Broncos v. Patriots Preview: Manning v. Brady and the art of war

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"It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle." ---Sun Tzu

This week has a different feel to it. It isn't often that we get to witness the two greatest entities of their era go to battle. Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are simply put, the best at what they do. They will forever be mentioned together whenever football lovers come together to debate the greatest of all time. I was too young to grasp Elway v. Montana on Monday Night. On Sunday, it is no doubt two teams battling each other. The outcome will determine who gets to the positive side of the winning percentage. Later on, this game could be key in determining playoff qualification and seeding. It is just of course 1 of 16. But because of 18 and 12, the subplot to the main attraction is what will garner my attention.

There's no need to go over what we learned last week. Simply put, the Broncos dominated a weaker opponent--nothing more, nothing less. New England right now is the man. They represented our conference in the SB last year, and they managed to beat us mercilessly not once but twice in the process. To be the man, you must beat the man, and that is the challenge our team faces this week.

Most of us know by now that Brady has held a decided advantage in the meetings between these two quarterbacks. In fact he holds a 2-1 margin at 8-4 all time (including the playoffs). What we might not know is some of the background behind the series, so let me throw some numbers at you to get you better acquainted.

Season/Location Score Manning Brady
2001 Reg/NE 44-13 NE 20/34 (59%), 196 yds, 1TD/3INT 13/23 (57%), 168 yds, 0TD/0INT
2001 Reg/IND 38-17 NE 22/34 (65%), 335 yds, 1TD/0INT 16/20 (80%), 202 yds, 3TD/0INT
2003 Rec/IND 38-34 NE 29/48 (60%), 278 yds, 4TD/1INT 26/35 (74%), 236 yds, 2TD/2INT
2003 Post/NE 24-14 NE 23/47 (49%), 237 yds, 1TD/4INT 22/37 (59%), 237 yds, 1TD/1INT
2004 Reg/NE 27-24 NE 16/29 (55%), 256 yds, 2TD/1INT 26/38 (68%), 335 yds, 3TD/1INT
2004 Post/NE 20-3 NE 27/42 (64%), 238 yds, 1TD/1INT 18/27 (67%), 144 yds, 1TD/0INT
2005 Reg/NE 40-21 IND 28/37 (76%), 321 yds, 3TD/1INT 22/33 (67%), 265 yds, 3TD/0INT
2006 Reg/NE 27-20 IND 20/36 (55%), 326 yds, 2TD/1INT 20/35 (57%), 201 yds, 0TD/4INT
2006 Post/IND 38-34 IND 27/47 (57%), 349 yds, 1TD/1INT 21/34 (62%), 232 yds, 1TD/0INT
2007 Reg/NE 24-20 NE 16/27 (59%), 225 yds, 1TD/1INT 21/32 (66%), 255 yds, 3TD/2INT
2009 Reg/IND 35-34 IND 28/44 (64%), 327 yds, 4TD/2INT 29/42 (69%), 375 yds, 3TD/1INT
2010 Reg/NE 31-28 NE 38/52 (73%), 396 yds, 4TD/3INT 19/25 (76%), 186 yds, 2TD/0INT
Totals Brady 8-4 294/477 (62%), 3484 yds, 24TD/19INT 252/385 (65%), 2800 yds, 22TD/11INT

Now that all the raw numbers are there, let's break it down further...

Manning v. Brady: Tale of the Tape

Head to Head Manning Brady
Games with 0 INT 1 6
Games with At least 1 INT 11 6
Games with 2+INT 4 3
Games with 0 TD 0 2
Games with 1 TD 6 3
Games with 2+ 6 7
Games under 60% 6 3
Games under 200 yds 1 3
Games 300+ yds 6 2
Points Scored 293 355
Points per game 24.4 29.6
Point differential -62 +62
Total Turnovers (team) 4,2,2,5,3,3,1,2,1,2,2,3 (30) 0,0,3,2,2,0,2,5,1,2,2,0 (19)
Turnover Differential -11 +11
Points off turnovers 48 64
Net Points off turnovers 0 +16
W-L when 0-1 Turnovers on Off. 2-0 4-1
W-L when 2+ Turnovers on Off. 2-8 4-3
W-L when even in Turnovers 2-1 1-2
W-L when +1 in Turnovers 1-1 ---
W-L when +2 in Turnovers 1-0 5-0

- In the first 6 games between the two (Brady 6-0), the Patriots were +12 in turnovers.

- In the last 6 games between the two (Manning 4-2), the Colts were +1 in turnovers.

- In 7 of the games, the outcome was decided by a TD or less. Manning is 3-4 in those games.

- In 5 of the games, the outcome was decided by double digits. Manning is 1-4 in those games.

- 8 of the games have been played in NE. Manning is 2-6 in those games.

