When Billy Davis and the Browns’ staff went looking for answers on how to slow down Peyton Manning, their search led them to Philadelphia.
This was last season when Davis was the linebackers coach and Cleveland was prepping to take on the Manning-led Broncos. The defensive coordinator was Dick Jauron, who was on Philadelphia’s staff when the Eagles beat Manning and the Colts 26-24 during the 2010 regular season. Manning was 31-of-51 for 294 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions in that game. Sean McDermott‘s defense registered six quarterback hits and sacked Manning three times.
So what worked?
“They executed well, and within their scheme I think they presented Peyton some looks that he wasn’t familiar with, and I think it slowed him down a little bit,” said Davis, who is in the midst of prepping this defense for a big test against Manning in Denver.
“I’ve studied that plan thoroughly, implemented parts of it.”
Things did not go quite as well for the Browns as they had for the Eagles. Manning threw for 339 yards and three touchdowns in a 34-12 loss to Denver. Just because something works once against him doesn’t mean it will a second time.
This will be the third time that Davis has faced Manning as a defensive coordinator. When he was with the Niners back in ’05, his unit held Manning to 255 yards and came up with a pair of picks, but the team lost 28-3. When he was the DC in Arizona in ’09, Manning hung four touchdowns on the Cardinals in a 31-10 Colts win.
Davis has gone against the veteran signal-caller as a coordinator and a position coach; has analyzed other teams’ methods of attack. His conclusion?
“I think the biggest thing about playing well against Peyton Manning — it’s a real simple thing — is the execution of your techniques within your call,” Davis said. “He has seen every coverage you can throw at him. He has seen disguises and people holding onto their two-shell and dropping down late every week. Everybody’s always got something. The teams that beat him execute at a very high rate and they get the turnovers. 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 equation.”
This is where personnel comes in. Both of Manning’s interceptions back in ’10 were thrown to Asante Samuel. Is there a playmaker in the secondary that can step up in this spot? Can this safety group — which may be without Patrick Chung (shoulder) — hold up? And can the front seven generate the same type of pressure that McDermott’s unit did a few seasons back?
There is plenty of room for doubt. But Davis said his group is eager to give it a shot.
“One of the great things about coaching or playing in the NFL is these challenges,” said Davis, “when you’re playing against the best quarterback on the planet right now, the high efficiency they’re playing at. And the players and coaches both, we have pretty solid egos ourselves, and we’re not going to back down from any challenge. Our players in the locker room are very anxious to accept the challenge, and let’s go see what we can do against a great offense.”
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