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What's the best way to limit Peyton Manning?
Chip Kelly thinks playing in mile-high altitude is more mental than anything else. (USA Today Images)
The mile-high altitude in Denver is said to impact opponents who aren’t accustomed to the thinner air of the Rocky Mountains.
Chip Kelly has a different theory. He thinks it’s all in the mind.
“I think what makes a difference when you play at [high] altitude is who you play against,” said Kelly, who pointed out his 2011 trip to nearby Boulder as coach of the Oregon Ducks against the University of Colorado.
The Ducks were hardly slowed by the altitude. Oregon trounced the Buffaloes, 45-2.
“It wasn't a big deal,” Kelly said. “You play against the Broncos, it's a big deal.”
The rarefied air at Sports Authority Field has been considered the greatest home-field advantage for the Broncos, especially since Peyton Manning came aboard and presented another reason for opponents to get worn down early.
Since Manning became the their starting quarterback last year, the Broncos have lost just one regular-season home contest in 10 games. Manning has thrown 33 touchdowns in Denver, compared to three interceptions.
But Kelly views the often-discussed altitude adjustment the same way he does time of possession -- overhyped and mostly irrelevant.
“It's an anaerobic sport. It doesn't affect you the way you think,” he said. “We're not going there to run a marathon. I think a lot of it is mental, and it's not as big a deal as people make it out to be.”
Some of his players agreed. Some didn’t see it that same way.
Rookie tight end Zach Ertz, one of several Eagles who played collegiately in the Pac-12 Conference and made at least one trip to Boulder during his Stanford tenure, shrugged off the air issue.
“I didn’t think it was too bad,” Ertz said. “We only played the first half of the game because we were up a lot. I think the biggest thing is just getting that sweat in warmups and getting used to it in warmups, going hard maybe pregame, going a little harder than you normally do.”
Nick Foles, who played quarterback at Arizona, said he felt “normal” for his team’s road game against Colorado.
Mychal Kendricks, a former Cal linebacker, recalled developing “cotton mouth pretty fast.”
“It takes about 15 to 30 minutes to get used to it. That’s what I remember most,” he said. “I definitely felt it, being [from] California at sea level or below sea level. But I’m not worried about all that. You can’t let that psyche you out. That ain’t nothing. We already know what it is going into it.”
The Eagles haven’t played in Denver since Oct. 30, 2005 -- a 49-21 loss that later became more memorable for being Terrell Owens’ last game in an Eagles uniform.
Only right guard Todd Herremans and linebacker Trent Cole played in that game, both as rookies, and Cole was then a defensive end. Only Cole logged playing time, getting a few late-game snaps.
Cornerback Cary Williams has made the most recent trip to the Rocky Mountains. He started for the Ravens, who overcame a seven-point deficit to force overtime in January and beat the Broncos, 38-35, in an AFC Divisional round game.
“It was tough,” Williams said, “but I think to a degree you’ve got to be mentally tough. You can’t make an excuse. As the game went on you got a little bit better. Your body adjusts, you were able to get more and more mentally tough. But early on, it is tough, especially in warmups.”