When it comes to solving the Rubik’s Cube that is Peyton Manning, the San Diego Chargers have arguably been the most successful team in the NFL at doing so during the feared signal caller’s illustrious career. 3-4 defenses have notoriously given Manning troubles with the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers also having their fair share of success against the future Hall of Famer. The key to having yet another successful performance to add to their resume this Sunday is the get to Manning early and have him thinking about pressure rather than focusing on his reads down the field.
Now obviously this is easier said than done, but defensive coordinator John Pagano has been with the Chargers in some capacity throughout Manning’s stint in the NFL. He is very familiar with what works and what doesn’t against the cerebral assassin under center. San Diego doesn’t exactly have a fearsome pass rush with only 20 sacks as a team on the year, but the Broncos are missing their starting All-Pro left tackle in Ryan Clady which could allow guys like Larry English, Thomas Keiser, and Jarret Johnson to get home on Manning more often than not.
Even though the 3-4 alignment doesn’t typically see substantial pressure come from the three guys with the hands consistently in the dirt, the Chargers are definitely an exception to that rule. Corey Liuget and Kendall Reyes are both very capable pass rushers with a knack for collapsing the pocket. The last thing an immobile QB like Manning wants to do is move off of his spot, and that has to be the aim of the San Diego defense all afternoon on Sunday.
An interesting number of note from ESPN Stats & Information confirms that the key to success against Manning is getting him uncomfortable. The Denver quarterback has been hit or under duress on 40 dropbacks this season, but in the team’s only loss in Week 7 at the Indianapolis Colts he was hit/under duress on 13 dropbacks with four of those being sacks.
When a quarterback like Manning is able to read the coverage correctly he can just sit back and dissect any defense. That is why Pagano will have his defense doing its best not to reveal its true intentions until the very last moment on Sunday. The defensive coordinator told ESPN:
“Our theme of the week is disguise and disrupt. Disguise and show the different type of looks, and disrupt as much as we can — whether it’s in the run game or in the passing game. And you’ve got to be able to put pressure on this quarterback. If he sits in the pocket and has the comfort that he needs, it makes it a long day for anyone.”
It seems clear the Chargers are not going to be passive bystanders in this first divisional exchange with the juggernaut Broncos who many expect to steamroll the AFC come playoff time. The Bolts will be aiming to hit Manning early and often which will only enhance their chances of emerging from Sunday’s battle with their first divisional win of the year.