We've only seen glimpses of the old Peyton Manning this year, but that should be enough to worry Oakland Raiders head coach Dennis Allen because we've only seen glimpses of a pass rush or good coverage from the Raiders defense this season.
Oakland will have to take some chances to neutralize Manning, but he has shown some deficiencies that can be exploited. Will young defensive coordinator Jason Tarver be bold enough to try to impose the defense's will on Manning?
It sounds overly simplistic, but the plan to stop Manning starts with using the blitz. Here, the Texans have their linebackers close to the front four on this 3rd-and-long:
A linebacker cheats up to hint at a blitz and also gives his down lineman a prompt to stunt to the other side of the center:
Manning ends up making a rushed, inaccurate and unsuccessful throw because he has to account for six men coming at him, including that defensive tackle who now has a direct line at him:
Threat of Blitz
Once the threat of the blitz is put into Manning's head, that can be used to anticipate the likely counterpunch from the offense. The overarching storyline about Manning this year is that his arm strength is not what it used to be, especially on seam throws and throws outside of the numbers.
Once he misfires on a throw or two under pressure, Manning will probably try to avail himself of more high-percentage short throws on third down. A little later against the Broncos, the Texans show the same look with the linebackers cheating toward the line before the snap:
The Texans send four and drop the linebackers into coverage instead, making it easier to stop this screen pass, holding the Broncos to a field goal instead of a 1st-and-goal:
Aggressive Defensive Backs
The Raiders have a problem in the secondary. They are being forced to start Pat Lee and Joselio Hanson, and their lack of ability is showing in the results on the field.
One advantage to blitzing is that the corners are asked to cover for a shorter period of time, especially against a quarterback like Manning who is not very mobile and does not have good velocity downfield right now.
They can play on their toes, instead of their heels, aggressively engaging the receivers, instead of sitting back and waiting to react to their break in the route tree. The Texans put their corners close to the line of scrimmage on this third down:
Manning looks that direction as his first read, but as you can see in the lower left corner, the receivers are not open:
Manning is forced to reset and make a feeble throw to the right for an incompletion. Notice that the Texans also sent six once again:
Get Your Best Pass-Rushers Isolated
The Raiders don't have JJ Watt, but they can look to the way the Texans isolated Watt to have success with their best pass-rushers, Richard Seymour and Matt Shaughnessy. Watt and outside linebacker Brooks Reed both line up outside of the guard, each ready to take their assigned blocker head on:
Watt attacks the outside shoulder of the guard and creates a small distraction for the offensive tackle trying to stop Reed. Manning's looking to their side of the field, but he can sense the pocket collapsing quickly:
Manning scrambles to attempt a throw to the other side of the field, but the pass was incomplete:
Eliminate the Comfort Zone
The most important thing for the Raiders to accomplish early, against the Broncos, is to invade Manning's comfort zone with blitzes and gambling coverage on the outside receivers. Once Manning has been taken off his game, the Raiders can change up their looks and leverage off the shakiness they have induced in the quarterback.
If they don't try to get Manning off-balance before he gets in a rhythm, it will be an uncomfortable Sunday for Oakland.