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Nobody understands Peyton Manning's transition more than John Elway

Nobody gets Peyton Manning's transition from star player to game manager more than John Elway.

John Elway deserves all the credit he'll ever get for being one of the most prolific passers in NFL history. He finished his career with 148 victories to his name, a record that has since been surpassed by Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Brett Favre. He holds Denver Broncos franchise records for offensive yards (54,882), touchdowns (334) and winning percentage (.641).

He also has two Super Bowl titles to his name, winning Super Bowl XXXII and XXXIII in the final two years of his career. But it's often overlooked that Elway, despite his pedigree and ability, was very clearly at the end of his career going into those games.

Elway threw for fewer yards and completions in his final years than in many of the years before it. His final year saw his touchdown numbers drop significantly, and his completion numbers drop drastically. But there is a lot more to it than the stat sheet. Elway played the game at a slower pace, took fewer risks and relied on a Denver defense that was very good to get to the top.

That's where Peyton Manning is now with the Broncos, or at least it's where he needs to be. He can't make all the throws he used to and if he tries, the Broncos will be in bad shape against the Carolina Panthers in the Super Bowl. He is not the same quarterback he was in the past, but that's OK, because the Broncos have the best defense in the league.

Elway learned to rely on other people

Elway knows exactly what it's like to not be as good as you used to be. Manning will go down as one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game, but he isn't what he used to be. Elway understands what it's like to grow old as a quarterback.

"It is hard. And it is hard, the older you get," Elway said prior to the AFC Championship. "And it is harder ... all of a sudden to make that adjustment and start relying on other people, when you've relied on yourself for so long to be that guy who's going to pull the trigger and be that guy in big games that has to pull it out."

Elway said that the formula when the Broncos won their two championships was to "play good defense and really, offensively, it was about running the ball."

Broncos running back C.J. Anderson has been great this season, and the team ranks about middle of the pack in rushing yardage. But more importantly, the Broncos finished the regular season ranked first in total defense, and fourth in the league in points allowed per game at just 18.5. The Panthers finished the regular season ranked first in points scored with 31.3 points per game, so they will have their work cut out for them.

Manning still has some magic left, and he can still make the big plays if the Broncos need them, but what they really need is for Manning to take a backseat for the first time in his career.

"There is a transition to that," Elway said, "And it is tough."

Elway has put Manning in the best position to succeed

When the Broncos beat the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship, the rhetoric was that Manning beat Tom Brady and that their longtime rivalry was as good as it's ever been. That's true -- Manning did get the upper hand on Brady, but he hardly had an amazing game.

Manning completed 17 of 32 passes for 176 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions in the game. Manning had a couple clutch throws, which he will still need in the Super Bowl. But against a high-powered Patriots team with Brady, who hasn't slowed down one bit, the Broncos defense came through.

Elway deserves as much of the credit as anyone for putting together the Broncos as they are now. He knew when to gamble on Manning, an aging, injured quarterback, and he built an incredible defense that features Von Miller as its primary pass rusher. He made the risky decision to part ways with John Fox in favor of Gary Kubiak this offseason.

Elway has made a series of gutsy, risky calls, and they have worked thus far. If the Broncos can get through the Panthers in Super Bowl 50, it will have as much to do with Elway's smart running of the team as it will the players on the field, especially Manning.