- Manning has only had one game where he has not thrown an INT....he has thrown two or more four times. Half of his games have gone for 300 yards. Half of them have seen at least two TD passes. Half of them have also seen him throw for less than 60%.

The statistical numbers are relatively close. The biggest difference has been Brady's ability to play clean football as he has thrown for 8 less INT's and has had 6 games with none at all. That is Brady's reputation and his career numbers echo it. He makes fewer mistakes than his contemporaries.

Outside of one bad quarter this year, Peyton has played mistake free ball. What that one quarter has shown us however is that when the mistakes do happen, they tend to happen in bunches. Let's examine our enemy and keys to the game from "The Art of War" perspective.

"If you know your enemy and you know yourself you need not fear the results of a hundred battles..."

Our team is improved in nearly every major statistical category on both offense and defense. On Offense we are ranked 12th in yards, 8th in passing, 14th in rushing, and 7th in points. Defensively we are ranked 8th in yards, 14th in passing, 10th in rushing, and 11th in points.

The Patriots on offense are 1st in yards, 6th in passing, 8th in rushing, and 1st in points. On defense they are 18th in yards, 24th in passing, 9th in rushing, and 19th in points.

There is every reason to respect this team offensively as they present a formidable matchup for our defense. Their weaknesses as in recent history lie on the defensive side of the ball, and more specifically in the secondary. What is deceiving though is that while their defense gives up a lot of yards, they also force a lot of turnovers.

This group has 6 INT's and 7 forced fumbles with 12 total takeaways on the year (both numbers are tied for 2nd most in each category in the league). Our group on the other hand, has only 2 interceptions and 3 forced fumbles with 3 total takeaways. We have had many opportunities but it seems like we let the ball go through our hands all too often.

This is an advantage for our opponent as our offense has yet to play a game without turning the ball over. As we can see from above, Manning has a better shot when the turnover battle is near even or in our favor. This my friends is the biggest question paramount to the matchup: Can our team be turnover free, and force one or two of our own? Now on to the keys for the game.

On Offense

"Engage people with what they expect; it is what they are able to discern and confirms their projections. It settles them into predictable patterns of response, occupying their minds while you wait for the extraordinary moment---that which they cannot anticipate."

Bill Belichick this week has stated that Peyton looks like the Peyton of old, and that the offense our team has been running displays similar characteristics to what was run in Indy. That is no secret. He knows the route combinations Peyton likes to run. He knows the nuance of the "no-huddle" Peyton likes to run. From watching film, he even knows our tendencies and groupings by down and distance. So....let's start off by giving the Patriots what they will expect. Their young defense even if they know what is coming, still has to stop it. I would put my money on #18 to exploit those young players in the Patriots secondary. That moves me on to my next point...

"So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong, and strike at what is weak."

I would avoid attacking the interior line of the Patriots of Wilfork and Love with inside runs. What shows me that the Broncos can do this is that last week they attacked the Right side of the Raiders front even though we had little success running that direction all season long. They saw a matchup weakness and took it. Same thing here. Let's see some more pitches and stretch plays to the outside to exploit the lack of overall team speed on defense and the over-aggresiveness of rookie pass rusher Chandler Jones. Remember how Von could be run out of the play last year on the run? Same idea here. While were at it, let's employ Hillman on some quick swing passes and get the screen game going.

"Even the finest sword plunged into salt water will eventually rust."

What has been a wild success this year has been the WR screen to DT on the sideline. It has been used as a designed call and as an audible. With the audible, Peyton burned the Steelers by checking into the play after sensing a blitzer would vacate the zone and would leave DT one on one. As a called play it has been used on 3rd down and shorter distances to pick up the easy 1st down. The Patriots have seen this and will be on the lookout for it. So instead of using it predictably, I would like to see a new wrinkle.

“Thus the expert in battle moves the enemy, and is not moved by him.”

Our offensive line has some uncertainty going into this game. Will Chris Kuper replace Manny Ramirez at RG? Will he split time with Ramirez and ease back into action? How will Koppen handle this assignment against his former team? How will this tandem work together to subdue the attack that is sure to come to that side? No question about it, if there is a weakness to exploit along the line it is here and Belichick will look to exploit it. On passing downs, Peyton has shown great awareness moving up and sliding in the pocket to create better windows and more time. This is impossible to accomplish if the pressure is coming straight up the gut.

"When torrential water tosses boulders, it is because of its momentum. When the strike of a hawk breaks the body of its prey, it is because of timing."

