This week’s key matchup for the Houston Texans is one of the few times all season in which the mental aspect is as, or more, prevalent than the physical component. Their road trip to Denver to take on the Broncos will feature familiar foe QB Peyton Manning. As was touched on yesterday, Peyton is the master at changing the play, or aspects of a play, at the line of scrimmage based on what a defense is giving him. There is little doubt that Peyton is the best field general in the game today and plays the “chess match” better than maybe any quarterback in the history of the NFL.
The challenge for the Texans this week is slowing down the four-time league MVP. There are a number of ways to do this, put pressure on him, disguise coverages, and play ball-control offense which in turn keeps the Broncos’ offense off the field. But when it comes down to it, there is only one person who has the overall impact on the game that can possibly slow down Manning, and that’s defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.
Phillips is the only member of the Texans on Sunday that will be in a position to outsmart Peyton and beat him at his own game. Manning has a history of struggling at times with 3-4 defenses, even though he looked dominant against the Pittsburgh Steelers in week one. Phillips’ version of the 3-4 is considered to be one of the more simplistic styles of the scheme, and while that’s certainly helpful for an opposing quarterback, it’s more important for his defensive players because there is little to no confusion regarding where to line up and each player’s individual responsibility.
There is no question Peyton already knows this about Phillips’ defense. Manning has played against Phillips-run defenses when he was the DC for the San Diego Chargers, and played underwhelming for Peyton standards in those games. Furthermore, Manning has assuredly been watching plenty of film on the Texans’ defense, familiarizing himself with the scheme and the current personnel.
But Phillips already has an edge on Peyton in this department, because it’s highly unlikely that Phillips has shown much defensively through the first two weeks of the season because the Texans didn’t need to do anything tricky to slow down the abysmal offenses that belong to the Miami Dolphins and the Jacksonville Jaguars. Sure, Peyton can always watch film from last season, but each season’s version of a team is different.
Come kickoff Sunday afternoon, what Phillips will try to do to confuse Peyton is mask coverages and more importantly, disguise the rush. The Texans will likely send at least four pass rushers on every passing play (if not more on occasion), which will include the three down lineman. The trick is where the fourth rusher is coming from, something Peyton will have to identify at the line of scrimmage. This isn’t exactly football rocket science, but what makes the Texans’ defense dangerous from this point is that they can get to the quarterback while only rushing four, allowing them to drop seven men into coverage. In the NFL, that’s huge.
Like all QBs, Peyton will make mistakes when under pressure and forced to get rid of the ball while moving around in the pocket. When it only takes four rushers to accomplish this, it leaves fewer holes in coverage for Peyton to pick apart while facing pressure.
Phillips’ task will be to keep Manning on his toes. Peyton knows what he will be going up against Sunday, the trick for Phillips will be to mix up who he sends and what coverage the back seven play, but also when to occasionally send a fifth or even sixth man to really throw Peyton off his game.
The Texans’ defense outmatches the Broncos’ offense across the board. The Texans are a more talented unit that matches up extremely well against their Broncos counterparts. The X-factor when playing against the Broncos, however, is Peyton Manning’s intelligence and ability to make those around him exponentially better. Wade Phillips has the ability Sunday to neutralize this advantage the Broncos have and should he successfully do so, the rest of the Texans’ defensive players on the field will take care of business.
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