Happy Thursday, friends. This season, I'm going to pick one key play per game, and break it down in a short-form article. There's always some game-behind-the-game stuff to talk about, and I feel like bringing it to IAOFM will add some value for our reader base.
Today, I wanted to look at the sixth (!) of Peyton Manning's seven (!!!) touchdown passes, which covered 26 yards, and went to Demaryius Thomas. When the offense is generating TDs at the rate that the Broncos were, it's easy for details to get lost in the live game coverage, and NBC didn't get into something interesting on this play.
A couple of years ago, I wrote an article talking about alignment concepts for defensive backs, and it focused heavily on body posture. When you were a kid, did anybody ever give you a hard time about your posture? I hope so, because it's important. On this touchdown pass, it was the key to the success of the play.
Here's a sideline look at the presnap alignment:
The Broncos are showing a 2-by-2 alignment, with Eric Decker and Wes Welker to the left, and Julius Thomas and Demaryius Thomas to the right. The Ravens are in nickel, and they're showing press-man on the three wideouts with a 2-deep shell. The safeties are outside the hashmarks, but inside the numbers.
Thomas and Thomas (no relation) are going to both run vertical routes. Nearly all QBs are going to read this as Cover-2 Man Under, with the deep safeties splitting the difference over top of the two receivers to their side. That implies that the Sam LB would have Julius Thomas in man coverage.
Peyton Manning doesn't read it that way, and that's why he gets an easy TD. He sees both LBs leaning to their right (the offense's left), and he knows that safety #2 has man coverage on Julius Thomas, leaving the overmatched Corey Graham singled up on Demaryius Thomas outside. If you look at the end zone view, you can see the lean of the LBs a little more clearly:
Daryl Smith (51) is going to be blitzing, and Josh Bynes (56) is either green-dogging on Knowshon Moreno, or flat-out blitzing himself. Manning sees the blitz, knows he has a mismatch outside, and gets the ball out quickly, counting on Demaryius to easily beat Graham, which he does.
NFL.com doesn't have embed code for some reason, but check out the play in full speed here.
It turns out that what was meant to look like Cover-2 is actually Cover-1 (man free). The intent of disguising the look is similar to the intent of the Navy piss-testing the whole ship after you just spent the weekend in Amsterdam, and then only testing 10% of the samples. It's all about deterrence and making people think that you've got something covered when you really don't.
The Andy Daltons of the world would be deterred, and wouldn't be on time with the fade to Demaryius Thomas. Peyton Manning knew what was going happen when he snapped the ball, and got out a perfect throw, right on time.
That's why he's Peyton M.F. Manning.