For the past 16 years, defensive coordinators around the NFL have been faced with the dubious task of stopping, or at least slowing down, Peyton Manning. During this season, perhaps more than ever, those attempts have been ineffective, as Manning has thrown for 1,143 yards and 12 touchdowns in just three games. As the Eagles travel into the thin air of the Rocky Mountains to face Manning’s Broncos, that duty now falls on the shoulders of Bill Davis.
“You're looking at a second year in a system where Peyton is running it,” Davis said of the Broncos offense. “The players around him are understanding it thoroughly and you're watching a system right now offensively that's hitting on all cylinders. They're efficient and executing their offense at a high rate right now. The running game is going. Peyton is distributing the ball all over the place to the open receiver with whatever coverage you're presenting. You're seeing year two of guys settling into a system and really working together.
“I've studied a lot of different defensive coordinators and how they tried to stop Peyton. This offense is carried over from Indianapolis. I think the biggest thing about playing well against Peyton Manning, it's a simple thing, is the executing of your techniques within your call. He has seen every coverage you can throw at him. He sees disguises. … Everybody always has something. The teams that beat them execute their defensive techniques and they get turnovers. Turnovers are the part, if you're going to have success against a Peyton Manning offense, or slow it down at least, turnovers are a huge part of that. He hasn't (thrown an interception). They're really operating at a high efficiency.”
Davis has prepared for Manning in the past, including last season as the linebackers coach in Cleveland. In Week 16, the Browns limited the Broncos to just 14 points through the first two-and-a-half quarters, before Manning turned it around and led the Broncos to a 34-12 victory. Davis knows that stopping Peyton is a 60-minute affair.
“You can never relax against Peyton because you have four quarters to play against him no matter what the score is,” said Davis. “He is constantly grinding on and figuring out what you're doing. People try to change the target and change up what they're doing, but at the end of the day, whatever it is you're doing, the execution of that coverage overrides you moving it around to where he can't figure it out. He has seen it all. He's played so long, there's only so many ways you can deploy your coverage.”
The last time that the Eagles faced Manning was in 2010, when then Indianapolis Colts came to Philadelphia. On that day, the Eagles defense did a great job with savvy signal-caller, holding him under 300 passing yards and intercepting him twice in a 26-24 Eagles win. Though that game was played three years ago, Davis still refers to that defensive game plan.
“We talked a lot about that last year in Cleveland with Dick Jauron, who was part of that (Eagles) staff,” Davis said. “We put a plan together largely off of what they did in Philadelphia with Sean McDermott. I've studied that plan thoroughly and implemented parts of it. Really you go back and look at all the teams that have had success against Peyton and you try to see what they do. They're all running the same coverages. There's really nothing new. You're not inventing coverages out here. It's really about how you're putting some pressure on him. You have to get around him and not let him get in rhythm like most offenses. Then the way you play your coverages has to be on point, (you need to) be where you're supposed to be and have the right technique in order to have success.”
One of Manning’s greatest strengths as a quarterback is his ability to get to the line of scrimmage and change the play based on what he sees. With that in mind, disguising the defensive looks seems like the obvious strategy for the Eagles, but Davis warned caution in trying to do that.
“I think that's the mystique that goes with Peyton,” Davis explained. “You try to get too cute and you get away from technique football - advantage to him. You have to have a confidence about your scheme and ability and really have a single-minded focus on getting your technique done one play at a time and just play as well as you can play one single play at a time and don't get outside of ourselves and I think we'll be fine.”
The Eagles defense looked terrific in the first half of the season opener against Washington, creating turnovers and swarming to the ball. Since then, the defense has had its share of struggles, which is something that Davis attributes to inconsistent fundamentals.
“We have to play our individual techniques better,” said Davis. “If you look at the first three games defensively, there are times we played third down very well and there were times we played it awful. (There were) times we've been in the red zone and we've been great and responded to adversity - last week, (we were) off the charts. (I was) proud of the way the guys handled the adversity and turned it into a positive, (but) there are times we don't.
“We are too inconsistent in every little phase right now. We're in the growth process, and we have to play the techniques of every coverage better than we're playing them. The better word would be 'more consistent.' When we hit the consistency mode, we're going to be right where we want to be.”
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