Preparing for Peyton
By Brandon Flowers
Playing Peyton Manning is kind of like playing LeBron James. You really can’t stop LeBron James. You can only hope to contain him to win the game.
The first time I faced Peyton was in 2010; I was with the Chiefs, he was on the Colts. Before we even began game planning, Emmitt Thomas, our defensive backs coach, told us he has only beaten Manning twice in his entire coaching career. That says a lot. Coach Thomas has been in the league a long time, and has had some great success. To beat Peyton Manning, you have to be perfect.
That week felt like we were preparing for battle. You have to be precise in everything you do. You can’t give him even an inch. You have to conduct a flawless game plan.
We thought we had a good one. After studying film, we had this one blitz our coaches drew up that we thought we could drop in. We’d essentially send our whole left side of the defense at him. He wouldn’t see it coming. Well, somehow he did. Nobody jumped or gave any indication we were blitzing. Then right before the play, Peyton checked and threw a quick pass to the left side. Big gain, first down. We weren’t even showing the blitz! I have no idea how he knew.
The point is, no matter how much you plan, now matter how prepared you are, Peyton is in a class of his own. Guys like Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers are good because whatever the coach calls, they’ll execute. They might check once or twice, but for the most part they’ll run the play the offensive coordinator calls up, and they’ll make it work. With Peyton, you’re literally playing a coach on the field. It’s almost not fair. You have a coach on the field making calls, changing calls, and then making the throw himself. He’ll tell every single member of the offense what to do. He comes up to the line and tells his offensive line whom to pick up. Everything you do, he knows it, or he can adjust to it. He operates like a machine.
You might hear some analysts say he has lost a bit on the football, but I don’t see it. The best defense when playing Peyton Manning? Having your offense on the field.
You want to take risks. Part of you is like, I have to get out there and make a big play. I have to go get it. I have to do something. But at the same time, if you’re risky, it can backfire. If he can read your mannerisms—which he does, often—or see what you’re trying to do, he’ll call an audible and make an adjustment. Once you’re playing from behind, it’s nearly impossible to get the lead back and beat him.
The best defense when playing Peyton Manning? Having your offense on the field.
We’re getting ready to play Peyton again this week. He beat us pretty good in Week 8. [Denver won, 35-21, at home]. Unfortunately I was out with a concussion and wasn’t cleared for travel, so I watched from home. I didn’t get a real grasp of the game on television, but I do know what we’ll get facing him.
You might hear some analysts say he has lost a bit on the football, but I don’t see it. When we’re watching him on film and game-planning, he looks like the same Peyton to me. In fact, he’s almost getting better every week. He still gets the ball on the money, and his receivers are still beating defensive backs every week on deep balls.
When I prepare for the game (and this goes for every game, not just when we’re facing Manning) I first break it down by every receiver I might face. I go through all of their passes to see how they like to beat press coverage or how they’re used in their offense. Then I go to their big plays, because obviously if they have a big play, they’ll want to go back to it sooner or later. Last, I break down their offense; I look at how a team attacks. Do they throw the ball early? Run early? I look for any patterns.
What makes Peyton’s offense most challenging is that a different guy becomes his top receiver every week. You can’t plan on doubling one guy or cheating toward one guy, because that will just make another target that much more open.
Of course, teams can beat Peyton. He may operate like a machine, but he’s not invincible. I think the key is: Make him beat you up and down the field. Don’t give up big plays that make the score wide open. Make him try to chip away, chip away, chip away, and hopefully he’ll eventually make a mistake. Or, maybe a bit more likely, someone on his offensive line will.
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