I watched every offensive snap from the Broncos last game from two different perspectives of Coaches Film, as well as the 2009 Ravens home matchup vs. 9-0 Indianapolis with Peyton Manning at the helm, along with a few select plays from the 2009 Playoffs matchup @ Indy (Peyton quarterbacking), and have come up with points of strategy that I believe would enable us to BEAT Denver.
A warning: If you are kneeling at the Peyton Manning throne, this is not the post for you. I am not in agreement with all the sentiment out there that the man is unbeatable and that we shouldn't even try. Hold on a second. The Broncos have only beaten ONE winning team this year, and that was that juggernaut 6-5 Tampa Bay team, who is now 6-7. The 2009 matchup was very interesting to watch. The team around Manning was better, yet they could only muster a 17-15 victory, one where we picked Manning twice and gave them an INT in the red zone. They were 9-0. NINE AND O!! We had a much maligned d-backfield including Frank Walker, Fabian Washington, D. Foxworth, and D. Landry at Safety. We had Mattison as Defensive Coordinator, and he used to like soft coverages. Peyton had stronger receivers--by far--and he had a stronger running game, plus the team experience of having won the previous years' Super Bowl. We were 5-4 and struggling. We had not scored an offensive TD in the first half in FIVE GAMES. Yet, we went blow-for-blow with that younger, stronger Manning and really should have won the game. So don't tell me that we should lie down to this PRETENDER called Denver. Au contraire-- WE WILL RISE UP!!!!
1.) Peyton likes to go deep early in hostile road games. He did it last Thursday against the Raiders. He did it three years ago against us, in Baltimore. He did it earlier this season vs. Atlanta and vs. New England on the road. He will try to do it Sunday. It must be his strategy to shock and awe. We must stay on top and disallow this.
2.) The Broncos are struggling in the red zone on the road. We scored 55 points on Oakland. The Broncos struggled mightily to convert from within 25 yards out. Twice Manning was sacked, and had to settle for FGs; once the Raiders' much maligned defense put up a goal line stand and held them to a FG.
Granted, Manning and co. scored 37 on them at home earlier in the season, yet this ailment seemed to be a repeated trend in that last game. Coming all 1662 miles to a very loud, strong, playoff-like environment to face a team desperate for a win, will not be an easy task for these boys. We can look to continue this trend as long as we.....
3.) Play to take away deep passes and do not respect the run. Without McGahee, their run game is pedestrian, and while Knowshon Moreno is good, he cannot carry them against us. Nor will they want him to. Every time Denver lines up in the single setback look, they intend to either run or play-action a run. Their 20th-ranked rushing offense is simply not good enough at this point, considering that the man who earned them that much (and not 32nd) is out. If we shut down deep gains, they will have to mitigate our redzone defense in order to score touchdowns. Oh, by the way...
4.)BALTIMORE HAS THE TOP RED ZONE DEFENSE IN THE NFL! Do you see where I'm going with this? It could be called an aggressive bend-but-don't-break take, but I think we can blitz Peyton and we can get him to throw interceptionS. What I consider to be a less talented D on a less talented Ravens team held him to 17 points on a better team with a better offense, 3 years ago. We can do it again. With this in mind, there are a couple of key strategies that I would employ:
5.) Blitz Denver when they are in the single setback formation, and disregard the play-action. In other words, put a target on Manning's back and do not alter it for the potential run. I even think there should be a drill in practice this week of running full speed at a dummy but not roughing it, according to the coach's call ("Live!" or "Gone!" in reference to the ball, a second before impact.) Peyton Manning does not run stretch plays with this team, like he excelled at with Indy, he runs simple handoffs and fake handoffs.
I believe their pass protection is vulnerable, especially at the edges, to a blitz against the single-setback formation. If we do this, though, we have to be extremely disciplined with our gap responsibilities in order to snuff out draws and actual runs.
