It’s impossible to measure a guy’s success based on one game or even a handful of games over a career in the National Football League, but it’s hard not to notice the success, or lack thereof, by Denver Broncos’ QB Peyton Manning against the 3-4 defense.
It really is impossible because Manning has had good success against the Baltimore Ravens and their 3-4 defense which you could certainly argue has been one of the best around. Lifetime, Manning is 17-2 against the Ravens with a career QB rating of 95.5. So to say that Manning can’t beat a 3-4 defensive scheme would be unfair and incorrect. However, as the Steelers prepare for another visit to Denver with a very different guy running the offense, there’s a crucial stat that could dictate how Manning fares against the black n’ gold.
The Steelers of course went to Indianapolis in early 2006 and knocked off the favored Colts by limiting them to 18 points and sacking Manning five times. In that game, the Colts were also held to just 58 total rushing yards. In the regular season matchup in November of 2005, Edgerrin James rushed for 124 yards in a the Colts’ 26-7 win.
Over the course of Manning’s career, the key stat to whether or not he will be successful against a 3-4 has been his team’s ability to run the ball. Another team with the 3-4 that has some success against Manning was the San Diego Chargers. In their five wins over Indianapolis, they limited the Colts to less than three yards per carry. In their two losses, the Colts were closer to five yards per carry in winning both games.
Against the Steelers, Manning has a career record of 2-2 and has a career passer rating of 85.9 with seven touchdowns and four interceptions. His most recent game was in Pittsburgh and resulted in a 24-20 win over the Steelers in 2008. That game featured three Manning TD passes and three Ben Roethlisberger interceptions. More to the point was that Indianapolis rushed for 62 yards on the day but Pittsburgh was even less at 59.
As the Steelers prepare for Manning and the Broncos on Sunday night, we already know that taking away the running game is always priority one for any Dick LeBeau defense. My concern is in one particular spot and that’s at outside linebacker where I have less and less confidence that James Harrison will be playing. Even if he does at this point I can’t imagine he’ll be anything close to 100%. The options are simple. We get a less than ready Jason Worilds who continues to deal with a wrist injury and hasn’t seen a down of action in the preseason or we get Chris Carter.
I think Carter will be fine rushing Manning, but he is less than adequate in my opinion against the run which concerns me a great deal with Manning’s ability to audible at the line of scrimmage. The worst case scenario calls for Lawrence Timmons to slide over from the inside which then means depth issues at inside backer.
What should not be an issue is LeBeau’s ability to gameplan for Manning. The question will be in personnel and whether or not they are up to the task. There won’t be a Joey Porter or Aaron Smith caving in the line the way they did in the 2005 playoffs.
Of course the news we expected came down last night in terms of Ryan Clark who will once again not play in Denver due to his sickle-cell trait that cause him problems at higher elevations. Many point to his absence as to one of the reasons the defense was torched last year in Denver.
LeBeau must get creative, perhaps more so than any point in his career if this defense is going to be anything like Steelers’ defenses of the past. Blitzes have to come from everywhere including the popcorn stand. If they can’t get pressure on Manning or can’t slow down the run, it could be a long night in Denver.