ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- It is a curious number in this day and age when throwing the football appears to be almost every offense’s birthright. But the Tennessee Titans's defense has surrendered eight touchdown passes in 12 games this season.
The two will square off Sunday afternoon, familiar faces to each other as it will be the 20th time Manning has faced the Titans in his career, including one playoff meeting. Titans defensive coordinator Jerry Gray and senior assistant Gregg Williams have been on hand for many of those games.
And they take another crack at solving the riddle that is Manning in this one -- Manning is 13-5 against the Titans in regular-season games. The Titans have moments when they get to the quarterback plenty -- they had five sacks in the season opener against Pittsburgh and sacked the Colts’ Andrew Luck five times this past weekend -- but they are tied for 16th in the league overall with 31.
Williams and Gray have usually tried to vary their fronts against Manning, even moving just before the snap -- “getting the last word,’’ is how Williams has described it through the years. They will take some chances at times and lock up in some man coverages when they do.
“I’m really still getting to know them,’’ Manning said. “At this point in the season there are certainly a lot of games to watch and so it takes some time to get to know them and really see kind of who you think they might be. That they have good players. Their front is very stout, disruptive, fast linebackers and a really good secondary. Top cover guys and (safety Bernard) Pollard is a great physical presence.’’
The Titans will also probably take a page or two from recent game plans against the Broncos -- specifically from the Colts, Patriots and Chiefs -- that turned the attention more to disrupting the Broncos' receivers than risk sending extra rushers at Manning too often. When the Broncos wideouts didn’t win those physical battles at the line, the Broncos had some difficulties.
But when the receivers did get themselves free Manning has feasted on those man coverages, including a five touchdown day this past Sunday.
The Titans haven’t faced many pass-first offenses this season. Houston, in Week 2, is the only team to have attempted more than 40 passes in a game against Tennessee this season and just two -- the Texans and the Chiefs -- have thrown more than 36 passes in a game.
Overall, just three teams in the league have faced fewer pass attempts this season than the Titans (388) have heading into this week's games.
Sunday is expected to be a cold day -- kickoff temperature near 15 and dropping as game goes on -- and that could influence the Broncos' play-calling. But there will be opportunities for Manning to push the ball down the field at times if the Broncos can keep him clean and the receivers get themselves into the pattern as aggressively as they did against the Chiefs last Sunday.