Sunday, November 28, 2010 Chargers 36 Colts 14 – Quick Reaction as always has a quick write-up of the game.  Good work guys!

Chargers 36 Colts 14 – Quick Reaction

Colts offense beaten down by selves; the Chargers were also there.

There may be some who feel that after this ugly defeat suffered by the Colts, that the team didn't show up.  The problem is that they DID show up and this is what they look like.

Future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning was hit and harassed all night behind a offensive line that features not a single player who would start for the Patriots, Chargers, Steelers, Ravens, or Jets.  I'll go further and say that if they all got cut tomorrow, not one of them would be claimed off of wavers.

The Colts gameplan in this one was obviously to throw short precise passes to keep Manning upright, and it seemed to be working early on.  But starting in the 2nd quarter the Chargers starting jamming the receivers and daring Manning to try to take advantage by throwing deep.  But who to throw deep to?  Wayne was doubled short and long all night, every deep pass to him was at some point tipped by a Chargers defender.  Garcon and Manning are not on the same page and several opportunities were lost by timing issues on long passes.

Running the ball could have really taken the pressure off of the challenged passing game, but the current crop of offensive linemen are incapable of moving a large defensive lineman.

For most of the game the Colts defense really stepped up and slowed down the high scoring Chargers offense.  They forced Phillip Rivers to throw the ball short all night, taking away their deep passes.

I'll have more on them later in the week.

My Interview with Ken Dilger, former Colt Tight End

I was honored to be able to interview one of my favorite players from the past, Ken Dilger.  Ken was an crucial part of the Colts offense from 1995 through 2001.  Then he joined the Tampa Bay Bucs and helped them win their one and only Super Bowl.

Here is a video of Ken Dilger in action (at 0:58): Youtube

I was able to get former Colt great Jim Harbaugh to give the introduction.

This is a wide-ranging interview touching on players, coaches, and events he was a part of.

Ken was VERY productive as a complete tight end in three different offensive schemes.

Mainly I focused on getting an insiders view of how the Colts blocking schemes worked when he was there and why there were problems with certain 3-4 defenses.  And also we discussed the differences in how Tom Moore's offense worked in comparison to the West Coast Offense and the offense of Lindy Infante.

Peppered all through the interview are his thoughts and recollections of many former Colts as well as many former Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Please give it a listen and leave any thoughts in the comments.


Click here for the Dilger Interview

Monday, November 22, 2010

Giants come up with novel defense to Vick - lose anyways

The Giants lost to the Eagles 27-17 in a sloppy game marred with dueling turnovers.  What I found interesting was the brilliant defensive plan that the Giants employed to control the seemingly uncontrollable Michael Vick.

Many times during the game the Giants blitzed several players into the gaps between the gaurds.  This in of itself is not an unusual strategy against a normal QB.  But conventional wisdom says that for a QB like Vick, you keep him in the pocket and rush the outside.  Rushing guys up the middle normally would just allow him to run to either side and hilarity would then ensue.

Where the Giants differed in this was that they were rushing six guys on most plays, but having the ends rush directly upfield with no attempt to loop around.  This had the effect of creating a"picket line" that the 6'0 Vick had to throw over.  Vick was slowed down by this but continued to play well; showing a considerable amount of maturity in what could be a season in which he earns a Comeback Player of the Year award as well as the MVP.  Apparently prison makes a man patient.

The Giants turned the ball over multiple times, some forced by good Eagles defense - some entirely unforced and frankly a bit buffoonish.

As this game fades into history, what may remain is the blueprint that may allow other teams to slow Vick down.

We will see what adjustments Andy Reid and his staff come up with.

Poor tackling and Manning miscues allow Patriot escape - dirty hit sidelines Collie again

You could hear the murmur of the New England crowd when the Colts defense held the Patriots to a field goal midway through the 4th quarter, giving them a 31-14 lead with 10:23 to go in the game.  Why were they concerned?  Because they were very uneasy about having only a 17 point lead with that much time left.  That is how much Peyton Manning has gotten into the psyche of the New England fans.

