Scouting report: Broncos' offense vs. Eagles' D

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Scouting report: Broncos' offense vs. Eagles' D

Eagle Eye: Eagles-Broncos Game Prediction

September 28, 2013, 2:00 pm
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Peyton Manning has thrown for 1,143 yards and 12 touchdowns in three games this season for the Broncos. (USA Today Images)

Sizing up the Eagles' defense vs. the Broncos' offense ahead of Sunday's showdown in Denver ... (and here's Eagles' offense vs. Broncos' defense)

When it comes to slowing down Peyton Manning, an old adage comes to mind: Many have tried, few have succeeded.

Manning, a 12-time Pro Bowl quarterback and sure shot first-ballot Hall of Famer, has engineered some prolific offenses throughout his career, mostly with the Colts. But this year’s Broncos offense might present Manning with the best set of weapons in his career.

The addition of former Patriots slot receiver Wes Welker and emergence of tight end Julius Thomas to a cast that already included first-round pick Demaryius Thomas and 1,000-yard receiver Eric Decker gives Manning the most complete, diverse passing arsenal he’s ever had. They each run excellent routes, and Manning’s precision means they need just slight separation to be in position to catch the ball.

Players on defense make tiny mistakes all the time, biting on a double move or getting caught out of position, but can compensate quickly. No quarterback capitalizes on the slightest miscue like Manning does.

The Broncos are averaging 42 points per game and winning by an average of 19. Their most narrow margin of victory was Monday night’s 37-21 win over division-rival Oakland, but the Broncos took their foot off the pedal in the second half after going into the break up 27-7.

If Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis thinks he can fool Manning with one creative blitz after another, he needs to think again. Opponents have thrown every pressure scheme in the book at Manning throughout his career. This year, Manning’s passer rating against the blitz is 140.9.

Usually, defenses adjust to offensive personnel, but Manning turns the table. Without huddling, he’ll read the defensive alignment and then decide whether the Broncos will run or pass. They don’t have great running backs, but the ball carriers have the advantage of a clean box and defenders constantly backpedaling in anticipation of the pass.

The Eagles have to be firm with their personnel, hold coverage and pray like crazy that they can get to Manning with a four-man rush. This needs to be Trent Cole’s best game of the season. He’ll see a lot of action against Broncos left tackle Chris Carr, who’s filling in for injured All-Pro left tackle Ryan Clady.

Defensive ends Fletcher Cox and Vinny Curry each caused fits for Kansas City’s right tackle Eric Fisher, the top-overall pick in April’s draft, and need to be matchup nightmares again for the Eagles to slow down Manning.

Since he can’t get overly fancy with blitzes, Davis might have to get creative with his packages and personnel. He could have his linemen stand up and move around at the line pre-snap just to get Manning to think a little more than usual. It might be handy to line up the 6-foot-3 Curry and 6-foot-8 Clifton Geathers on the inside and try to get their heights and wingspan to interfere with Manning’s passing lanes.

Any help the Eagles’ linebackers and defensive backs can get from the pass rush will be welcomed. Figure that second-year corner Brandon Boykin will see much of his action against Welker in the slot and Cary Williams will match up in man coverage against Thomas, a big, physical receiver with deceptively good speed.

The big question is who guards Thomas, an Antonio Gates clone who played college basketball at Portland State before giving football a try his senior year. A fourth-round pick last season, Thomas played just five games his rookie year and caught one pass for five yards.

This year, he has 194 receiving yards, tied for sixth-most at his position, and four TD catches, tied for most in the league. He has a tight end’s size but the speed and quickness of a receiver, making him a matchup nightmare.

Do the Eagles guard him with linebacker Mychal Kendricks, who hasn’t covered well this season after an impressive camp, or safety Nate Allen, who’s one step away from the bench?

This would be an ideal time for Davis to experiment with a three-safety dime look, using Patrick Chung in coverage against Thomas and keeping Allen and Earl Wolff deep, but Chung is doubtful with a shoulder injury he sustained against Kansas City.

The Eagles have already been picked apart by Philip Rivers and Alex Smith, good quarterbacks but nowhere near Manning’s stratosphere. They own the league’s fourth-worst pass defense, allowing around 323 passing yards per game.

This showdown has that walking-into-a-buzzsaw feel. But who knows, maybe the Eagles have some surprises in store.

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