With 12 touchdowns, no interceptions and a 73-percent completion rate, Peyton Manning is off to the best three-game start in NFL history. (USA Today Images)
Billy Davis has been studying Peyton Manning for nearly two decades, and he’s figured out one thing about stopping him.
For Davis, the Eagles’ first-year defensive coordinator, you go in understanding that you’re not going to fool him, you’re not going to surprise him, you’re not going to trick him.
Your only chance is simply to play really, really, really well.
Then close your eyes and hope for the best.
“I’ve studied a lot of different defensive coordinators –- how they tried to stop Peyton,” Davis said Wednesday. “I think the biggest thing about playing well against Peyton Manning, it’s a simple thing –- the executing of your techniques within your call.
“He has seen every coverage you can throw at him. He sees disguises, people holding onto their [cover] two shell. Everybody always has something.
“You look at the teams that have had success against Peyton, you try to see what they do. They’re all running the same coverages. There’s really nothing new. You’re not inventing coverages out here.
“It’s really about how you’re putting some pressure on him. You have to get around him, not let him get in rhythm. Then the way you play your coverages, you have to be on point, be where you’re supposed to be, right technique in order to have success.”
Manning had played 96 games in his career without an interception, and he’s 81-15 in those games, a ridiculous .844 winning percentage.
He hasn’t thrown an INT this year, and the Broncos take a 3-0 record into their home game against the Eagles Sunday.
Manning is statistically off to the greatest three-game start in NFL history, with a record 12 touchdowns, 73 percent completion percentage and a 134.7 passer rating.
The thing about Manning is that he’s so experienced, he’s seen everything. Only Brett Favre and Dan Marino have thrown more passes than Manning and only Favre has won more games. And he’s so smart and has so much leeway within the offense that if he sees a defensive look that doesn’t match the play, he can just check out of it.
That makes him almost impossible to defend.
“Absolutely,” Davis said. “He’s a coach on the field that is saying, ‘Here is your look, I’m going to put our offense in the best position, best play.’ Even within that play, if it’s a pass play he chooses, he knows the coverage, he knows the weakness of that coverage.
“Peyton has a great understanding of what that defense is strong at, weak at. He puts the ball where you’re letting him put it. He takes what you’re giving him down after down. ...
“You have to be careful how much you disguise and don't disguise. It can't be all disguise, it can't be no disguise. The challenge we have is to mix up our looks, disguises, our pressure, non‑pressure, try to keep him off balance. That's a heck of a challenge.
“He finds your mistakes. I think that's his greatest attribute, finding where you go wrong.”
Davis, the Eagles’ fourth defensive coordinator in five years, has faced Manning a ton in his career. As a position coach with the Panthers in 1998, the Browns in 1999 and the Packers in 2000, his teams held Manning below 30 points. Manning put up 41 on the Falcons when Davis was in Atlanta in 2001.
Davis’s first crack at Manning as a coordinator was with the 49ers, a 28-3 loss in San Francisco. He was the Cards’ coordinator for a 31-10 loss in Tempe in 2009 and a position coach with the Browns last year when Manning beat the Browns 34-12 in Denver.
He said that in studying film he’s seen a lot of coaches try to use trickery to solve Manning, and it rarely works.
“I think that's the mystique that goes with Peyton,” he said. “You try to get too cute, you get away from technique football, advantage to him.
“You have to have a confidence about your scheme and ability, really a single‑minded focus on getting your technique done one play at a time and just play as well as you can play one single play at a time and don't get outside of [your]selves.”
As lopsided as the matchup might appear, Davis said he and his players embrace the challenge.
They can’t wait to get out to Denver this weekend and measure themselves against the guy Davis calls “the best quarterback on the planet.”
The Broncos have won 14 straight games since a 31-21 loss to Tom Brady and the Patriots in Foxboro last October. Their only home loss with Manning at quarterback came a year ago this week against the Texans.
“We're not going to back down from any challenge,” Davis said, “Our players in the locker room are very anxious to accept the challenge. Let's see what we can do against a great offense.
“They've earned all the respect and accolades they're receiving. They're doing a good job. We get an opportunity to go and stop that.”