Their concerns were justified as Manning lead the Colts to two consecutive scoring drives to close the lead to three points.  The defense was solid all of the 2nd half, correctly some of the horrific tackling that allowed the Patriots to get a few additional yards on virtually ever play in the first half.

In the end all of the work of the Colts came to naught as Manning was fooled into throwing an easy pick to end their chances.

Multiple times Sunday night Manning was fooled by a clever defensive scheme that made a cover three defense look like a cover two.  On four Occasions manning threw deep to the right side into the teeth of the secondary; getting two picked off.  At least one of these was on play action, so perhaps having his eyes away from the secondary was a factor.

It should be noted that the Colts would not have been in this game were it not for the great job Manning did in bringing them back.  This after the defense put the Colts in a hole, allowing three touchdown drives in the first half and one in the third quarter.

Austin Collie (who I thought was the key to the game) seemingly suffered another concussion on a long catch and run in the first quarter on what looked to be an unpenalized cheap shot by Brandon Meriweather.  Meriweather drove his shoulder directly into Collie's helmet while he was being held up by another defensive back.  Going after the head of a player who had suffered a severe concussion a couple of weeks before was either a happy accident for the Patriots or a planned strategy by the same team that let Rodney Harrison cheap shot players week after week.

Tom Brady played his normal game against the Colts - strong first half, timid and shaky in the 2nd half.  The Colts went from their usual zone defense in the first half to a tight man to man in the 2nd half - daring the Patriots receivers to beat them.  This strategy worked and the Patriots will probably see that again over the next few weeks unless they show that they can defeat it.

All in all, the game went better than I thought it would.  After losing Collie early, the Colts were able to scramble to more points than I thought was possible.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Mike Florio and PFT: The NFL's Check and Balance

I realized that as a certified blogger that I am obligated to act as if I am only aware of Mike Florio's through some sort of forth hand reports of the irresponsible rumors reportedly originating from there.  Most of the time we bloggers (and those in the "real" media) act as if he does not exist.

Oh, we may mention him when he links to one of our stories.  We may even let slip a little of our secret joy at having PFT's powerful lens briefly focused on us, if just for a moment.  But the first rule is:  You do not talk about PFT.  And you know what the second rule is...

I have come here today to break ranks with my fellow bloggers (which if truth be told, I have rarely been in lock-step with them).  I bare my soul to you today and reveal my sin:

I read PFT daily.  I read PFT multiple times a day.  I have it bookmarked even now.

Now that the burden is lifted, I ask:  Where is the shame?  By what right is Mr. Florio shunned in the daylight, only to be secretly invited in after the sun is down?  What is the secret of his notoriety?

As far as I can tell, once PFT was noticed by the "real media", it was decided by common consent to give no notice of him.  "He is not like us", they said.  "He is a blogger, whatever that is", they muttered.  "Speak not of him and his works, he is but a tiny noise and he will not be heard except through our whim and for our purpose".

Thus it was decided that Mr. Florio would not be heard.  Yet they could not ignore him.  Nay, they read him daily.  Each day they would with trepidation and uncertain fingers type in that dreaded address.  They never bookmarked it of course, that would infer significance.  So with their computers they viewed the words of Mr. Florio, and sometimes his words became their words.  Oh, the words would be changed a little here and a little there to obscure their true source.  Sometimes Mr. Florio would get a backhanded credit as a "Internet rumor" or "Internet source"; with "Internet" being the dirty word in the sentence and intoned as such.

You see, they viewed Mr. Florio with the same trepidation that the Dodo should have felt when first they saw a ship approach their island.  They feared him and despised him - and they were right to.  They had control over the sports agenda.  It was theirs to decide what was "news" and what was not.  They exercised their right with the arrogance of those born into leadership.  Heavy is the burden of protecting the masses against themselves - this they moaned to each other with an air of entitlement.

So mention him they did not, even amongst themselves.  Many times before they had smothered a dissenting voice this way.  It had always worked before.

But something was different this time.  There was this thing - the "Internet", which they found they could neither understand nor control.  People choosing for themselves where they get their news!  "Don't they understand that these sources are dangerous and ungoverned?", they cried?

