Thursday, December 02, 2010

Game Plan Friday: Defense vs Indianapolis


There are only 2 players in the history of Pro Football who have ever won the AP NFL MVP more than twice. Peyton Manning won it again last year for his 4th, and Brett Favre won it 3 consecutive years from 1995-1997.

In the sports media, where every idea has been hashed over 1,000 times, I swear I have never heard the two compared. Likely because their styles are exactly the opposite. One is a gunslinger, whose recklessness was both his greatest asset and his greatest liability. The other plays with such precision and purpose that it appears Bobby Fisher is working a chess board on his best day.

And yet, every time I look at Peyton Manning, I see Brett Favre. And when I see Brett Favre, I think of Peyton Manning.

Let me explain: They are both constantly discussed in their primes as the best to ever play the position. But, that point always strikes about half the audience as patently ridiculous. How could they possibly be considered amongst the best of all time if they each have only climbed to the very top of the mountain once in their entire careers? Favre is finishing his 20th year of his career as most 41 year olds finish their career - as a shadow of himself. And yet, last January, he was 1 throw from another Super Bowl and a chance at finishing his career in the fairy tale style of John Elway. But, then came the painful interception like it has happened so often.

Meanwhile, Peyton Manning is finishing his 13th season. At age 34 (will be 35 in March), it is highly possible his story is not nearly complete, and yet, like Favre, his supporters will point to his resume and his absurd personal records and outstanding team success in nearly every regular season of his career.

But, like Favre, his detractors will point to his track record in the playoffs and aside from the one year it all clicked (1996 for Favre, 2006 for Manning), it always seems to end in tears.

They both have consecutive game streaks that will always be considered amazing in this savage sport. Since their first starts, neither has ever missed a Sunday. They both know the fine art of getting rid of the football and not taking too much of a beating, but when it calls for taking a hit, they both have the ability to stand in.

During their primes, both Manning and Favre ran into teams and Quarterbacks that seemed to be a bit better at the moment of truth. Troy Aikman and the Cowboys were Favre's nemesis (he was 0-3 against Dallas in the playoffs, 13-8 against everyone else), while Tom Brady and the Patriots were Manning's thorn (1-2 against New England in the post season - but Manning's big number in the playoffs is 4-0 in 2006, 5-9 all other years combined). The supporters will say that Aikman and Brady had more complete teams around them. The detractors will say that doesn't matter.

At times, both seemed to be their own coaching staff. They had such a grasp of the offense they ran and the continuity of their system that sometimes coaches seemed a bit intimidated and management teams did not seem to know how to treat them as normal players - because they weren't.

They both have a highlight film of miracle throws and a lowlight film of crushing interceptions. They both threw gigantic late game interceptions that hurt them in the playoffs, and in Super Bowls. And amazingly, in consecutive games, they both were picked off by New Orleans Saints Corner Tracy Porter to end the 2009 season - a year in which fate seemed to be suggesting that both of them were destined to win another Super Bowl that would put them in a very select class of elite QBs who had won multiple Super Bowls.

But, now we are starting to wonder if either of them ever will.

Brett Favre holds almost every conceivable passing record for now. Peyton Manning will take most of them away in a few years. And yet, neither of them will ever catch Aikman or Brady or Bradshaw in the all-important category of Super Bowl rings.

As a Brett Favre aficionado, and with Peyton Manning on the schedule, I finally wanted to write something about the parallels of the two QB's and see if anyone else sees them.

You be the judge.


1) - Deal With The Master - Peyton Manning is ridiculous. This is clearly a year in which he is not enjoying things as much as he sometimes does, but nevertheless, let's not be too critical of a guy who even in a "down year" has a passer rating over 90 and has a 22 TD/11 INT season going. Now, his targets are not all available, but when you talk about a QB who knows how to isolate your weak link into a matchup he can feed upon, look no further than Manning. What is remarkable is how he breaks a team down in pre-snap and basically makes you want to call off all of your blitzes. In the entire league, there have been 379 team seasons from 1998-2009. Of the 10 team seasons with the fewest QB Sacks allowed, 5 of them have been Peyton Manning-Colts seasons ('09, '08, '04, '99, and '06). Not only that, he has only been sacked over 23 times in a season once (in 2001, he was sacked 30 times - still less than 2 per game). The average team in the NFL during that span has been sacked 37 times per season. This is not the offensive line, this is the QB getting the ball out quickly.

