him work and earn his check the best you can. He's as good as there is in the National Football League and has been for a long, long time at running things from the line of scrimmage. He's going to get you to try to show your hand. He's going to try to gather as much intel as he possibly can before the ball's snapped, so you have to be very, very patient. You have to do a great job with disguise and not showing him because even when he doesn't know, he kills you. But if he does know, he kills you more and faster.
"You've got to stop the run, but then you've got to do a great job of trying to make him work post-snap and on the move. He gets the ball out extremely quick, he's very decisive. He understands and knows exactly where he's going with the football. Still great accuracy, all that stuff, but you've got to be patient. You can't give up big plays. They're going to move the ball some. You've got to play great in the red area, try to force field goals."