The people heard their pleadings and were unmoved by their words.  It seems that individuals can be trusted to consistently act in their own interest, choosing what works for them when they can.

This shocked and dismayed the "real media".  They decided to ignore Mr. Florio harder.  Like Boxer in Animal Farm they just muttered "I will work harder"; this was their way of ignoring events around them that they could not understand.

Then like Boxer, they were betrayed.  Betrayed by their patrons; their bosses.  "We need to get in on this Internet thing, they say it is where everything is going", said their bosses.  "We are going to give away your words for free".

So, horrified by this change in fortune, they dipped their toes into the murky waters of the Internet.  "At least", they thought. "Now that we are here, there will be no more need for him".

What they could not know or understand was that now, they were on his turf.  They were shocked to find that even with their offerings free for the taking, Mr. Florio still gained subjects.  "The people are still choosing him", they moaned.

One day the awoke to find that Mr. Florio's influence had outstripped theirs.  The people no longer considered the "real media" to be the arbiter of what was "news".

Their roles switched that day.  It was unspoken and unacknowledged, but anyone watching knew.

Bit by bit Mr. Florio was invited into their homes and sheepishly introduced to their guests.  They did not expect Mr. Florio to thrive in such an environment.  "Our guests do not want his kind in their midst", they thought to themselves.  But Mr. Florio won them over too.  It turned out that even those who were late to the party still wanted the same thing: Choice.

So where are we today?  Mr. Florio commands a worldwide following undreamed of in the pre-internet days.  But is Mr. Florio a perfect leader?  A beacon of enlightenment?

Sadly no; he is but a man.  But he is a common man, educated yes - but not different in spirit than the masses he speaks to.  True, he has a tongue cultured by the worlds second oldest profession - but the heart and mind that controls that tongue is of good, common stock.  He possesses none of the self congratulatory inbreeding of those he vanquished.

Because of his roots; when he is right - the people listen, and argue.

Because of his roots; when he is wrong - the people listen, and argue.

Wrong or right, he is always relevant.

Where those before him sometimes stumbled into a story, he had a flashlight looking far ahead.  Micheal Vick?  He saw that first.  Reggie Bush?  He shouted it out.  Spygate?  He smell trouble a mile away.  The eagerly anticipated demise of Terry Bradshaw?  Well, he was wrong about everything from the neck down.   Apparently no one is perfect.

So I come here to pay tribute to our acknowledged master, Mr. Florio.  May his reign be long and righteous, warts and all.

I will be hearing his words, and I know you will be too.  Even if you cannot bear to admit it.

Friday Injury Report: Colts v. Pats

Head over to for Friday's injuries report:
Friday Injury Report: Colts v. Pats

Friday, November 19, 2010

Questions and Answers about the Peyton Manning article

I have received a lot of feedback on the Peyton Manning article What Peyton Manning is doing (and how to beat him).  Some of this feedback indicated I was an idiot.  Some said I was a genius.  Some had questions, and some said I had it all wrong.  

One guy in Illinois actually went through the trouble of finding my phone number so he could personally leave me a message telling me that it was the best article he had ever read.  

I don't actually encourage people to do things like that, but to save you the trouble of searching the Internet, you can contact me at (508) 543-8200.

Anyway, I wanted to do an article on the feedback and questions themselves.  A few questions were posted under the article, but I sort of screwed up at first and it was not easy to leave comments for the first few days it was up.  Many hundreds of comments were posted at the various site that linked to mine, in some cases I conversed with readers there.

So, without further ado I am posting some of that back and forth below:

Be Thankful we are not the Bears or Dolphins

Watching the Bears shut out the Dolphins last night, I was struck by how horrible that Tyler Thigpen played for the Dolphins.  Now I know he was until last week the third string QB and he was only in there because of injuries to the Chads; but he was screwing up in ways that went well beyond any sort of inexperience factor.

How about throwing the ball away?  How about following through with your throws so your passes are not high?  How about dumping the ball off short instead of fixating on a WR down the field, studying his progress while a strong rush hits you from three sides at the same time?

The thing that gets me about him is that he was the starting QB in KC two years ago.  He has a lot of experience for a 3rd stringer.

