By Jack Sitt
What is the deal with Peyton Manning? He put up a spectacular performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers to start off the season, but during the following game he threw for three interceptions in a loss to the Atlanta Falcons. What can Peyton and the Broncos do to make the offense look more efficient going forward?
The Broncos had an effective run game against the Falcons. While Peyton was in the gun, the Falcons often reacted by playing two safeties back with Nickel personnel. This is a perfect defense to run the ball against, and Willis Mcgahee proved that by gaining 113 yards on the ground. This was an example of a power draw play that was able to gain 31 yards against this defense: http://www.screenr.com/sF38. The Broncos did a good job strategizing with their running game, but they can do a better job strategizing for the passing game.
On defense, the Falcons played a lot of cover 4 zones. In this defense, the safeties and outside cornerbacks play deep zones while the linebackers play hook zones towards the middle of the field. No one guards the flats. If the Broncos drew up some more routes to the outside and towards the flats (like hook routes, wheel routes, speed routes and out routes), Peyton would have had a lot more success in this game.
In addition, the Falcons ran many plays on defense in which they put a safety or two in the box. To attack this defense, I would have used some more quick throws to get receivers in the open space. When the safeties are stacked towards the middle of the field a screen pass or quick slant presents a great opportunity for an explosive play.
Often times the defending cornerback is the only player the receiver needs to beat to create a big play against this defense. The Broncos used some quick passes, but not enough of them. In future weeks, Peyton and the coaching staff have to do a better job preparing for the defenses they are playing so they do not get confused on game day.
In addition to doing a better job strategizing, Peyton has got to make better throws. Each one of his interceptions came as a result of a defensive back coming off his deep zone to make a break on the ball. On the interception passes, his throws looked wobbly and slow rather then crisp and sharp, and that is why the defensive backs were able to pick off the football. Here is an example of an interception he threw: http://www.screenr.com/OHP8.
We can tell that the defense is in a cover 3 zone on this play because of the fact that Denver aligns in an “air formation” (If you want to read more about these type formations and how they indicate the defense, check out my article here: http://archive.nflgridirongab.com/2012/08/13/how-to-air-it-out-breaking-down-the-air-formation/). The cover 3 indicates that Robert McClain is playing a deep zone to the outside.
Demaryius Thomas runs a fly pattern while Brandon Stokley runs a seam route. What should happen is that McClain drops back in his deep zone and covers Thomas, while Peyton is able to hit a wide-open Stokley for a huge gain. McClain, however, is able to break off of his deep zone to intercept the football as a result of the lack of velocity on Peyton’s throw. The current perception among the media is that Peyton lost his arm strength as a result of his neck surgery, but I do not believe that this is the case.
I think that Peyton just simply needs to make better throws. Later in the game, Peyton demonstrated that he has not lost his arm strength when he made a beautiful throw to Decker on a post route: http://www.screenr.com/vF38. Peyton’s arm strength will be fine, he just needs to make throws that are crispier.
Peyton had a rough go at Atlanta, but I think he will be fine. After all, we are still talking about Peyton Manning. I am not surprised that his throws were wobbly considering he did not play a single snap last season. In future weeks, I am sure he will get his act together in addition to making sure he is better prepared for the defense he is playing.