How Bill Belichick made Peyton Manning beat Peyton Manning
Last night, the Denver Broncos ran the ball a season high 48 times.
It was strange to see. A team with one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, placing the game in the hands of their running back.
The Broncos ran far more than they threw, as Peyton Manning attempted 36 passes. Considering there was nearly an entire overtime period played - in which Denver owned time of possession - that's not a lot of attempts. It was the lowest total pass attempts for the team since a win over the San Diego Chargers in Week 10, when they also attempted 36.
So, why did they run it so much?
As much attention as the Tom Brady-Manning rivalry got leading up to this week, somehow overlooked is the actual matchup between Bill Belichick's defense and Manning.
You know, the two sides that are actually facing eachother.
Brady made all the plays to win the game yesterday, leading a ferocious comeback to score 31 straight unanswered points. However, the guys on the defensive side of the ball own just as much of the credit for the win.
Especially the man in the hoodie.
Peyton Manning's 150 yards through the air were, by far, his lowest total of the season. Meanwhile, Broncos' starting running back Knowshon Moreno's 224 yards on the ground and the team's 280 total on the ground were by far season highs.
The most obvious way to beat a quarterback like Peyton Manning is to keep him off of the field. How about keeping him from throwing it?
In order to rack up so many yards on the ground, you need to be running it a lot. That's exactly what Bill Belichick and his defense wanted Peyton Manning to do and he, being the intelligent QB he is, took the bait.
"Peyton [Manning is] a smart quarterback, man," said Patriots corner Aqib Talib after the game. "We knew we were going to come out and show that two-high shell. He sees that two-high shell, he's going to run the ball. That was our plan, to get him to run it more than he throws it.”
48 runs to 36 passes, job well done.
That two high shell means a two safety look. Essentially, the Patriots gave Peyton Manning defensive looks that favored the run all game, and each time he took the bait and checked to a run.
This included a key play in overtime.
With Talib leaving the game due to injury, Kyle Arrington was matched up with Demayrius Thomas in a major mismatch. Did Manning take advantage of that? No, the Broncos ran the ball, because it was technically the better call, given that the Patriots were in a defensive package that favored the pass over the run.
"The game plan is to move the ball and score points and, so obviously the running game was hot," Manning said of the team's run-heavy approach. "Knowshon [Moreno] was running it well, the [offensive] line was doing a great job, so it wasn't necessarily the game plan. The game plan is to move the ball and we were moving the ball and running the ball. Knowshon was hot so we were riding him."
Of course there were other factors that also played into the Broncos' run heavy approach. The weather was one. Manning tended to struggle throwing down-field against the wind and so running the ball may have made more sense at that point. When you're running it as well as the Broncos were, it's hard to see a reason to get away from that. Especially when you're up 24-0 in the first half and there's less pressure to air it out.
But the Broncos continued to run it in the second half, racking up over 100 more yards and playing into the Patriots' hands. The Broncos' drives became more predictable and they never chewed up chunk yardage on the ground to move into scoring position. Their longest run on the night was 18 yards, and as they continued to run and punt, the Patriots got more and more opportunities.
Denver had a lot of success running it, obviously, but it didn't translate to many points. The Broncos' defense forcing the three turnovers to start the game was essentially responsible for 17 of the points Denver put on the scoreboard - giving the Broncos' 14 total points that were unassisted by turnovers.
Belichick knew that Manning wouldn't be able to pass up a wide open opportunity to take advantage of a defense that looked unprepared for the run.
As per usual, Belichick was right, and that defensive game plan won the team the game.