Thursday night he looked like a squirrel loose in a classroom full of 4th graders.

This was a very winnable game for the Dolphins.  Jay Cutler is still trying to become the first QB to complete a pass by having it pass through the body of a defensive back.  Fortunately for the Dolphins, none of their players were killed by an errant Jay Cutler pass - but they were so concerned with the possibility of dying on the field with a football-sized hole in their chest that they could not concentrate on actually catching the balls hurtling at them.

The Bears having Mike Martz as their offensive coordinator with the personnel they have provided him is like asking General Schwarzkopf to invade Iraq with the Blue Man Group.

Other than Matt Forte, they don't have a single skill player on offense that fit his system.  They don't have a skill player on offense that would have started for Martz in Detroit!  And that includes Cutler.

This is what I wrote in a email to Mike Lombardi in January 2010 when there were rumors that the Bears were going to hire Martz:

I don't see Martz and Cutler as a good match.  Martz's system requires mandatory throws at precise times and locations to work at all.  I think that Martz might be a bit desperate if he is interested in this job.

He does better with QBs with missing or crushed egos that are willing to completely change everything they have ever done at the QB position.

Working with Cutler will be exactly like trying to jam Jeff George into the west coast offense in Washington and in Oakland.  He imploded.

The design and structure of Martz's passing game is completely alien to what everyone else does.  It requires specific kinds of WR and a specific kind of QB. 

You will have to change your personnel to run it right - one of the reasons that Martz is out of the league.

Any single "black mark" (real or perceived) on your character can keep you from getting a job in this league.  Martz has three:

1)  The personnel issues noted above

2)  A reputation for a big ego and being unwilling to compromise

3)  A reputation for "climbing" and undermining the Head Coach and perhaps seeking his job.

Any one of these are deal breakers for a lot of head coaches (especially #3).

Martz probably is desperate and he should be.  If he gets hired in Chicago, don't be shocked if he brings in a backup QB that he had at one of his previous stops and having that guy outshine Cutler in camp.

He did not have this guy before, but I think that Jim Sorgi of the Colts would be a perfect fit for Martz.  God knows he can't run the Colts offense.

And Martz did try to bring in one of his former QBs in training camp, but nothing got done...

What a mess in Chicago.  And what a mess in Miami.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Jeff Linkenbach's performance Sunday against the Bengals = a mixed bag.

In re-watching the game I noticed some issues with Linkenbach playing right guard in the place of the injured Mike Pollock.  The Colts reportedly started him over Devan because he brings more power to the position.  The tape bears that out.  He definitely is a better run blocker at guard that DeVan is.  But that is not hard.

The problem came when it came time to pass block.  Or not pass block as was the case.  Linkenbach required help to handle Bengals DT Pat Simms, who is a good player.  Whenever he did not get help, he was a turnstile.  He was not getting bullrushed, the problem was lateral quickness.  This was surprising to me since you would figure since he is listed as a tackle that he would do better in that area.  This may be something that can be fixed with technique; so he bears watching.

The rest of the line played ok for most of the game.

Manning himself discussing the audible system

I think it is clear from this video that everything I worte about is 100% correct.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Peyton Manning (and the Colts practice squad) Vs the mighty Patriots.

I'd have to say, I don't have a good feeling about this one.  The Patriots are coming off of an impressive win over the universally hated Steelers, so we are facing them on a high.  I don't think they will overlook us either.

Whether or not Austin Collie is able to play is probably the most important unknown going into Sunday's nationally televised game.  He was listed as a limited participant in Wednesday's practice, but so far reports are that he has tested out fine and is recovered from his scary concussion.

Belichick likes to take the top two options away from an opposing offense - forcing them out of their comfort zone.  Expect that Reggie Wayne will be doubled on most every play.  If Collie does not play, Jacob Tamme will be also doubled.  This would leave only the highly unreliable Pierre Garcon in single coverage.  Not real helpful considering he and Manning have had trouble getting on the same page.

We have not had a lot of success running against the Patriots in the past, and they are doing well against the run this year.  Their pass defense can be shaky, but I don't know if we can take advantage of that.

