For nearly three quarters the Jaguars played the Broncos tough and trailed by only two points until there was about four minutes remaining in the third. From there the Broncos put their foot on the gas and pulled away, but it was interesting that they were even close in that situation.
Did the Jaguars provide a blueprint that other teams can now use to slow down Peyton Manning? Rest assured citizens of Denver and Broncos fans everywhere, the Jaguars didn't provide a template to stop the veteran quarterback.
Stopping Manning is near impossible, but until Week, no defense had even been able to slow him down long enough to give its own offense a chance keep up. The Jaguars defensive unit managed to do that for two-and-a-half quarters—or so it seemed.
Although it's only natural to wonder what happened, after reviewing the game, we can confidently conclude that the Jaguars didn't come up with some new exotic defense that frustrated Manning. In fact, the Broncos simply beat themselves (at times) with poor execution and turnovers.
Conservative Defense, Aggressive Offense
One of the things the Broncos did against the Jaguars was get conservative on defense once they had a 14-0 lead at the end of the first quarter. That lead proved insufficient, because the Broncos defense was playing without Von Miller, Wesley Woodyard and Robert Ayers and had trouble applying pressure.
The Jaguars have been a disaster offensively, but quarterback Chad Henne got the start at quarterback and was able to get the ball to No. 1 receiver Justin Blackmon against the soft coverage of the Broncos. With the Denver defense playing conservatively, Jacksonville running back Maurice Jones-Drew was also able to get going because the Jaguars didn't abandon the run, despite being down two scores.
After the Jaguars drove down and got a field goal to make it 14-3, the Broncos went three-and-out. Unless the Jaguars blueprint involved giving Manning's weapons a case of the drops, they did nothing special to slow him down.
On first down, running back Knowshon Moreno dropped a short pass. On second down, the Broncos ran off tackle to the right and got dominated at the line of scrimmage to bring up 3rd-and-9.
Anytime you can force an offense into 3rd-and-long situations, that's a good thing for the defense. Denver's offensive line was struggling, but that's not so much a blueprint as something opposing defenses want to have happen each week.
The Jaguars were just more physical in the trenches.
Even with a favorable situation for the defense, the Jaguars had little to do with forcing the punt. Manning threw it to his first read, which was tight end Julius Thomas on the outside in one-on-one coverage with the defensive back.
Manning just missed Thomas by a matter of inches. Thomas was able to get a hand on the ball, but he wasn't able to pull it into his body. The coverage was solid, but there was nothing special about it.
Simply put, this was a shot play and Manning got the look he wanted. Had the Jaguars played it better, Manning may have taken his second read, wide receiver Eric Decker on the shallow cross and picked up a first down. Up 14-3, it was a worthwhile gamble and Manning's pass was just a tad off the mark.
Denver's defense forced a three-and-out on the ensuing drive to put the ball back in Manning's hands. Denver started the drive at their 9-yard line, but the Jaguars didn't do much to keep them from moving the ball.
After a 1-yard run and a questionable offensive pass-interference penalty on wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, the Broncos faced a 2nd-and-14. Manning called an audible to a quick throw to slot receiver Wes Welker, but the play gained only four yards, because the Jaguars did a good job of flying to the football.
Had Welker used Decker's block, he would have had all kinds of running room on the outside. With the safety dropping way off and no one covering Welker, it was a good call.
The Broncos run the same play against the same coverage all the time knowing they are just one missed tackle away from a big play. The Jaguars did a good job of forcing Welker inside and making a solid tackle, but Manning would make this same call again given the circumstances.
Credit the Jaguars for good play recognition and for tackling Welker in the open field. That might be a blueprint to slowing down Manning, but it isn't anything that coaches don't stress every day against every team in the NFL.
On the following play, 3rd-and-10, Manning hit Welker for 26 yards for a first down by taking advantage of a hole in Jacksonville's zone coverage. Two plays later, Manning fumbled the snap from center Manny Ramirez and gave the Jaguars great field position.
In an important game, Manning probably tries to dive on the fumble, but not against the Jaguars. In this case, the Jaguars recovered and hit a field goal to cut the lead to 14-6.
On the following two drives the biggest problem was Manning making poor reads. It's rare, but it happens. Credit the Jaguars for not making it easy for the Denver signal-caller, but in many cases these are reads he makes correctly 99 percent of the time.
On this 3rd-and-6 play, the Broncos use a passing concept that gives Manning a high-low read. The defense is in a tough spot because the Broncos run several different route combinations from the same looks including levels, smash and deep cross.
This is part of what makes the Broncos so difficult to defend.
Manning tries to get it quickly out to Moreno, and the Jacksonville cornerback comes up to make the stop. Manning didn't have a passing lane to get it to Thomas on the curl, but he did have Decker coming across the formation with a linebacker in a trail position.
Manning simply made a bad read, believing that the cornerback would drop with Thomas. Instead, the cornerback trusted his deep help, kept his eyes on Manning and put a good hit on Moreno to force the punt.
The Broncos got the ball back just before the half and were trying to get in position for a long field goal when Manning made another poor read. This time, he threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown by linebacker Paul Posluszny to bring the Jaguars within two points.
Manning is trying to hit Decker on "four verticals" on this interception, but he doesn't see the middle linebacker sinking deep and reading the quarterback's eyes. Perhaps Manning thought Decker should have broken off his route, but with the defensive back in a trail position that seems unlikely.
Thomas had a step on his man deep down the left sideline and Manning also had a running back available underneath for the first down. Unless Manning threw the ball to Thomas, the Broncos would have needed to burn their last timeout to try run one more play to setup a long field goal.
It's not often Manning makes these kinds of mistakes, but it's proof that he is human. It's worth noting that Manning tightened things up late in the game and carved through Jacksonville's defense without issue, just as expected.
An Old Blueprint
If the blueprint for slowing down Manning is playing good defense and hoping he makes a mistakes, I'm afraid everyone already has it. It's not only a lot easier said than done, it relies on getting very lucky as well.
When the Broncos executed, the Jaguars had no chance. The Broncos simply let off the gas after going up 14-0, then made too many unforced mistakes before getting things back on track late in the game.
The Broncos need to learn that they can't overlook any opponent, even ones like the lowly Jaguars, or they are going to have a letdown. For now, the Broncos are still undefeated and will look to remain so next week as Manning returns to Indianapolis.