Hitting Peyton Manning and making him uncomfortable is the biggest challenge for the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday against the Denver Broncos. Manning is a film junkie and can recognize most defenses quickly. He knows where to exploit a defense with an audible and does not want to take a hit. He is willing to sacrifice a down to avoid being hit.
The Broncos did some shuffling to their offensive line three weeks ago: LT Ryan Clady, LG Orlando Franklin, C Will Montgomery (Bench), RG Manny Ramirez (C), RT Louis Vasquez (RG). The Rams attacked this new protection with full force two weeks ago.
On the first offensive play of the Rams game, Robert Quinn beat Ryan Clady to the corner. He got to Manning and spun him to the ground like a rag doll. Manning's head bounced hard off the turf and his neck bent awkwardly. It was not the type of hit you want your franchise quarterback to take. That play set the tempo for the game. Manning did not want to be hit anymore. The Rams had a plan for attack they were going to bring five players.The Rams attacked with five players, either right up the middle in Manning's face or a disguised blitz.
The First Attack
The Rams used their athletic pass rush to force Denver to honor them. The mission on this play is to force Broncos center Will Montgomery to commit to a side. The catch is that the choice will be wrong no matter the side. The other linemen will widen the pocket with their rush lanes and let the backer (Laurinaitis) attack the A gap.
Montgomery commits to the 1-tech and Laurinaitis has a free shot. The throw is rushed and Manning is flustered.
The Second Attack
The Rams have a speed rush to widen the pocket. Now is the time to see how the Broncos react to a twist in the A gap.
Ramirez decides to help on the defensive end. Montgomery is occupied by the nose tackle and Anderson is helping on twist from Quinn. Manning throws the ball away over the middle.
The Third Attack
The Broncos keep a tight end in to help. The Rams try a variation of the previous play above but Laurinatis attacks across Montgomery's face while Quinn twists around.
Laurinatis fights through the block. Montgomery decides to abandon the double to help Anderson on Quinn. Manning concedes and slides for the sack. The Rams would bring this stunt again on the final sack of the game.
The Fourth Attack
The nickel cornerback will be the blitzer on this play. The defensive line gets the Broncos offensive line to slide right with them. Hayes, on the left, takes the right tackle upfield. The backers drop back into zone coverage to take away the check down and any crossing plays.
Manning takes a hard hit from the nickel corner on the blitz but throws it away before the sack.
The Fifth Attack
Manning is on edge at this point. He has been beaten like a piñata. He doesn't know where the blitz is coming from and he wants the ball out. The Rams bring a sixth defender this time.
Manning sees the free blitzer and tries to get the ball out. The backer gets in his throwing lane and knocks it down.
The Rams gave a nice blue print of how to attack with five players, where to attack and maintaing physical coverage with zones mixed in to disrupt the timing.
Speaking of, guess who has been tinkering with variations of the five man front the past few weeks?
I asked Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton about the pass rush this week. Here's what he said.
Q: What do you have to do from a pass rush perspective based on how fast Peyton Manning gets the ball out?
Sutton: "Well, I think one of the terms we use a lot here for anybody, but I think particularly true for a guy like Peyton is you try to affect the quarterback. The stats say you're going to have a really difficult time sacking him. He's been sacked 12 times in 440-some passes. Their line does a really good job of not letting free runners. He has that great knowledge of, ‘hey, this could be a problem over here, I'm getting the ball out.' Whether it's completed or completed for a short gain, he just does a great job of not accepting the sack. That's just something you deal with. There's nothing you can do but rush hard and like we say, you just want to keep working him, working him, working him and if coverage affects him, you get him to hold for a second, you've got a better chance. But he's a master of what he does and we just have to accept some of that, that it's going to come out - there's nothing we can do. We can bring all of them but if he wants to throw the ball out there fast, you just can't touch him."
Q: Do you think you will run the front this week you had against Seattle with the five up front and the defensive ends in a three-technique in order to collapse the pocket?
Sutton: "Yeah, there's really nothing you can do every play against him because he's too knowledgeable, he's too good. So like most of these games, in particular a guy like him, you've got to try to mix it up a little bit and not give him the exact same thing every time. Like I say, there's nothing that Peyton Manning hasn't seen with all of the snaps he's taken at quarterback so I don't think you go into the game thinking you're going to trick him. You try and make him as undecided as long as you can and see if you can get him that way a little bit and play. In the end, you've got cover - whether you are in man or zone, however you are playing it - and then you've got to be able to move the pocket a little bit if you can. Like I said, he controls some of that because of how fast he gets rid of the ball."
Sunday is the night the Chiefs front five can make a statement, and the beginning of a five week playoff run. Any stumble and things become cloudy quickly.