On the good side they have a lot of young players on defense that have little to no experience dealing with our offense.  Hopefully we can fool them a few times.

Since trading Randy Mesothelioma to the Vikings (who promptly dropped him like a important call on AT&T) the Patriots passing game is mostly a ball-control one.  Since they have no receivers who can really stretch the field, we really match up with them well.  Although the Patriots offense throws a lot of short passes, they are not always quick passes.  They have a lot of complicated clearing routes and often you will see Tom Brady hold the ball for a little while.  This gives us a better opportunity for a sack than you would usually have against a small ball offense.

Unfortunately our pass rush has not been very good this year, particularly on the road on grass.

As I see it, the Colts lose this one.  Lets say 24-17.  (Vegas has the Pats as a 3.5 point favorite).

Whither Donald Brown?

It seems that the fan base has turned on Donald Brown.  I am seeing criticism from both bloggers as well as fans.  Criticisms center on the perception that he is not running hard and that he is not doing a good job blocking for the pass.

There was some of this in last weeks podcast on  While I enjoy the podcast and feel they are well done, I have to take issue with their disenchantment of Donald Brown.

They mention that Donald Brown is coming back from injury but that he should be fine because he has been practicing.

Well, I'm not sure that is true.  The Colts have not been having good practices due to all of the injuries.  Manning has mentioned this multiple times in the last couple of weeks.

And I think that Donald Brown is still hurt based on what I am seeing from him.  He was out with a hamstring pull, which would definitely affect the leg drive of a running back.  Also, we have no idea if he has some other undisclosed injury.

With Addai and Hart out, I think that the Colts have broken form and asked a player to "gut it out" because they need someone who actually knows the offense out there.

Also, if he was not hurt he would have been on the field for 90% of the snaps in the Philadelphia and Cincinnati games - instead of sharing time with off the street guys who only know a small part of the playbook.

You simply cannot judge a running back by how he plays injured - and we are doing a disservice to a player that I feel is sacrificing himself for the good of the team.

The otherwise excellent podcast on can be found here: Check it to Pancakes, Episode 14: Week 10 – Bengals at Colts

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Colts avoid losing to Bengals 23-17

In one of the ugliest games in the Polian era, the Colts managed to hold on against the Bengals in a game featuring a match-up between the walking wounded and the walking-when-they-should-be-running.

The offense looked as good as you could expect in the first half considering that Manning was throwing to receivers that did not know the signals and had backs running the ball that either were playing injured (Brown) or were recently unemployed (James).

After getting up 10 points, the Colts seemingly decided to shutdown any real attempts to gain yardage in the air, resulting in a punt-fest through the middle of the third quarter until the end of the game.

I believe that after a few wrong routes and the near interceptions they caused, Caldwell decided to see if they could get the lead to stand-up by handing it to the defense.  The thinking was that the Bengals would not be able to get themselves together without the Colts handing them a turnover.

In the end they were right, but there were some moments of concern on the way to the conclusion.

Carson Palmer slung his reluctant and indifferent offense over his back and they nearly rode his damaged arm to a comeback win.  His valiant effort was marred however by several very obvious instances of his receivers showing the following characteristics: Alligator arms, unwillingness to extend for a catch, and complete lack of hustle when running a two minute offense.

Both Terrell Owens and Chad OchoDumbass (if he can't decide on what he calls himself, I'll decide for him) were seen walking back to the line after running routes when his team desperately needed every second.

If this happened with the Colts (or any properly run franchise) they would have both been suspended or cut.  Period.

Next up are the Patriots, a team that is currently playing very well.  I expect this to be a near certain loss due to the injury problems the Colts have.  Time will tell.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

What Peyton Manning is doing (and how to beat him)

As a fan, retired player, or a member of the media, whatever you think you know about how the Colts offense works is probably mostly incomplete.  This excludes some players or coaches who have regularly played against the Colts.

Here is how it goes:

Clyde Christensen calls in "concepts / ideas" based on the personnel grouping as well as the gameplan developed in concert with Manning and Tom Moore during the practice week.  

