Most of the Bengals on the current roster were not around to experience it, but the 2005 contest against the Indianapolis Colts was one of the most exciting games in my memory, including the 1988 Super Bowl. Peyton Manning and Carson Palmer were both playing out of their minds, seemingly scoring at will.
Although Palmer is now in Oakland, playing like a shell of his 2005 form after multiple injuries, Manning returns as a Bronco instead of a Colt having experienced a ravaging injury, himself. But, like Manning’s level of play this season, not much seems to have changed except for the color of the equine-based mascot’s uniform.
Over the course of the season, Manning has infused his playbook that he used in Indianapolis when, let’s face it, he was the true offensive coordinator. It is a very short playbook, which is one of the reasons he runs the no-huddle offense so well. But, within each of those plays are any number of check-with-me routes, routes that change based on coverage, and the ability to change the formation to adjust the play based on the defense.
This is one of the reasons that the Broncos have slowly become one of the best teams in the league. So much of Manning’s game depends on his receivers being totally in synch with him. Manning has never had a laser-rocket arm, but his greatness comes from timing and knowing how the defense will react to a route and trusting his receiver to have the same knowledge.
If the defense shows any hint of a blitz, Manning will adjust the play and the defense will be forced to either check out of the blitz or be burned by Manning. Mike Zimmer likely worked on disguising blitzes ever since the end of the Steelers game. Amoeba formations, with defenders milling around and not showing their position or assignment, have stymied Manning in the past, but Zimmer likely already has something in his arsenal, which will be brought up later.
Basically, Manning plays solid, fundamental football as well as one player has ever played it. The Bengals can not guess or over-commit on any play because Manning will take advantage of their eagerness. The only way to compete with Manning is to play solid, fundamental football.
Here are a few concepts that Manning has run for over a decade, and how he will use them to exploit the Bengals defense.
This passing concept has started to become Manning’s favorite in Denver, and it works well with his combination of the rangy and explosive Demaryius Thomas, a Reggie-Wayne-like Eric Decker, a trusty tight end with Joel Dreesen and an old pal and precise route-runner in Brandon Stokely.
Although Decker is lined up to the outside right in the play shown above, this is the same concept that the Broncos run on Thomas’ long touchdown on a post route against the Saints. This play is dependent on how the circled strong safety plays the route.
On this play, the slot receiver, Stokely, runs directly at the strong safety then runs a comeback. That is the “anchor” part, he holds down the safety while the outside receiver takes advantage and runs a post route directly behind the safety with nobody on top. The free safety is occupied by the X receiver’s go route and does not offer help.
If the strong safety were to gain depth to guard against the post route, the tight end has run an out route to draw away the underneath coverage, with the running back freezing the other linebackers. Manning would hit Stokely on the comeback for a nice 10-yard gain. Manning is the master of taking what the defense gives him.
The key is for the cornerbacks to play sound coverage and stay in their receivers’ hip pockets in man coverage. Against Cover 2 zone, the strong safety would have to pick up the post route switch and not be pulled upfield by the comeback route, trusting the hook/seam-defending linebacker to get the proper depth. Chris Crocker, Nate Clements, Rey Maualuga and Vontaze Burfict have to stay disciplined to defend it.