Eagles defenders, Manning have history

PHILADELPHIA -- They know he can be beaten because many of them have actually done it.

Cary Williams was playing cornerback for the Baltimore Ravens when they defeated Peyton Manning in the AFC playoffs earlier this year.

Connor Barwin was on the Houston Texans defense that went to Denver a year ago and defeated Manning and the Broncos.

And yes, the Eagles actually managed to beat Manning once during his years with the Indianapolis Colts. It was three years ago. Outside linebackers Trent Cole and Brandon Graham and safeties Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman are the only defensive players who are still on the roster from that game.

“I think I hit him a few times,” Cole, who had one of the Eagles’ three sacks in that 2010 game, said Tuesday. “I can’t give you the secret, but I know we were jumping on him.”

“He’s human,” Williams said.

So they know firsthand it can be done. They also know firsthand Manning is good.

“I remember we were getting back there and we were hitting him,” Cole said, “but he was just getting the ball off so fast. I remember him being back there, reading the whole [defensive] backfield. I could see his eyes flicking back and forth. It was crazy.”

“He’s the best,” Allen said. “He’s looking guys off. He’s putting safeties right where he wants them, then he’s going back the other way. He’s top of the line.”

The Eagles’ Asante Samuel intercepted Manning twice in that game. Michael Vick was in the middle of his 2010 hot streak, and the Eagles were able to beat Manning and the Colts, 26-24.

That’s ancient history, though. Manning is now in Denver. He is throwing to Wes Welker, among other terrific receivers. And Manning is off to one of the greatest starts in NFL history: 12 touchdowns, zero interceptions, 73 percent completion rate, 1,143 yards and a 3-0 record.

The Texans beat the Broncos, 31-26, in Manning’s third game after missing a season due to neck surgery. He threw for two touchdowns in the game, but was not as sharp as he’s been since.

“Some guys you play, you make some mistakes and some quarterbacks don’t find it,” Barwin said. “This guy, you make a mistake, he’ll find it. It’s important we do what we do really well. You need to go in against Peyton and play a very, very clean defensive game. There’s no magic formula.”

Williams was on the winning side in the only game Manning has lost in the past 11 months. The Broncos got two special-teams touchdowns and Manning threw for three TDs in the Ravens’ 38-35 victory. Baltimore did pick off two passes, including one that Corey Graham returned 39 yards for a TD.

“It changes every year,” Williams said. “He has some more weapons, and he has more of a rapport with the guys he had there from before. They’re a great team. He’s a great quarterback. He’s going to get his yards. You just have to play your game, go out there and compete.”

It is not an encouraging matchup for the Eagles, to say the least. But it’s also an opportunity. If they are able to compete with the undefeated Broncos, they can draw confidence from that as they proceed to winnable games against the Giants and Buccaneers. And if they can catch Manning off guard somehow, they can deliver a major statement.

“It’s an awesome challenge,” Williams said. “It’s an opportunity for us to go out there and shock the world.”

And maybe even themselves.