Generally the personnel grouping (either 2 WRs & 2 TEs, or 3 WRs & 1 TE) at the start of the drive will be chosen based on consensus between Manning, Moore, and Christensen.  Sometimes different groupings will be sent in by Christensen during the course of a drive.  Occasionally Manning disagrees with the choices made for subs and will wave incoming players back to the sidelines.

The Colts will come to the line with 20 or more seconds on the play clock.  Sometimes a play has already been signaled, sometimes not.

Manning then looks at the defensive formation and uses his encyclopedic knowledge of the defensive coordinator's previous games (going back three seasons or more, even if the defensive coach was with a different team or even serving as an assistant to another coach).  

He then combines that with his study of each defender's body language that he knows from studying that defensive squad's last 5 games or so.  He then adds in tendencies for down, distance, and time left in the game.  The backup quarterback is tasked with additional study.  Being good at digesting film and packaging it to Manning can keep you in the NFL as a backup QB even if you cannot throw a ball on a line more than 13 yards.  **cough** Sorgi **cough**

If he is still not sure at that point what the defense is doing he will simulate the beginning of a the play to coax the defense into showing what their intentions are.  Manning is looking for the reaction by the defensive players to the snap of the ball they thought was about to occur.  This is usually in the form of a false step or lean that a player will display when they are intent on reacting to the snap and getting to their assignment as quickly as possible.  The more things the opposing defense is trying to do, the more likely they will give things away.

To someone with Manning's hypervigilant observation skills and understanding of defensive concepts, these movements can tell him the following things:

  • Whether or not a LB is rushing the passer or in coverage.
  • If the LB is in coverage, sometimes how he moves during this moment can give away whether he is in a zone or covering a particular man.  A move towards a player (as well as his eyes focusing on a particular player) gives away his assignment.  If the player seems to be ready to move in a particular arbitrary direction (particularly backwards) then he will show that he has a zone assignment as well as giving away what part of the field is his responsibility.
  • Safeties can be induced to show whether they are in a cover two (two safeties back, each with a deep half of the field to cover), cover one (one safety in the deep middle, the other closer to the line in man coverage / run support), cover three (one safety in the deep middle, the other in a short middle zone.  Cornerbacks would cover the deep sideline).  If both safeties are close to the line or moving that way then you can assume they are either blitzing or in man - with others blitzing.
  • I don't see him look at the corners much, I think what the safeties are doing tells him what the corners are doing.

From all that he has a pretty good idea what is coming. 

At this point he signals the WRs and TEs their assignments, then the RB.

Next he tells the OL who is rushing and who isn't; giving them their blocking assignments.

Then he tells the RB who to block (in a way that is indistinguishable from the instructions he would give for a running play).

At this point if Manning is still not sure who is rushing (as when the defense is trying to give Manning false clues), he will signal the players to have yet another false start of the play.  He will then give final blocking assignments based on anything that the defense gives away.  Of particular importance is whether the defensive players have the same reaction to what they thought was the impending snap of the ball.  

At the snap of the ball Manning has a particular defender he is keying on for confirmation that his pre-snap assessment was correct.  The WRs often have more than one route they can run, based on their reading of the coverage just after the snap of the ball.  It is hoped that they reach the right conclusions and end up where Manning expects them to be.  Probably 80% of Manning interceptions are due to the receiver running his route incorrectly.

Note: Sometimes this is a route that is completely the wrong choice, sometimes it is a subtle error in angle or timing that causes a ball to seem inaccurate or misplaced.

The tip off is to watch Manning's feedback to the guy who made the mistake that caused the play to fail.  On a incorrectly performed route, Manning will make arm motions showing how he should have run the route.  If the player simply ran the wrong route, Manning will go up to him and ask what they were thinking and then correct them as is necessary.

Just after the real snap, he will key on a particular defensive player, usually a safety.  Generally he has designed a play at the LOS that will stress a particular player or area of the field.  He is looking for instant confirmation of what he had deduced pre-snap.

Once he sees this, the rest is just dependent of the performance of the receiver in getting open.  Sometimes if the play design forces a safety to choose who to help on (usually high or low), Manning will be ready to throw the ball instantly based on that safety's actions.  If the safety decides to help on the shorter route (or is indecisive) Manning will go to the deeper player.

