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Peyton Manning threw two interceptions and was sacked three times when the Eagles beat his Colts, 26-24, in 2010 at Lincoln Financial Field. (AP)
Once upon a time, three years and four defensive coordinators ago, Peyton Manning faced the Eagles.
A lot has changed since 2010, when the Eagles beat the Colts, 26-24, at the Linc, thanks in great part to an out-of-the-box game plan fashioned by then-defensive coordinator Sean McDermott.
Manning threw for 294 yards but was picked off twice by Asante Samuel, sacked three times and fumbled once, although that was negated by a ridiculous penalty on Trent Cole.
After halftime that day, Manning was just 13-for-27 for 123 yards, with no TDs and an interception, one of his worst second halves in recent years.
Manning is 5-19 in his career when he’s sacked at least twice and picked off at least twice. That’s a .208 winning percentage. In all other games, he’s 166-79, a .678 winning percentage.
It’s not easy to do, but if you can be physical with him and force turnovers, you can beat him. That was the McDermott Plan, and it worked.
“Everything was contested,” Manning said after the game. “We had a tough time finding a rhythm in the second half.”
Only a handful of players are left from that defense and nobody’s left from the Eagles’ defensive coaching staff.
But Eagles defensive coordinator Billy Davis said he’s intimately familiar with McDermott’s successful 2010 game plan and implemented elements of it during preparations for the Eagles’ Sunday game against Peyton and the Broncos in Denver (see game notes).
Will it produce the same results? Will it take Manning out of his rhythm like McDermott’s scheme did three years ago? Will it lead to an upset win for the Eagles?
It worked once. You never know.
Davis was on Pat Shurmur’s staff in Cleveland last year when the Browns faced the Broncos, and Browns defensive coach Dick Jauron had been on the Eagles’ defensive staff with McDermott in 2010 when the Eagles handled Manning.
“We talked a lot about that last year in Cleveland with Dick Jauron,” Davis said. “We put a plan together largely off of what they did in Philadelphia with Sean McDermott. I've studied that plan thoroughly, implemented parts of it.”
What did he learn? The key to McDermott’s plan was making Manning as uncomfortable as possible.
McDermott introduced several gimmicks to try and confuse Manning and make him spend just a bit more time in the pocket, including using unknown Keenan Clayton as a hybrid linebacker-safety, having Samuel and safety Quintin Mikell switch positions at random moments and blitzing Manning from unusual places and in unexpected situations.
“You can’t play the normal defense against this guy for four quarters,” McDermott said back then. “So we wanted to give him different looks, and our players knew when we were on the sideline each time they were about to take the field what look we were about to give him. We tried to script out the game really series by series.”
Andy Reid called McDermott’s game plan “brilliant,” although he fired him nine weeks later in favor of Juan Castillo.
McDermott is now the Panthers’ defensive coordinator. He pitched his first career shutout last weekend against the Giants, and his unit has allowed only three TDs in three games.
The Eagles? They’re on their third defensive coordinator in three years since McDermott was fired.
On paper, this is a mismatch. The NFL’s hottest quarterback vs. one of the NFL’s worst pass defenses (see scouting report).
But let’s see what Davis has up his sleeve … with the help of the McDermott Plan.
“Really you go back and look at all the teams that have had success against Peyton, you try to see what they do,” Davis said. “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 like most offenses. 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.”
That Eagles’ November 2010 win over the Colts was even more surprising because cornerback Dimitri Patterson was making his first NFL start, safety Nate Allen was making his eighth NFL start, safety Kurt Coleman got his first significant NFL snaps and Clayton was playing his first NFL game.
The Eagles’ other starters that day? Juqua Parker, Mike Patterson, Antonio Dixon, Trent Cole, Ernie Sims, Stewart Bradley, Samuel, Mikell and Joselio Hanson.
“I remember we switched things up a lot, disguised a lot of things,” Coleman said this week. “We played a pretty solid game against him.
“At the end of the day, Peyton Manning has seen every disguise, every scheme, every coverage in the book. It’s not like you’re going to fool him, but what you want to do is try to get him to hold the ball just long enough for the defensive line to get there or the blitz to get there, and you’ve got to do your job covering, and we were able to do that at times that day.
“If we play our game and do our thing and make him hold the ball for one extra second and let our defensive line get there, we’ll give ourselves a chance to win the game.”
Manning’s passer rating that day at the Linc in 2010 was a pedestrian 67.0.
He’s started 27 games since, and he’s only had two games with a lower rating -- 59.8 against the Chargers later in 2010 and 58.5 against the Falcons with the Broncos last year.
“They executed well,” Davis said of the 2010 Eagles. “Within their scheme, I think they presented Peyton some looks that he wasn't familiar with. I think it slowed him down a little bit. I believe they had a couple turnovers that helped.
“If Peyton will turn the ball over, and he hasn't yet, it levels the playing field.”