ALAMEDA -- When it was suggested to Raiders coach Dennis Allen that Peyton Manning might have slipped some but was still an "effective" player, he recoiled at the thought of reaffirming a backhanded compliment.
"I'm not falling into that trap," Allen said Wednesday as the Raiders prepared to face the Denver Broncos. "He's Peyton Manning. He's a Hall of Fame quarterback. There is no way that we're going to say in any way that he's not the quarterback that he's been.
"I've watched the tape. He's still an outstanding quarterback. I don't see much of a drop-off of where he's been before."
Manning, 36, is with a new team, having rehabbed from four neck surgeries after sitting out the 2011 season with the Indianapolis Colts and leaving town to clear the way for No. 1 overall draft pick Andrew Luck.
The Broncos are 1-2, and Manning is the NFL's 20th-ranked quarterback with an 85.4 passer rating. He's completing 60 percent of his passes (69 of 115) for 824 yards, five touchdowns and three interceptions.
After looking very much like the old Manning in a 31-19 win over Pittsburgh, Denver has fallen behind big against Atlanta and Houston. Both times, Manning brought the Broncos back into the game but came up short. In the Atlanta game in particular, some of Manning's passes seemed to hang in the air on medium-deep throws over the middle.
ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski openly questioned Manning's arm strength, saying the ball wasn't "spinning out of his hand," to which Denver coach John Fox said on a conference call with Bay Area media, "The people who look at tape and study it would think it's (the analysis) is semicomical."
Manning, in a conference call with Bay Area, deflected the topic of the quality of his play. Having just come off the practice field, Manning, breathing heavily in the mile-high altitude, was limited to six minutes before moving on to his next media obligation.
"I'm not really into giving a three-game analysis, or sharing that publicly, anyway," Manning said. "We have a process that we go through after each game, studying what we did wrong, trying to build on things we're doing well. Certainly we're looking for a lot of improved play in a lot of places overall to try and win a game."
He has shown flashes, particularly in the opener, of being the same Manning who may exert more influence over every aspect of the offense of any quarterback who has played the game.
Raiders middle linebacker Rolando McClain faced Manning as a rookie in 2010. Manning's numbers were nothing special -- he was 16 for 30 for 179 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions in a 31-26 win for Indianapolis -- but his command over the proceedings was total.
"If you know the answer to the test with Peyton you can still get it wrong," McClain said.
Having grown up watching Manning on television, McClain suddenly found himself on the opposite side of the line, calling defensive signals.
"I wasn't star struck, but when you go on the sideline you're like, 'Damn, I thought we had him here. We could confuse him,' " McClain said. "But he would pick it up and understand what we were in. That's what you see in a great quarterback. You really can't beat him too many times."
Raiders linebacker Philip Wheeler, a teammate of Manning's with the Colts from 2008 through 2011, marveled at his attention to detail. He watched the way Manning took charge of the offense, the way he attacked the Indianapolis defense in practice, pointing out things Wheeler hadn't even thought of.
"I know how good he is, and I wasn't really very good against him in practice," Wheeler said. "Hopefully I can change that in this game."