I can guarantee you that this is extremely close to what happens on most plays.

The reason teams struggle (and fail) to disguise their defenses against Manning is that they cannot conceive (based on their own playing experience) how much he is processing.

The normal process is that players run what is called and coaches will take what they see happening and will make any minor adjustments after the defense comes off the field.  Occasionally larger changes are made at halftime.

The design of modern defenses don't even factor in the need to counter a series of offensive plays completely designed at the line of scrimmage; from the routes the receivers run, the depth of the QBs drop, and the actual blocking scheme employed.  This is because even as the Colts have been running this system for about eight years now, nobody else have really done more than imitate small parts of it.

It is not a matter of choice.  What the Colts do violates the very structure that is in place at every professional, college, and high school - since the beginning of football.

The only thing harder to find than a offensive coach willing to cede most of his authority to a single player - is finding a player who has the faculties, drive, and leadership ability to completely take advantage of the opportunity.

What Manning does 45 times a game every Sunday would have been thought to be impossible by the leading minds in the game as recently as 2004.  Yes, there is overlap there.  The Colts were doing most of this since 2002, but it probably was not until 2004 that the most brilliant guys in the league understood and believed that what they were seeing was more than a QB changing from one set play to another (like what Jim Kelly was doing in Buffalo).  Most of the time nowadays when you hear the commentators mention during a game that the QB is changing the play, they will either infer or plainly state that they are doing it like Manning.  This is simply not the case.

Perhaps certain teams give the QB more latitude to make changes to the line, but most of the time it is still a matter of changing from one set play to another, or maybe a simple change to a route (go long!).

The 2010 season is the first time that the guys announcing the games seem to have an idea about how much Manning is doing.  It took them six or seven years to catch on and to believe what they were being told by current and recently retired players.

That is why you no longer hear them spew the complete BS about Moore calling in three plays and that Manning picks one.  Or that most of Manning's signals are phony.  The three plays crap went out the window after 2003.  And *every* signal Manning gives means *something*. 

I think that Belichick was the first to really get what was going on.  It would take someone like him to figure this out since he probably is one of the few guys around who is far enough ahead of his time in his own area of expertise that it was easier for him to believe that it would be possible to do what Manning does.

Note: Belichick's main innovation (in my opinion) is the idea of changing the basic underlying scheme of his defense to match and attack the design of the opposing offense.  He gets experienced and intelligent players who can, on a weekly basis, learn different defensive schemes and then translate that understanding to execution.  Before Belichick, this was not something that would have been considered possible by the leading minds in the game.

Anyways, so what can be done about it?  Judging by Manning's success, no one really has the complete answer.

You want to know the best way to beat the Colts?  Play coverage the whole game with particular attention to seam and post routes.  Make Manning throw 15 seven yards passes to get to the red zone.

Just hope you get a pick from a tipped pass or poor route.

Do NOT blitz him - that is death.  You will only get to Manning if he has to eat the ball because a receiver fell down or ran the wrong route adjustment.  

Play nickel even if the Colts are in 2 TE, but do not play both safeties deep in coverage.  Play variations of tight man with deep safety help or cover three.  If Manning sees you *both* playing nickel *and* playing the safeties deep he *will* audible to the exact running play that hurt you the most.  

Playing conservative nickel against the Colt's 2 TE formation will cause you to give up more running yards that you would like, but it is better than the alternative.  Always remember that while Manning is there, whoever starts at TE will be someone you have to treat as a top level slot WR.

You just will have to be conservative and hope your players win some individual matchups.

If you do this; you have a chance to make them kick a few field goals that otherwise would have been touchdowns.

Then you HAVE to score a lot.  Because the Colts will.

There was a time when the better 3-4 coordinators were able to blitz the Manning effectively, but this does not happen anymore.  This happened with all of the Colts losses to Pittsburgh and San Diego in the playoffs.

These two teams were able to design blitzes that attacked the Colts archaic offensive line scheme, causing a defender or two to have a free run at Manning without outnumbering the blockers.  This even happened at times when they were blitzing only one LB (four rushers total) and the Colts had five blocking with a RB check.  The scheme was archaic and not dynamic enough.  This is not a total slam on Howard Mudd, the celebrated OL coach of this period.  The players were well-coached in their scheme - but the scheme could be defeated by complex 3-4 blitz design.

