Disclaimer: this may be an exercise in futility.
Peyton Manning may very well be one of the best quarterbacks to ever touch a football. The Eagles don't have a very good defense. But the Eagles can win this game. It may not be likely, but it is possible. And the following article outlines what is probably our best chance of pulling out a win in Mile High.
Manning is coming into this game with 12 TDs and 0 INTs. He threw more TD passes than he could count on one hand in Week 1 vs. the Ravens.
Step number one is stop the run. If we can't do that, it won't matter how we gameplan to limit Peyton's success. We need to play aggressive and if we read run (and if we're not being fooled by play action), we need to get upfield quickly and gang tackle. The Broncos have 3 talented backs who will all see the field on Sunday, with Moreno most likely to receive the most carries. We need to clog the running lanes and not let them pick up easy yardage on early downs, or we will likely have no chance at stopping the Bronco's offense. So let's say we're stopping the run effectively, what's next?
It's nearly impossible to do to someone who is seemingly always ten steps ahead of everybody else, but the best thing to do to stop (slow down) Peyton is to keep him on his heels. Disguising blitzes is key, but there's a lot more we need to do to keep him really off guard. We can't blitz too many players, or he will find the receiver who becomes more open because of the blitz (hot receiver) and he will find him quickly. We need to somehow find a way to consistently create pressure with 4-5 man rushes or he will make us pay through the air. So we need to do little things, as simple as DL stunts or delayed blitzes from quick players like Kendricks, or as unpredictable as audibling (that word just looks wrong to me) ourselves into a 4-3 and using Cole and Graham as the ends to create a pass rush once Peyton has already made his offensive adjustments at the line. If we can't create a pass rush somehow without sending too many guys, we are very likely to have no shot at stopping the Broncos. Which brings me to my next point.
We simply don't have the personnel to cover all of Peyton's passing options man to man. Most teams don't. The Seahawks would have the best chance and even they might still have some issues, and their DBs are obviously infinitely more talented than ours.
If we were to play man coverage, I assume the matchups would look something like this:
* Williams --> D. Thomas
* Fletcher --> Decker
* Boykin --> Welker
* Barwin --> J. Thomas
So what can we glean from this? Please don't play a lot of man coverage. Can we play some man matchups in a hybrid man/zone defense with safety help? Sure, if it will help to keep Peyton off guard and not get us burned in the process. But don't put their receivers in 1v1 situations unless we have to. Their receivers are going create separation and Peyton will find them with a high frequency.
All that being said, I think our strongest matchup here is Fletcher on Decker. That's about as close as we are going to get to limiting one of Peyton's passing options in man-to-man coverage. Boykin is a great slot corner, but Welker is going to get open against man coverage. It's a given. We watched as Eddie Royal and Donnie Avery gave us fits on third downs, just imagine what Welker will do if we leave that much space for him to run around. On second thought, don't imagine that. We cannot allow Welker to have that much space.
Chip has always been a fan of the 'bend, but don't break' mentality, but that's not a viable option against Peyton. That style of defense is basically conceding low-medium yardage plays hoping the other team will eventually make a mistake. Peyton doesn't make mistakes. Especially not when he feels comfortable, hitting wide open short route after short route all game long. So what we need to do is obvious, at least I think so; we need to get in Peyton's head. How do we do that? Your guess is as good as mine. But here's my guess:
- Run a wide array of unpredictibale zone defenses with well disguised coverages and well disguised blitzes. If Peyton has time to sit back and read a simple zone coverage, he will pick it apart all game long. Unfortunately, we have not yet been able to establish a consistent pass rush. Ryan Clady, the starting LT for the Broncos, is out for the year, so we need to pressure Peyton's blind side early and often.
-It is absolutely critical that our DBs seamlessly transition the receivers to one another in their coverage zones. We cannot allow Peyton's targets to find gaps in the zones and sit in them, Peyton will find them and he will get them the ball where only they can catch it every single time.This is asking a lot, especially from our defensive personnel. And even if the zone coverages are well disguised and executed and the blitzes are disguised and executed perfectly, it might not be enough.
- Don't become predictable. In any sense of the word. Peyton is the best in the NFL at reading patterns in defensive playcalling, or anything regarding the mental side of football for that matter. If he knows what to expect from the defense on any given play, we will be in big trouble. The best thing we can do is never do the same thing twice. And once he's convinced we are trying so hard to be unpredictable that we aren't going to do the same thing twice, do the same thing twice on back to back plays.
-Keep Peyton second guessing every play. Blitz or fake blitz? Man or zone? Keep this play or audible? We need to do random things like run a defender across the field with Welker when Peyton sends him in motion, even if we aren't playing man coverage on Welker, and audible the zones accordingly.
-When we get a chance, deliver a clean hit and take him to the ground hard. Peyton doesn't get rattled, but try to rattle him anyway.
-Peyton Manning is probably most comfortable in his life while he is on a football field. That's his domain, that's where he dominates. We need to try our best to take that away from him.
-His best asset is his mind, and that's saying a lot considering how well his arm allows him to throw precision passes. We need to try to get into his head and make him second guess himself. Something the Broncos always used to try to do to Peyton when he was playing with the Colts was this: when he gets to the line, let him think he has read the defense and picked up the blitzes with his audibles. Once he does that, have DeMeco Ryans yell something out in response and have everyone shift around a little bit. Meco doesn't even really have to change the defensive play on the fly, he just has to try to convince Peyton that he did.
-The little things like this could be where we win the game, because as it stands we do not have the defensive talent to match up to Peyton and the Broncos.
- Lastly, this doesn't apply to the defense, but we need to take advantage of any and all stops/turnovers. They will likely be few and far between. If our defense does come up big and gets Peyton off the field without letting him score, it is critical that our offense goes out and gets points in return. That is our only chance at winning this game.
P.S. The Over/Under for this game is 57. There will almost assuredly be more than 57 points scored in this game between both teams, if you are a wagering type I encourage you to consider betting the over.
That's all I got, enjoy watching the game this weekend. Go Eagles.