While the Indianapolis Colts did a good job applying pressure on Denver quarterback Peyton Manning, they were helped by playing at home. The Broncos had to go with a silent count, which enabled the Colts’ line to get a better jump. It also meant that Manning could not keep them off balance, or draw them offside, with a hard count. Much harder to get a jump against a quarterback such as Manning when playing on the road. The Colts also made Denver one dimensional by taking a double-digit lead, which helps any pass rush. Before Sunday, Denver’s protection had been strong.
Interior pressure is the key against Manning and that means pressure from nose tackle Barry Cofield. Indianapolis’ Cory Redding did a good job applying pressure inside last week and Cofield’s game is comparable, in terms of technique and how they use their hands. Reserve nose tackle Chris Baker will have a role here, too, at times. Know this about Baker: He graded out near perfect last week, with one blemish. That means two strong games for him in the past three weeks. But with end Stephen Bowen hurting, they’ll need more from backup Jarvis Jenkins. He needs to start making an impact.
The outside linebackers, Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan, have to at least apply pressure. Again, the pressure Sunday won’t be measured in sacks. They need to create a tight pocket for Manning and that can mean just pinching the ends. Orakpo will face left tackle Chris Clark, who had a tough go at times versus the Colts’ Robert Mathis, who used quickness and an occasional bull rush to apply heat. Orakpo can definitely use a bull rush; Mathis also had some success with spin moves, something Orakpo has only occasionally done.
The problem I have with this game? It’s a details game; the so-called little things. That means penalties. That means special teams. (I just heard you gulp). The special teams has to be good, mainly to change field position – the Colts did a great job of pinning Denver deep, with 11 of its 17 drives starting at its own 20 or worse. That’s significant. They could use a jolt from the return game as well, something they have not received this season. Washington will not win this game with just a good showing from the offense.
The tricky part is that Denver will use a lot of three-receiver sets, leaving a defense with six defenders in the box. So you must play the run well in this situation; the Colts did a solid job of it by using stunts or slanting the line. Look for Washington to do the same when confronted with this look.
Good luck blitzing Manning. He’s the NFL’s top-rated passer when facing five-plus rushers as well as when getting six or more. Against a five-plus rush, Manning has completed 44-of-64 passes for 588 yards nine touchdowns and an interception. When facing six or more, Manning has completed 14-of-20 passes for 237 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions, according to ESPN Stats & Information. His passer rating? 149.4. The Redskins will blitz some, but without Reed Doughty or Brandon Meriweather at safety they'd better get home.
Denver likes to play a lot of man coverage, which usually bodes well for Robert Griffin III’s ability to run. Both Dallas and Chicago used a lot of man coverage; it can make stopping the outside zone a little tougher if the linebackers can be sealed. It also means the defense must have disciplined rush lanes. Or else.
Griffin and the offense have fared much better against five-plus and six-plus rush situations the past two games. Griffin was the NFL’s top-rated passer in both situations last season. This season? He’s 13th against six-plus rushers, having already faced it 34 times compared to 24 all of last season. Griffin has completed 17-of-33 passes for 206 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions against that look. But in the past two games, with his legs returning, he’s encountered that rush only seven times, completing 5-of-7 passes for 80 yards – and leaving him fifth in quarterback rating (98.5) and seventh in passer rating (109.2).
I agree with corner DeAngelo Hall when asked if Sunday would provide a measuring stick for the defense. “Not really. Anytime you go against a guy like Peyton, he’s going to test every aspect of your team, whether it’s safety play or linebackers. He’ll get the offense in the best situation. We’ll disguise things, we’ll mix things up. But is it a measuring stick? I don’t think so. He’ll be Peyton regardless of what we do. We’re not going to make our names or lose our names off this one game. Their receivers are damn good receivers, too.” Translation: “We're without both starting safeties, with no experienced backups. Don’t judge us.”
It’ll be interesting to see what Denver linebacker Von Miller does in his second game back. Miller apparently put on 10 to 15 pounds from workouts during his six-game suspension. But has that taken away from his explosiveness? The Redskins say it hasn’t, that he looked good against the Colts. I agree; for a guy who hadn’t played yet this season, Miller looked pretty good. Miller typically lines up on the left side, which means right tackle Tyler Polumbus has a pivotal matchup. Miller will line up on both sides, but mostly on Polumbus’ side. You must stay low and balanced – and beware his spin move, which he used a few times on the left side. In the past, he’s done a good job against the zone read option, too. One more thing on him: He will try to jump the snap count, which will be easier to do at home than last week in Indy’s closed stadium. A quicker get-off and with one game played, Miller could be primed for a big day.