Any conversation about how to stop the 2013 Denver Broncos should truthfully begin and end with a discussion on how to stop Peyton Manning.
That isn’t meant to be a slight against Manning’s teammates, because the Broncos do boast an extremely talented roster. More so, it’s a recognition of the fact that the NFL is a quarterback’s league, and this Broncos’ team would look a whole lot different without Manning at the helm.
Again, no offense to Brock Osweiler, but who would you rather face in the playoffs as an opposing defense? If you thought “Manning” to yourself, I hate to break it to you, but you’re probably delusional.
So, how does one stop Peyton Manning?
In 2013, only one team has been able to do it thus far, and that’s the Indianapolis Colts—ironically enough.
Firmly believing that a good coach or scout is also a great thief, I took a look at the film of the Colt’s 39-33 win over the Broncos back in October in search of a way to beat Manning and the Broncos.
My findings are below.
Bring Backside Pressure, Utilize Man Coverage With a 2-Deep Shell
Peyton Manning is arguably one of the smartest quarterbacks the NFL has ever seen. He’s a student of the game, and he can read a defense almost as if he’s reading a children’s book. It’s simply too easy.
Blitzing in the NFL is a double-edged sword. On hand-hand, it allows you to bring an extra hat or two to the quarterback. On the other, an extra player getting after the quarterback means there’s one less player in coverage. A good quarterback like Manning knows how to read those blitzes and exploit them to find the open receiver.
He’s the king of audibles, and like a great fighter, he has a counter for everything you throw at him.
On Sunday Night Football, the Colts found a way to bring pressure on Manning in a way he couldn’t counter—from his blindside. They run a base 3-4 defense just like the Chiefs, but below they’re in a hybrid look. Notice outside linebacker Robert Mathis coming off the edge in a 3-point stance. The coverage also seems to be man across the board with two high safeties over top. This takes away the immediate throw for Manning, but also limits his deep option due to the safety shell.
With the man coverage underneath and the safeties bracketing everything over top, a smart quarterback like Manning isn’t going to force the issue. Even his check-down is taken away by the man coverage on his running back:
Unfortunately,Manning doesn’t see Mathis coming off the edge, and that leads to a stripped ball and a safety for the Colts:
Even the best quarterbacks can’t stop what they don’t see coming, so Kansas City should focus on bringing pressure off the blind side. Whether it be Tamba Hali coming off a delayed blitz, or a stunt from the defensive line, attacking the left side of the Broncos’ line will be key. I would even suggest throwing a few secondary blitzes into the mix off that edge.
The man coverage underneath will negate the quick passing game, and give more time for the rush to find its target. With two high safeties over top, this is a great way to negate Manning.
Front Seven Must Play Strong Against The Run
Anytime you go with two high safeties, you’re basically inviting the offense to run the ball on you. In fact, a good offensive coordinator will pound the ball down your throat in an effort to get you to move a safety into box and give him a much more pass-friendly one high safety look.
If the Chiefs want to stop Manning, giving him two high safeties with tight coverage underneath would be a good option. But in order to do so, Kansas City is going to have to stop Denver’s run game as well.
Knowshon Moreno is a darn good back for Denver, but the Colts were able to hold him to just 40 yards on 15 carries.
That’s a huge reason Indy was able to stay in a lot of those two-high looks, so Kansas City is going to have to find a way to replicate that success.
Dontari Poe is going to have to be a big presence, but also look for Derrick Johnson to play a huge role here. He’s been all over the field for the Chiefs, and he’s a great run stuffer.
Take Advantage Of Julius Thomas In Pass-Pro.
Julius Thomas is a pretty good tight end. So far this season, he’s notched 39 receptions, 451 yards and eight touchdowns. For as good as he’s been as a pass-catcher though, he has struggled as a pass-blocker.
When the Broncos leave him in-line, Kansas City needs to capitalize. Send the pressure, use a stunt. Do whatever they can to get pressure off of Thomas’ edge and hopefully collapse the pocket on Manning.
Case in point. Down 30-36 with just over seven minutes left, the Broncos found themselves with a first down inside their own 20. Getting a long drive here and scoring would have been huge for Denver, but they left Thomas in to block, and it turned into a disaster:
Thomas was able to work outside linebacker Erik Walden up field, and for a second, it looked like Manning had a nice pocket to work with:
Like all great pass-rushers do though, Walden was able to disengage and get underneath the block. Thomas did a poor job of planting his inside foot and keeping it up field of Walden, which would have forced him outside:
The Chiefs need to be able to recognize when Thomas is staying in-line to help out, and force the issue with him. Get him moving up field and then rip underneath to a clear shot at Manning. If Kansas City’s rush can get their hands up and near his throw, perhaps the Chiefs can cause a few turnovers of their own.
Stopping Manning is all about pressure, and that plays right into the Chiefs hands. He’s too good of a quarterback and he doesn’t make mistakes often, so Kansas City will have to force the issue and force him into mistakes. The Colts were able to sack Manning four times that Sunday night.
If the Chiefs can get pressure on Manning and utilize the two-high shell look with man coverage underneath, there’s a good chance Kansas City can walk out of Denver 10-0.
Note: Video via NFL Rewind. All markings are my own.