There's just two problems: The Colts did do a terrific job, yet the Broncos still scored 30 points and had the ball with a chance to drive the field for the lead. And Manning, while more mortal than other games, still managed 386 passing yards and three touchdown passes.
Still, the Colts held Denver to a season-low point total in their 39-33 victory. In the first six games Denver had scored 40 or more points four times -- and more than 50 twice. Manning has thrown 25 touchdown passes and only three interceptions.
“He's one of the best, if not the best, that ever played the game,” Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said.
Still, the Colts beat him. Here's what the Colts did well:
Be physical with the receivers
The Redskins have done a solid job in recent weeks at disrupting the timing of receivers. At times they'll jam immediately off the line. Other times they'll let them run a couple yards then get their hands on them. That's what Indianapolis did Sunday. The Colts did not play press coverage the whole game, but they did cover well most of the night; downfield passes were always contested with tight coverage.
That's why Redskins corner DeAngelo Hall said one key is to “try to win one-on-one matchups.”
It'll help if Washington can at least apply solid pressure with its four-man rush. With safety Brandon Meriweather suspended and safety Reed Doughty likely questionable because of his concussion, the Redskins will be thin at that spot. To put one safety deep in this situation would be difficult, though E.J. Biggers' speed allows him to cover a lot of ground -- which is why they'll use the corner at safety, likely with three other corners.
Indianapolis also did a good job being disciplined in coverage and tackling after the catch. Also, the corners understood where their help was on plays, something that could be trickier for Washington if it must incorporate inexperienced safeties.
The coverage ploy worked great for three quarters Sunday. But it's hard to stop this offense all game. Of Denver's top seven plays in terms of yards gained, six occurred in the fourth quarter and represented 186 of their 429 total yards.
Keep disguising coverages
It's obviously difficult to confuse Manning, one of the smartest quarterbacks in history. But it can happen.
On a second-and-10 in the first half, the Colts showed a two-deep look and what appeared to be man coverage. That's not surprising; it's a look they showed often. The left outside linebacker covered tight end Julius Thomas off the line with the left corner playing off on receiver Eric Decker. Then Decker broke inside and, as Manning readied to throw, the Colts revealed zone coverage with the linebacker, Jerrell Freeman, breaking off Thomas and deflecting the pass.
"If he sees something and it looks different he can find a weakness," Redskins corner DeAngelo Hall said. "But if we're showing the same thing and we're playing a bunch of different things out of it, hopefully we can fool them a couple times. Indy did the same thing. They attacked with their front and in the back end everything looked the same.”
Denver had 17 drives against the Colts, but 11 were from their own 20 or worse. And six were inside the 20. The Broncos scored only 10 points on these drives 11 drives while 23 were scored when they started a drive outside their own 35-yard line.
That, of course, means the Redskins' special teams would have to perform better than they have the past two games when they've allowed two punt returns for a touchdown and a 90-yard kickoff return.
In the past two games combined, the Redskins' opponents have had 23 possessions; nine have been at their own 35 or better with eight at the 20 or worse.
It's not just about hitting Manning or sacking him. Both can be difficult because of how quickly he delivers the ball. In the first half Sunday, the Colts did a good job of pinching the pocket, more often than not using four-man rushes. They'd send the occasional blitz, or stunt the outside linebackers to the middle. But, mostly, it was about four rushers (who also did a good job against the run, using some stunts to offset being forced into six-man boxes because of the three-receiver sets).
Indianapolis applied pressure inside, too, preventing Manning from stepping into his throws -- and leading to passes losing steam in the end.
“You don't want him to step up and put everything into his throws,” Redskins linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said. “You don't want him to have a comfortable pocket to sit in either. So getting that collapse and getting a good push, especially from the interior guys, will be key.”
But be warned: Manning twice in the fourth quarter stepped up into the pocket, through a gap in the rush, and completed a 49-yard pass to Demaryius Thomas and, two plays, later a 31-yarder to him for a touchdown. Manning is not a running quarterback; he's also not a statue.
Still, as Wilson said, “You don't let Peyton sit there and pick you apart. You have to move him around. He doesn't like to do that.”
Linebacker Robert Mathis had two sacks and four quarterback hurries. On one of his sacks, he just beat left tackle Chris Clark with speed around the edge, with Manning using play-action. Another time, out of a two-point stance, Mathis launched into Clark's chest and drove him back for a pressure. He also tried some spin moves inside as Clark occasionally set too wide despite having help from the back. Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo will need to take advantage.
“The Colts did a good job of getting some pressure on him,” Haslett said. “That's the key to the game. That [and] stopping the run.”