The Eagles defense has a great challenge on Sunday.
Stop Slow down Peyton Manning and the Broncos offense.
Denver has scored 49, 41 and 37 points. That’s 127 for the year. Just for the sake of comparison…the 1998 Eagles scored 161 points for the season. Yikes.
The Broncos offense is actually somewhat simple. They just happen to have a brilliant QB who can get the team into the right play almost all of the time. Manning is the best pre-snap QB in the league. Maybe ever. He also adjusts well after the snap. He’s going to have them in the right play or make the right adjustment within the play. That makes him brutally hard to stop.
Denver is the #1 passing team in the league. They’re closer to the middle when it comes to running the ball, but they still do that effectively. They just prefer to focus on the passing game due to Manning and the great set of receivers they have.
RAC yards are a huge part of the passing attack. Manning doesn’t like to take deep drop after deep drop. He wants to make life easy for his blockers. He wants to frustrate pass rushers. That means getting the ball out quickly and letting the receivers make plays for him. Denver is 2nd in the NFL with 581 RAC yards. The Eagles are 12th with 393.
Manning will throw deeper stuff, but a lot of the time it comes on play-action. That gets the LBs to bite up and opens some voids in the defense. It also affects the rushers, as they look for the RB. The play-action stuff works brilliantly because Manning is so good with his fakes. You don’t know when he’s handed off or kept the ball. That little detail is something that not nearly enough QBs work on.
While Manning mostly throws short and intermediate stuff, his arm has re-gained some strength and he can put the ball down the field with zip. He made a terrific throw early last week that I’m not sure he even would have attempted last year.
So what can the Eagles do in hopes of slowing down this juggernaut?
Tackle well – The easiest way to limit RAC yards is to tackle well. The Raiders missed several tackles last week and short throws would be extended by 5 or 10 yards. The Eagles know all about this with the Donnie Avery plays from the KC game. The coaches had to stress after that game that players must get off blocks and rally to the ball to make stops. We’ll find out pretty quickly if the players responded.
Win up front – You’re not going to beat Peyton by blitzing. For every time you get pressure, there will be 3 or 4 plays where he burns you. The defense must get pressure through the 3 or 4 base rushers. This doesn’t mean you need a bunch of sacks. Just get Peyton to move off his spot and throw off-balance. That’s your best hope. Fletcher Cox needs to have a big game. Vinny Curry could be key with his ability to penetrate and get pressure up the middle. Cole, Barwin and Graham need to bring some heat off the edge. If these guys are handled, the Eagles have no chance. None.
Mix coverages – Ideally, you’d play bump and run all game long. That would slow the release of the receivers and affect the timing of the Broncos offense. The Eagles have big CBs who could do this, even against the Broncos big WRs. The problem is that you don’t want to let Peyton know what you’re doing on every play. You must mix man and zone so that it slows his brain down, even if just for a fraction of a second.
Play smart – You cannot extend drives with dumb penalties. You cannot have blown coverages. Manning and the Broncos are too good. You cannot help them. I think too many teams go into a situation like this and want to do so much that the players get sloppy. As Bill Davis alluded to in his PC, you must execute well. Do your job. If you try to be a hero vs Peyton, he’ll burn you. Simply execute the play as the coaches have it called and you’ve got a chance.
Be somewhat creative – Remember what Jim Johnson did vs the Pats in 2007? He came up with a creative gameplan. Chris Gocong saw time at DE. Jevon Kearse saw time at DT. Lito Sheppard followed Randy Moss all over the field. JR Reed was the FS and lined up 15 to 20 yards deep on almost every play. Jim wasn’t going to give the Pats any deep passes.
I hope Davis does some creative things. First, I think it excites the players. They like having the chance to do some unusual things. Second, you want to mix in a few looks that Peyton hasn’t seen. It isn’t going to fool him in a significant way. You just want to make him hesitate and think rather than firing the ball out quickly.
I’d love to see a 3-3-5 look with a 3-man DL of Graham-Curry-Cole. You dare Denver to run the ball.
I’d love to see the base defense with Cox-Thornton-Curry as the DL at times.
I’d love some 4-2-5 with a look of Graham-Curry-Cox-Cole.
Davis could also be creative and use Earl Wolff as a LB in some looks. Patrick Chung might be perfect for that role, but he’s been listed as doubtful for the game so that means he’s likely out. Why use Wolff? He is a good tackler. He’s comfortable playing in the box. He also would cover better than the other LBs we have.
If you want to be creative and confuse Manning, you must have some odd combinations and you must have players that can do different things. If Davis does mix in Graham and Cole at DE, he could try Casey Matthews at OLB. Matthews can blitz or cover. I know he’s nothing special, but if Manning sees him on the field, how does he read that? Is this a blitz or cover look? I can’t stress enough…you aren’t going to fool him. You just want to slow Peyton down. That gives the rushers an extra half-second to get pressure. That gives the DBs extra time to break on the ball.
The Jets beat Manning and the Colts in a Wild Card game after the 2010 season. Rex Ryan, known as a huge blitzer, changed up and focused on coverage. He played lots of DBs, having as many as 7 on the field in some looks. Manning was 18-26-225. The only Indy TD came on a 52-yard pass that involved mistakes by at least 3 Jets DBs. The Colts struggled to run the ball and get into the endzone.
The Eagles don’t have a great set of DBs to unleash on Manning and the Broncos, but there is something to be said for trying that idea. Manning can’t see DBs all over and instantly know what they’re going to do. The key to that is that the DL must control the LOS so that the running game doesn’t eat up the DBs.
Davis did mention that he studied Sean McDermott’s gameplan from 2010 and that he went back and studied some gameplans of his from the SF/ARZ days that had some success against Peyton. It will be interesting to see what he does and how well it works.
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Many of you have asked about the podcast that Jimmy Bama and I do. I have wanted to do shows every week. Jimmy keeps delaying, saying that it is more important that he get his hair just right for the Philly.com videos.
I finally told him that if he doesn’t start doing shows I’ll tell everyone how his sister dominated him in fantasy football.
We’re hoping to record a show on Saturday morning and then get back into a regular groove next week. The odd schedule to start the year just has had us totally thrown off kilter. The Eagles have a slew of Sunday games and that should help us get into a good flow.
If not, blame Jimmy.