Somehow, Peyton Manning has ascended to unbeatable status. Maybe it's because of the supporting cast he's now working with in Denver. Maybe it's because his last loss in the regular season was like a bajillion weeks ago. Whatever the case, the topic of the week has been: Is there a way to defeat Peyton Manning and the Broncos?
Ron Rivera had some success when he coached the defense in San Diego. His take on it:
"We tried to attack the way they protected, and tried to get immediate pressure on him and make him throw the ball before he wanted," Rivera said. "But as far as all the other stuff, it's an encompassing team effort."
Players from the Patriots offered this group assessment.
It’s about disrupting the rhythm of the passing game. Because Manning has traditionally been one of the toughest quarterbacks to sack, with his ability to diagnose defensive intentions early and get rid of the ball quickly, one of the more effective tactics for the Patriots has been physical play against his receivers. By decisively jamming them at the line of scrimmage, it can affect the quick rhythm and preciseness that is a trademark of any Manning-led offense.
Other defensive coordinators added another element about how to pressure him.
Those who find a way to get pressure in the middle of the field -- with a four-man rush so seven defenders can remain in the pattern -- fare the best against him. Manning tends to see edge pressure coming long before the snap and rarely holds the ball long enough for the outside blitzer to get there. But those who prevent him from sliding forward as he works through his progressions can get him off his rhythm.
Basically, it comes down to two things when you are defending Manning. 1) Aggressive, physical coverage that disrupts the receivers off the line of scrimmage. 2) Pressure from your front four, preferably from the middle.
If the Cowboys are going to play that way, they'll need to make some adjustments. But they might be suited for just that. Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne and Orlando Scandrick have spent a lot of time in previous years playing a pressure, man coverage scheme. If Kiffin will allow some mixed schemes and let them get physical up front, they could disrupt things. The Cowboys also might consider more of a pass-rushing threat in the middle besides Nick Hayden. We know Jason Hatcher can get upfield but is there anyone on the team that could line up some in the middle and help? Could they alter their coverage scheme, run some zone-blitzes and send a linebacker up the middle. I don't think Kiffin can sit back in his conventional schemes for all of this game, he's going to have to make adjustments that attack what weaknesses Peyton has.
If Dallas lets Peyton sit in the pocket all comfortable, and let his receivers get free runs off the line, it's probably going to look a lot like last week against Philip Rivers. Only worse.