DENVER, CO - SEPTEMBER 9: Quarterback Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos signals at the line during the first quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Sports Authority Field Field at Mile High on September 9, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
The key for victory for the Falcons is stopping Peyton Manning– easier said than done.
The question of 'how do you stop Peyton Manning?' has been a league-wide concern for the past decade-plus. On the surface he's a quarterback without weakness– smart, self assured, with the physical abilities, and football IQ to become transcendent. The problem for defenses facing Manning is dealing with the player, and the planner, two sides to his game. While in Indianapolis, Manning was as much offensive coordinator as quarterback. Given the free reign to make adjustments as he saw fit paid dividends, as he showed an ability to dissect defenses quickly, and always seemed to make the right call.
In moving to Denver this season the questions surrounding Manning were twofold. Firstly, would he physically be able stand up to a full NFL season with his surgically repaired neck, and secondly, would Peyton Manning be given the freedom to play like he became accustomed to since 1999 for the Colts.
Broncos head coach John Fox isn't one to relinquish resonsibility easily. During his time as coach for the Carolina Panthers he displayed a knack for organizing defenses, but typically preferred a slow, methodical offense that praised safety over big gains. An ideal Fox offense would consist of 100+ yard rushing, 200 yard passing, and if the final score was 9-6, who cares? How does a team reconcile this approach with a strong armed QB, accustomed to throwing for 300+ a game?
Last week against the Steelers the Broncos looked like two different teams. First half they were a strong, ground-based John Fox offense, and in the second Manning was allowed to take over, and it's here where Denver pulled away. Unsurprisingly, the decision to lean on Manning paid dividends immediately, and on Monday night the Falcons are likely to be the first benefactors of seeing the Broncos with Manning running the show entirely; an unenviable task.
Brent Grimes is out, the pass rush will be facing a far better OL than Kansas City's this week, and on the surface this is a deadly game for Atlanta. However, if their linebacker, specifically Sean Weatherspoon can generate pressure from unconventional angles the Falcons have a chance of stopping Manning, and grounding what could be a high flying offense.