Former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders was interviewed on Sirius XM NFL Radio yesterday, and he had a lot to say about what it’s like to play with Peyton Manning at quarterback with the Denver Broncos, in comparison to his four seasons in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense with Ben Roethlisberger.
He was highly complimentary toward both his current and former quarterbacks, saying that he believes the biggest difference between the two is the system that they play in.
“To play with Peyton Manning—not only that, playing with Ben Roethlisberger, and then playing with Peyton Manning, two first-ballot Hall of Famers in my eyes, it’s a blessing within itself”, he said.
But Sanders understands the perception. Manning is arguably the greatest quarterback of all time, seemingly routinely puts up record-breaking numbers, and makes some of the greatest defenses looks like college teams. Roethlisberger doesn’t put up those numbers, and his game rarely looks beautiful, but he knows how to win.
The former Steelers receiver sees a lot of similarities between the two quarterbacks, particularly when it comes to their drive to succeed, but it seems that he felt a compulsion to defend his former quarterback, to justify his statistical performance in comparison to Manning:
I think they’re both the same kind of guy…they both want to win, they’re both competitors. They both love to throw the football. I think the difference is…the offenses that they’re in. You know, Ben wants to throw the ball. Ben wants to put up big-time numbers and prolific offenses and throw 40 touchdowns. But the offense that he’s in is a balanced attack. He makes the most of it and he wins.
Sanders gave Roethlisberger the edge in terms of arm strength, which is especially true of recent years, since Manning’s career-threatening neck injury, and also spoke positively about the former’s ability to extend plays, but he also talked about the advantages of playing with a quarterback that sees the game as Manning does:
He’s not going to scramble, he’s not going to run when a play breaks down, he’s going to throw the ball away. But the good thing is that now I can run precise routes. He demands that you run precise routes. Like I said, he anticipates passes, so right when I get my head around, the ball is already there.
For a guy like me, that loves to run after the catch and make people miss, the quicker the ball’s there, the quicker it’s in my hands, and the quicker I can make a move and hopefully go and score. So that’s the reason why I’m enjoying playing with Peyton, because the ball is there.
After spending most of his career as a fourth or fifth option, he’s also warming to the more egalitarian Broncos offense that spreads the wealth much more efficiently than the Steelers, or most teams, can:
“The thing that I like about the Broncos is that there’s really no number one guy. Peyton always goes with the favorable matchup…Any guy can go for 180 yards, or 100 yards with 10 catches, any week, week in and week out, just based off of matchups”.
Many Steelers fans were happy to see him leave, and in fact wanted to see him leave a year earlier, which would have netted Pittsburgh a third-round pick. They’re certainly entitled to hold that view, but even if Sanders has felt the wrath of a scorned fan base, it’s good to see that he appreciated the opportunities and the time that he had with the Steelers.