2) - Lock Down on the TE - The Colts were 4-2 with Dallas Clark having another Dallas Clark season. Since he has been gone, the Colts have hit the skids a bit with a 2-3 record and are still trying to run much of the same offense with Jacob Tamme. Tamme is not Clark, but the numbers he has been able to put up with Clark on the IR is nothing to ignore. The Colts very much love to run "11" personnel with the TE flexed out as a slot receiver and then make you pick your poison. The Tight End is a vital part of the Colts offense and it is important that the LB/Safety combo of the Cowboys deal with it well. The issue, of course, is that this is not a particular strength of the Cowboys with Alan Ball and Gerald Sensabaugh playing somewhat better in the last few weeks, but pretty much anyone that follows the Cowboys at all think the Cowboys need to upgrade one or both of these players in the offseason. The issue with the Colts is that they spread you out and find the weakest link. Manning is always looking for the lamb that is easiest to catch.

3) - Turn the Ball Over - Believe it or not, the onslaught of takeaways (17) has actually put the Cowboys within spitting distance of the league average (19). The "-7" is actually more a product of the very generous Cowboys offense who rank 26th in the NFL with 24 Giveaways, and 27th in total team differential. There is still only 1 game this season where the Cowboys turnover result did not match the result of the game. Win the battle, win the game. The Colts are shockingly having a poor turnover year themselves and are a "-2" and are pretty much the league average. But, let's not kid ourselves; The Colts are on a skid, and need a win badly to resume their playoff plans. The Cowboys will need to somehow win the turnover battle to have a chance to win on Sunday.

Cowboys TurnoversOpponents Turnovers
GameFumbles LostINTSGiveawaysFumbles RecINTSTakeaways+/-
L @ Wash101000-1
L vs Chi1230 00-3
W @ Hou0001 23+3
L vs Ten033000-3
L @ Min022101-1
L vs NYG202235+3
L vs Jack044101-3
L @ GB224000-4
W @ NYG011123+2
W vs Det101112+1
L vs NO213112-1

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4) - Do Not Respect the Run Fake - This has to be the message from the Cowboys defensive staff going into this game. There is no reason to respect run fakes from the Colts. Mike Hart seems likely to return, Joseph Addai does not. But, either way, the Colts do not run the ball hardly ever. They are 31st in Rushing plays and let's establish the obvious points that the last thing the Cowboys need is their defensive backs looking into the backfield on a handy Manning run-fake. Instead, play coverage every play and give yourself a chance by not allowing receivers to run free because you bit on a fake. Just don't even look back there to be safe, Sensabaugh.

Please check out TC Fleming's piece where he examines the Colts' Bunch Formation and other stuff in great detail. Always good to read the wonderful work from Mr Fleming.

Summary: The Cowboys need to offer a defense that has bodies flying around the ball, the occasional pressure on one of the best passers in the game, and then some stands in the red zone. Anyone who thinks this is going to be easy is nuts, but the Cowboys can count their blessings that the Colts are surely skating shorthanded at many of the important spots on the field. The goal should be to offer more resistance than they did against the Saints, and that starts with being ready to defend early in the game. 17 points in the first 3 drives is unacceptable. This will be a fine test of the "new" Cowboys defensive style under Paul Pasqualoni.

Bob Sturm is host of BaD Radio on The Ticket 1310 AM Mondays through Fridays at 12-3 p.m. He also hosts The Ticket's Cowboys pregame show. Follow Bob on Twitter at Bob offers his exclusive analysis after games on

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