AFC WEST, DENVER BRONCOS, SUPER BOWL XLVIII
BY CHRIS BURKE
When it comes to making pre-snap reads, there may be no one better than Peyton Manning. (Julie Jacobson/AP)
JERSEY CITY, N.J. — Watching Peyton Manning play the quarterback position is a singular NFL experience. The audibles, the line adjustments, the constant motion of his feet after the snap — it’s all very distinctive and can be incredibly difficult to deal with for opposing defenses.
“He knows what he wants to do when he goes to the line,” Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Brandon Mebane said this week. “He knows what he’s looking for. He knows what his options are and everything like that. I think he’s just great at what he does.”
In hopes of providing a little more insight into Manning’s game, I asked Denver third-string QB Zac Dysert at one of this week’s media sessions to walk me through one of the Broncos’ key completions from the AFC title game win over New England. He agreed, though he was understandably a little guarded about specific play calls and audibles with Super Bowl XLVIII just around the corner.
The play in the spotlight: a 2nd-and-20 from the Denver 10 late in the first half. The Broncos led 10-3 at the time, but New England was threatening to get the ball back with promising field position before halftime. Instead, Manning rifled a 26-yard completion to Demaryius Thomas and then took his team down for a field goal.
A refresher on the pass:
The Broncos initially lined up with Eric Decker and Wes Welker to Manning’s left and Thomas and RB Montee Ball to his right. Ball (boxed in orange below) was split out to the far right sideline. As linebacker Dont’a Hightower (white box) started to make his way out to cover Ball, Manning waved
Ball into the backfield.
“We know they do a lot at the line of scrimmage, and our challenge for our own players is to make sure we take care of us first and our assignment,” Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said this week. His team faces the task of slowing Manning on Sunday.
Here, the Patriots left some gaps, which is a crushing mistake against Manning.
Ball released out of the backfield after the play-action, which drew Hightower up in coverage. Behind the Patriots’ collapsing linebacker, Thomas ran a deep slant route against cornerback Alfonzo Dennard. Meanwhile, most importantly, safety Kyle Arrington stepped up on the fake to Ball, then hovered around the 20-yard line as fellow safety Steve Gregory backpedaled.
That sequence was the key to this whole play, according to Dysert.
“You want to go away from rotation [of the safeties] most of the time. Whatever they do, you go off them and do the opposite of what they do,” Dysert said, pointing at Arrington’s positioning. “For Peyton, he probably just needs a little opening to make it through, he’s so accurate.”