Peyton is, has, and will always be a timing passer. Our offense builds momentum when he is consistent. He is most consistent when running the no huddle. This is the biggest question of the game in my opinion: how will NE try and disrupt Peyton's rhythm? I don't believe that they have the speed on defense to meander around and give away nothing as Atlanta did. They are not fast enough to get into position on the backside at the snap. So how do you disrupt the rhythm of a passer such as Manning when you don't have the capabilities or experience to fool him? 1) jam receivers and keep the middle of the field congested...2) Play a soft zone protecting the seems and deep portions of the field and play bend but don't break....3) Win your matchups up front and get pressure with four men, leaving the secondary with more men to cover then there are receivers. I believe that the Patriots will use a combination of these. It will be paramount for our receivers to get off the line strong, for our route combinations to pressure and stretch the zone combinations in the middle, and for our line to play as they did against the Raiders and not allow a sack. I know the Patriots have Nink and Jones to rush from the edge, but is the pass rush mature enough at this point in the season for Belichick to bring some exotic blitz schemes?

On Defense

"To know your enemy, you must become your enemy."

Dan Koppen.....why mention him here? He is intimately aware of Patriots offensive line calls, protection schemes, and audible keys. It is always laughed at and mentioned when Bill Belichick signs someone off the opposing teams practice squad the week before the game. We've had this guy for a few weeks knowing this was coming. The information this guy has could be invaluable in identifying some key things in the Patriots offense....then again Hoodie knows this and so does Brady. Gotta love the mind games at work during Patriots week!

"All warfare is based on deception."

Our Broncos do have the team speed on defense to cause confusion pre-snap and we saw it last week. Linemen standing up, not giving away if they are blitzing or dropping back. I would love for our secondary to create some odd looks for Tom Brady and try and confuse him. Brady is not Carson Palmer. But just like Peyton, you can choose to drop or you can choose to pressure. I choose to attack using a variety of looks, including trying to win match-ups up front.

One of the reasons the Patriots have been so successful on the ground this year, is that teams are defending them using smaller looks with more DB's. Just like when Peyton audibles out and hands it off up the middle, the Patriots see the obvious mismatch and exploit it getting some easy yards on the ground. What we have though is the ability to counter with smaller personnel yet remain stout against the run. Wolfe, Ayers, on the inside are both adept at stopping the run and Von Miller has turned that weakness into a strength of his. Doom has made progress as well showing he is able to shed blockers and string out the play until our team speed catches up to the runner on the edge. Add Woodyard and for this week I suspect Trevathan and we have a smaller unit that can 1) get pressure 2) stop the run 3) play coverage no matter down and distance. Add the blitz calls from Del Rio with Harris and Adams and there is more than enough possibilities to counter what the Patriots will do.

"Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win."

Tendencies and scheme. All the film work. That is how Tracy Porter intercepted Manning in the SuperBowl. He jumped the route because he noticed a tendency he studied on film. I don't know what coverage combinations the Broncos are going to use to limit the passing attack of the Patriots. I do know that four players (Welker, Lloyd, Gronk, and Edelman) make up 80% of Brady's completions this year. I don't think Hernandez will play but I could be wrong. I think it is a moot point to try and figure out matchups because 1) the Patriots can easily move players around to exploit perceived weaknesses, 2) the Broncos will move Champ around to plug perceived holes. Bottom line, how have our guys prepared this week and have they already won the battles in their head?

"The quality of decision is like the well-timed swoop of a falcon which enables it to strike and destroy its victim"

Jack Del Rio called a hell of a game last week. He needs to bring the same effort this week. I think he is approaching a comfort zone with his players and knows better how to put them into positions of strength. That decision making will be strained as both Brady and the Hoodie are every bit as dangerous and mentally prepared as Peyton Manning.

"Move swift as the wind and closely formed as the wood. Attack like the fire and be still like the mountain."

All of these elements and similes bring to mind one thing: one force. Unified and working together to accomplish a task. The task is tall but make no mistake, 11 as 1 is a force that no offense can defeat. We've seen flashes of it, and last week we saw it in it's entirety. Anything less than all hands on deck, working together, understanding the point of attack, and executing on their individual assignments will result in failures.

Final Thoughts

I was listening to the radio the other day and the folks announced that Sunday's game between the Patriots and Broncos was going to mark only the second time in NFL history that two quarterbacks with at least 125 career victories would face off against each other. The only other time it happened was when Elway faced Marino back in 98'. I haven't taken the time to verify that remark but the meaning behind it rings true regardless. We will be witnessing something very special on Sunday. and it will add another chapter to the Manning v. Brady saga.

Sun Tzu had something to say about excellent leadership which applies to both Manning and Brady:

(substituting some modern language) "Hence a commander who advances without any thought of winning personal fame, whose only thought is the well being of his teammates, and whose goal is to perform good service for his team, is a jewel to his organization."

Whatever the outcome MHR and Pats fans, let's enjoy these two while they are still with us---they are the best of their generation.

My Prediction?

Whoever knows thy enemy and thyself 31-27

GO BRONCOS!!!

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