For a very long time now, the Steelers defenses have struggled to stop Quarterbacks that are accurate, pocket passers, that get the ball out quickly. Their schemes were designed to confuse, and force signal callers into mistakes.
For many years, Peyton Manning was exactly the type of Quarterback that was the kryptonite for Dick Lebeau’s Steelers defenses. He was tough to confuse schematically, he was incredibly accurate, and he’d get the ball out before the pass rush could become an issue.
The Peyton Manning that will be on the field Sunday night against the Steelers, is not the same one that they saw the last time they faced him.
The last time the Steelers saw Manning, was in the 2012 season opener. It was just months after the infamous Tebow game, and was Manning’s first game in a Bronco’s jersey. Manning had a Manning-like game that day, going 19 of 26 for 253 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions.
Manning returned in the Bronco’s final regular season game this year, and while many gave positive reviews, it was an extremely small sample size, and even Peyton himself said “I can’t take credit for having a really good handoff, like I’m helping those guys hold onto the ball. I refuse to do that.”
The Broncos plan to win on the back of their running game and defense. That being said, I expect the Steelers to be able to handle the Broncos’ running game, but I still worry that Peyton Manning can take advantage of a secondary that’s played well against the Bengals, but could easily look more like they did for most of the regular season.
This Peyton Manning wins on his intelligence and timing. He simply doesn’t have the arm strength anymore to fit the ball into tight windows, so he has to throw the ball much earlier; and as a result he’ll loft some passes that can be picked off. Maybe that won’t be the case as often now that he’s had time to heal from some injuries, but that arm strength isn’t coming back.
Keith Butler needs to take advantage of that. With Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and DeAngelo Williams all hobbled and (and maybe out completely), this game may come down to some big plays by the defense.
I think Butler has done a fantastic job of getting the most out of limited talent this season, especially in the pass rush department by getting every player on the field involved in rushing the passer. He’s definitely more aggressive than Lebeau was, but he does like to play his cornerbacks off the line of scrimmage like his predecessor did.
I don’t hate it like most Steelers fans do. I understand the reason for it is in the bend don’t break mentality, you want to keep the play in front of you. That being said, this is the game to play some aggressive press coverage, and try to make Manning hold the ball longer.
The Broncos offensive line has really struggled this season, and Manning is probably the least mobile passer in the entire NFL. He is smart enough to get it out quick though when the Steelers blitz. I think that pressing receivers will take that away. I also think that with Manning’s suspect arm strength there’s less risk than normal of giving up the deep ball in those situations. With Osweiler under center, I’d be more concerned about the Broncos’ talented receivers getting behind the defense and Brock having the arm to get the ball there.
Is there risk that Peyton could burn you? Absolutely. I just think that playing off and giving him easy underneath completions all game is his bread and butter at this point in his career and plays into what Denver wants to do; run the ball and let Peyton convert 3rd and short distances.
I think at this point, he’s too hard to confuse, so I just bring the heat on him to make him uncomfortable.