FOXBORO — One of the more intriguing subplots to today’s showdown between the Patriots [team stats] and Colts involves the chess game between Bill Belichick and Peyton Manning. The war of wits between the Patriots coach and the Colts quarterback rarely, if ever, disappoints.
At one time, it was a mismatch in Belichick’s favor, but the tables have turned in recent years, with Manning finally deciphering Belichick’s defensive schemes.
Today, with Manning operating without go-to guy Dallas Clark, and major weapons Austin Collie and Joseph Addai both doubtful with injuries, it’s going to be interesting to see what Belichick has cooked up for the four-time league MVP.
Last week against the Steelers, Belichick took the training wheels off and set his young defenders free to attack Ben Roethlisberger. He resorted to some of the hard-blitzing tactics his Patriots defenses have been known for in the past — even against Manning. And it worked to the tune of five sacks and numerous hurries.
It remains to be seen if Belichick has the guts to also send the house after Manning, who has a lightning quick release and usually knows within an instant where he’s going with the football.
Does that really make any sense?
Well, other teams haven’t shied away this season. They’ve attacked against Indy. That’s because Manning has been a bit more vulnerable to the blitz without his security blanket Clark to bail him out. He’s also got new pieces in his arsenal (Blair White, Jacob Tamme), so the comfort level isn’t the same and he cannot as readily trust them to be where they’re supposed to be.
After nine games, Manning is completing 59.8 percent of his pass attempts. His passer rating is a pedestrian 88.8. He’s also been sacked a dozen times after being sacked just 13 times all last season.
Those statistics suggest a green light might be in order today.
So instead of sitting back, playing it safe, and trying to cover Manning’s targets with as many defenders as possible, the Pats just might go full bore after Manning, as they did vs. Roethlisberger. After their showing in Pittsburgh, the Pats coach has to at least consider it a viable option for defusing Manning.
â€œIt’s a different team, different quarterback, different offensive line, different weapons,â€ linebacker Tully Banta-Cain [stats] said. â€œSo we’ll see how the game plays out how it’s going to go, but hopefully we’ll get the same results (as Pittsburgh).â€
Manning will kill you if he can get the ball off before you get there. And typically, it won’t matter who’s on the receiving end.
The key with Manning is getting him out of the pocket and off his timing. If he’s sitting in his spot, with time to make his reads, forget it. He’ll make you pay at every turn. He’s not likely to make the kind of mistakes the Pats have been capitalizing on against other teams.
â€œBill’s going to do what’s best for the team,â€ linebacker Rob Ninkovich said when asked what Belichick might have up his sleeve today. â€œPeyton’s tough. You have to be prepared and ready for anything. Whatever you’re in, he’s got a check for it.â€
Ninkovich believes the key is throwing off Manning’s timing by whatever means necessary.
â€œA lot of the things they do on offense is time-related with receivers and routes,â€ Ninkovich said. â€œIf you can jam the receivers, or get him off his spot, so he’s not throwing the ball exactly when he wants to throw the ball, that’s going to help you out.â€