6.) Ravens' secondary is more athletic than Denver's receivers. So jam them at the line. Their go-to guy is Demaryius Thomas, who is gifted but not the most disciplined route runner, and from there it drops off--Eric Decker is a hardhat-and-lunchpail type who is very smart, and Brandon Stokley--are you kidding me? The last time I saw him was roasting the Giants for US in the 2000 Super Bowl. He didn't have one catch vs. the Raiders. Yet, he played with Peyton at Indy. So did Jacob Tamme -- little known fact -- and that brings to light the next point.
7.) Peyton likes to attack good defenses by utilizing a least expected weapon. Do you remember Santi, the TE, back in 2009? He had not caught a pass ALL SEASON until Peyton made him his top target against us. We were not expecting it. I'm wondering if it will be Tamme this time. He seems ripe.
I believe that Peyton will target one of their TEs in this way, especially with the uncertainty at linebacker that the Ravens have right now. He will go to him over and over again. Is this because...?
8.) Peyton has demonstrated a loss of deep arm strength. I was surprised to uncover this when I watched him, but his deep passes were lacking. We should challenge the receivers at the line, spy Thomas who is a legit deep threat, and bait Peyton. He will underthrow Thomas.
9.) Denver is soft. That's right, I said it. They have wilted when playing real comp, and have limped through some of their wins vs. divisional opponents. We need to bring smashmouth back to B-more, and keep pummeling them until the clock shows double zeros. In order to do this...
10.) Don't employ the no-huddle offense except for 2-minute situations. We don't need to. We can keep Peyton off the field, and with the new emphasis on Ray Rice that I think we will see, it will be best to methodically gash Denver into submission. They have an all-pro linebacker, yes; but they don't have nor face a fullback like Vonta, ever. I think that a Rice-centric running attack will pay great dividends against this overrated defense. We cannot turn the ball over, and he usually doesn't. I'm actually all for Flacco being freed to run the no-huddle, but we simply don't need it this game. What we do need, is to...
11.) Bring back crossing patterns and the short passing game. It was enlightening, watching the 2009 game vs. Peyton and Indy. On offense, we almost looked better. I tried to figure out why, and I did: because we threw many more short-to-intermediate routes to our receivers, who were open. The reason, I believe, is because we did not have a receiver who could legitimately stretch the field. Afterward, Cameron seemed to have gotten spoiled at the mere possibility of the speed of Torrey Smith and also Jacoby Jones. He just had them run fly patterns most of the time. Now that he is gone, I'm sure that Coach Caldwell--ironically, the coach of Indy in 2009--will want to re-emphasize having those speedsters run far more underneath routes. We can move the ball on this team, we need to use the clock, our physicality, and our very deep talent to do it.
12.) No dumb penalties. The other thing going against the Raiders last Thursday were the vast majority of the ref's calls. Wow. So, we have to be prepared to beat the refs if we must. This means winning despite Peyton seemingly getting all of the calls. I'm not saying it will happen, I'm saying let's not give them any reason. Men need to watch their hand placement when they have a shot at Peyton, guys need to tackle with their heads up, fellas need to know where the boundary is and when the play is over--no late hits.
13.) Ravens Nation needs to be worthy of a 7-nation army. It was clear in 2009 that Peyton had a regard for our home venue. He will attempt to get it quiet, early. People want the players to be resilient, now WE need to be. Not a quiet mouth, not a filled seat on big plays. Continually assaulting the Broncos offense with noise no matter what the happenstance. Singing the song at every big play. This will be a large contributor to a winning formula. It really is.
If anyone can tell me why I should be afraid of a lesser team surrounding Peyton, when he barely eeked out a win against us with a greater team against a lesser Ravens team, I will shut up. But they cannot, and I will not. Peyton is a great competitor, but he is not perfect. His teammates do not know what intensity is. They are not prepared for the environment that they will enter on Sunday, and I believe they will not at all be prepared for the team they face.
It's time to end the streak.
This is NOT Peyton's place.
A final note: I have a lot of respect for Peyton Manning and personally, I like the guy. I admit to lobbying the message boards for us to consider signing him in the offseason of 2011. I agree with Rice that he is the Comeback Player of the Year. So please do not confuse this post for hating him. We've all been blessed to watch his career, either rooting for him or against him. It has been fun.