This problem was made worse by Manning stubborn insistence on continuing to throw deep passes in order to attack the blitz.  This usually worked in the regular season, but in the playoffs it failed due to the more complex and well-executed schemes they would see.  

This even happened when facing teams that they had either beaten or scored well against in the regular season.  Former New England players have revealed that Belichick had a simpler "regular season" Colts scheme as well as a "playoff" scheme.  The better playoff bound teams generally know who their real competition is in the playoffs; it would be foolish to think that they only start preparing for a team after they find out who they are playing.

In response to failure of the line scheme against 3-4 blitzing defenses, Manning started directly making the offensive line calls for both passing and running plays.  He took these duties over from the center Jeff Saturday.  In the past it was not uncommon for QBs to point out probable blitzers to the offensive lineman making the line calls, but it is unprecedented for a QB to be directly making the calls and adjustments for the line for nearly every play.

The radical nature of what the Colts do (as well as the level of responsibility and involvement on Manning), caused a telling remark by former Super Bowl MVP Quarterback Phil Simms during a 2007 telecast he was doing of a Colts game.

He was asked by his broadcast partner Jim Nance to describe how good Manning was, Simms replied that "Manning plays a position that I am unfamiliar with".

This is a stunning comment from a guy who was extremely successful as a cerebral QB and retired only 14 years prior.  

". . . a position that I am unfamiliar with" means that the nature of what Manning does as a QB is so different than what Phil Simms experienced in the NFL that there is no comparison possible.

Sometime defenses come into the game expecting to rattle Manning by blitzing him and hitting or sacking him.  This simply has no affect on Manning whatsoever.  He has missed one play due to being hit in his entire career.  That was on a 2nd down play that ending with him suffering a broken jaw.  He was back in the game the very next series and played with his jaw wired shut for the next several weeks. 

Any fan or commentator who seriously questions Manning's toughness is a complete idiot. 

It *is* possible to rattle Manning though, owing to the one fault he has: he takes complete responsibility unto himself for winning each game.  

Because of this, Manning will occasionally be rattled by a team getting a big lead in such a way that makes it look as though you will keep scoring at will.  

By this I mean to earn touchdowns through a concerted effort against the Colts defense, making it seem as if you will continue to score.  

If you can make Manning feel as though he has to score points on every drive, and you have the ability to play complex coverages behind an effective three or four man rush, and it is a elimination game - you might see Manning get rattled and start forcing the ball downfield.  But that is a lot of ifsands.

Examples of this has happened would be each playoff loss to New England and the Super Bowl loss to the New Orleans Saints.  I have never seen Manning as rattled and out of sync as he was during the entire fourth quarter against the Saints in the Super Bowl.

The game clinching interception happened because Manning forced a ball into Wayne on that slant when it wasn't there.  Wayne was so used to Manning immediately seeing when the play was not there and throwing the ball somewhere else that he stopped on the route, causing an easy interception.  Yes the defender got a good jump on the ball, but the Colts run that route combination all the time without getting it picked - because he had always been able to see it was covered and just throw the ball somewhere else.  That defender driving on that route leaves a gaping hole behind him, opening the door to the crossing route coming from the other side.

Another strategy I thought of a while back was to have your defense line up in the exact formation each play with no variation at all.  No moving, no looking around, no slow creeping.  Nothing.  Don't move a muscle until you see the ball actually move.

Just a blank slate that cannot be "read".  Sure you would be out of position a few times; but is that really worse that what is going to happen to you otherwise?

By doing this you would rob Manning of the main advantage he has over everyone else - determining your intentions based on tendencies and body language.  The more you do to fool Manning, the more data you give him to reveal what is coming.

**edit**  As of right now this article has generated 35,000 hits, from all over the world!  Wow...
Thanks for coming by guys and gals...

I got a lot of questions about this article.  I address them in this follow-up article:
Questions and Answers about the Peyton Manning article
Please take a look . . .