There's no tougher test in NFL than trying to solve Peyton Manning

I went to Denver Broncos camp this summer and watched hours of live practice and sat down with Peyton Manning to discuss this offense. Now I've finished up the breakdown of their first game tape.

The truth is that Manning has too many answers for defenses. Sooner or later, defensive coordinators will conclude the only chance they have is to get to Peyton Manning because there really aren't any coverage answers for four receivers like Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker and newcomer TE Julius Thomas. In fact, right now there don't appear to be any pressure answers, either.

It was pretty simple for Manning to read, in his pre-snap, just what Baltimore was doing on defense. He caught the Ravens in a man-free scheme with a blitz call and made them pay. Archie Manning once described Peyton to me as a "hunting dog" just looking for the blitz. The hunting dog surely can sniff out a blitz, but he sniffs out everything else as well.

For example, in the third quarter in a possession start (P-10 4:55 3Q on their own 26-yard line) the Ravens clearly showed a man-free look with No. 32 James Ihedigbo (yellow circle) up at the line of scrimmage in a blitz position, which put seven in the box.

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Manning kept his tight end in to help on Terrell Suggs, who was rushing the passer, and used a play action with his running back who was in the pistol formation to pick up Ihedigbo. Manning had seven blockers for seven potential rushers so he could attack the man-free scheme. Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas ran deep "9 routes" which held the free safety in the middle of the field.

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Welker was all alone on LarDarius Webb and ran a free release crossing route for 27 yards.

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I don't think many teams are going to rely on blitz calls to handle the Bronco receivers. Manning is perfectly OK with a few sacks in a game because he knows he has answers on the very next play. Manning was sacked two times in the third quarter, the same quarter Denver scored 21 points against Baltimore.

Not too soon after the pressure call in the third quarter, Baltimore made a cover-two look convert to a man-free cover one call in the post-snap. Manning made them pay again. This time he kept his back in for a six-man protection. Lo and behold, Baltimore was in a six-man pressure. Everyone was picked up and he had four vertical routes from Decker, Welker, Julius Thomas and Demaryius Thomas.

The free safety was occupied by the inside routes of Welker and Julius, leaving Corey Graham all alone on Demaryius Thomas, who ran by him for an easy score. Keep an eye on the Broncos' offense when they cross the opponents' 30-yard line. There is still enough field to strike for the end zone with vertical routes, and expect to see a few shots a game in this area of the field (30-20 yard lines).

Another tool Manning uses is declaring the middle linebacker (Mike) for protections a little different than most teams. He will leave his off set back in shotgun right where he is, and switch the Mike linebacker declaration, turning the new Mike over to his linemen and the back gets reassigned the 'other' backer.

Most teams will switch the back to the opposite side if they redeclare the Mike so the back is in front of the man for whom he is now responsible. Manning doesn't like to do that, which is why he likes the pistol formation even though he isn't running the option anytime in this century. Peyton told me he likes to not give away his protection with an offset back, and the pistol creates the desired effect. Even when the back is offset and he changes the protection, he would rather the back block opposite after the snap than shift.

We covered why teams shouldn't blitz Manning and why they shouldn't play man-free (Cover 1). And did I mention that when teams rush four, he gets five receivers out and his tackles Ryan Clady and Orlando Franklin can handle most defensive ends, leaving the guards and center to block the two inside rushers?

In the third quarter (8:22 and 1-10 on the Baltimore 28-yard line) Manning sees the Ravens in a four-man rush trying to play quarters coverage. Julius Thomas (top yellow circle) and Ronnie Hillman (bottom yellow circle) check release when no one comes, and linebacker Josh Bynes simply can't stay with Julius Thomas, who gains an easy 13 yards on an out route.

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Next up for opposing defenses may be two- and three-man rush schemes in hopes of playing man-under two deep and having extra droppers for the crossing routes by Welker and Decker. If teams show it early, maybe they will be lucky enough to have Peyton check to more runs, which is a lot better for a defense than Manning throwing 42 times and connecting on seven touchdowns.

Keep in mind, Baltimore is a solid defense. If Broncos linebacker Danny Trevathan didn't have a bonehead play running an interception back and Decker didn't drop a number of passes the Broncos might have had more than 60 points.

 
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