By Ashley Scoby
It’s a rough month in Detroit when the Lions’ defensive players are talking about playing against one of the best running backs in history one week, then one of the greatest-ever quarterbacks the next.
The week after losing to Adrian Peterson’s Vikings 26-16 on Sunday, the Lions are prepping to defend Peyton Manning’s Broncos at Ford Field. Although much has been made about Manning losing the zip on his passes in his 18th season, the Lions know that Manning is still first-ballot-Hall-of-Famer, Super Bowl-winning Manning.
He’s second all-time in career passing yards (70,122). He’s first in touchdowns, by a lot – 533, with Brett Favre (508) and Dan Marino (420) trailing behind. And just two years ago, he broke Tom Brady’s record for most touchdowns thrown in a single season, after he tossed 55 for Denver.
“He’s been doing it for so long, he’s seen so many different looks,” Detroit safety Glover Quin said. “All these different D-coordinators try to come up with all these different looks to try to confuse him … but he’s been able to withstand it over a long, long, long period of time so I know, mentally, he’s probably as sharp as ever.”
What’s made Manning great hasn’t always been his physical tools, but the ones inside his head. Half the battle in defending against him comes in being able to withstand the games that Manning plays with coverages.
According to Quin, Manning is great at moving defenders with his eyes, then throwing his dagger in the opposite direction. He’ll drop back and shift his gaze to one side, moving linebackers with just that glance. Once those defenders have committed to a piece of the field, Manning flip-flops on them.
“He sits, and once he knows he’s got them, he comes back and throws to that spot, because once he knows these guys that are moving over, they can’t get back here fast enough,” Quin said. “But then once you start playing the game, once you start saying, ‘you know what? Peyton is looking over here, I’m going to stay,’ then boom, he hits somebody where you should have moved.”
When to jump and when to stick is a thin tightrope to balance on against any NFL quarterback, but especially against someone who has been tricking defenses since 1998.
And Manning remembers most of what he’s faced, too. That memory bank serves as a base for how he uses his intelligence on the field.
“Anything you give him early in the game, he can recall,” said Lions defensive end Darryl Tapp, who’s played against Manning several times in his career. “He has a photographic memory. .. He’s the ultimate competitor. Smart (on) every throw, so I don’t understand the talk about him falling off and getting older. Top-notch.”
Even if the talk is true and Manning has lost some of his arm strength, it might not even matter against the Lions. Detroit has struggled this season against short passes, which is reflected in their opponents’ completion rate: Between Teddy Bridgewater and Philip Rivers, teams are completing 81.7 percent of their passes against Detroit.
If Manning can get the Broncos’ offense moving quickly off short routes and quick slants – like other teams have done against the Lions – it could be a long day in Detroit.
“All I know is when it comes time to make a clutch throw, he always makes it, whether it’s zipped or lobbed or whatever,” Quin said. “We expect him to be able to make all his throws.”