Peyton Manning is ready for Ray Lewis and Baltimore.
The game features two future Hall of Famers squaring off. Manning and Co. look to echo their regular season meeting that resulted in a 34-17 victory. However, Lewis didn't play in the Week 15 matchup.
Would the legendary linebacker have made that big of a difference?
Well, for certain the game would have been closer. At the same time, Manning still diced up Baltimore's secondary and he finished with a 60.7 completion percentage and one touchdown to zero turnovers. By no means was this Peyton's top game, but the Ravens clearly weren't performing their A-game either.
To that end, let's relive the previous contest and see how Manning can pull an encore and send Baltimore packing.
Manning Connects With Brandon Stokley on 3rd-and-10
Early in the regular-season matchup the Broncos saw a long third-down situation and were driving with momentum.
These are the pivotal points during the course of a game, because third down can either change the field position or momentum. Here, Manning calls an audible at the line prior to the snap and Baltimore remains in man-under Cover 1.
Obviously, safety Ed Reed is the guy the Ravens present back deep, so Manning can't immediately give away his intended target. Up top you'll see that Baltimore is man-to-man with Reed patrolling the developing play.
As the receivers move downfield, Manning is looking through Brandon Stokley and to the outside receiver. In short, he's seeing each receiver and their respective cover players and catching Reed from the peripheral. As expected, Reed is veering that direction.
This also reveals Stokley's immediate separation. Although the defender is preventing him from getting inside leverage, Stokley's route is just a simple out pattern past the sticks.
At the same time, Reed must still respect the outside receiver, because Manning could put one over the back shoulder for a bigger play. The result is Reed remaining just far enough away from Stokley for Manning to make a spot-on throw.
Stokley then makes the snag while getting hit, gets both feet in bounds and Denver moves the chains.
Manning to Eric Decker For Six From 51 Yards Out
Leading 17-3 in the third quarter, the Broncos were driving after Baltimore had kicked a field goal.
These are arguably the most important drives of any game, because it's all about how a team responds. Had Denver failed to score on this possession, the Ravens would have gained additional momentum with a chance to make the contest 17-10 before the fourth quarter.
Instead, Manning found Eric Deck downfield for a 51-yard strike that extended the Broncos' lead to 24-3. A big part of this play's success was Denver's already well-established rushing attack to this point.
As a result, Manning likes what he sees and sticks with the play-action. Just from the man-under Cover 2 look the Ravens are presenting, clearly Ed Reed is better positioned pre-snap. The safety that is four yards closer becomes vulnerable to anything over the top.
Clearly the play-action works, because all three linebackers and the low safety are eyeing the backfield.
As for Reed, he's already in his back pedal. Given that the Ravens put seven in the box no defensive back should be looking in the backfield, because it's not their responsibility to defend the run. Should the ball get handed off, and should the running back get past the front seven, then the defensive backs can come up to make a play.
After the play fake, Manning immediately looks to his left and catches the safety reading run and looking into the backfield. Now the disparity between his and Reed's depth for a Cover 2 is nearly seven yards. And a quarterback like Manning will always take advantage when this happens.
Decker then manages to get slim separation from his man-cover defender and Manning tosses one up. Decker outruns the cornerback and hauls in a big touchdown.
As you can see, Reed had his deep receiver properly isolated. So, it's an easy choice for Manning when turning back to the field after the fake.
The competitive edge of Manning comes simply in the form of recognizing weaknesses.
He's quick to react and make a decision on where to go with the rock. Plus, when facing a veteran safety of Reed's ability, why challenge him? The more favorable approach would be to force Reed to honor anything deep or to one side of the field, just as we broke down.
Then, the key is to attack Baltimore's pass defense where Reed is not. All of Denver's receivers are capable of defeating man coverage and the Broncos will run the ball to maintain balance.
So there's no reason to challenge one of the NFL's best all-time safeties when other defenders can be exploited. It's a simple plan for the Broncos offense at home on Saturday, which will lead to efficient ball movement, control and ultimately a berth in the AFC title game.
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