Falcons prepare for Peyton Manning challenge
SEP 13, 2012 5:22p ET
Manning turned in a 19-for-26 performance for 253 passing yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions in an impressive 31-19 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
On Monday night, when Manning visits the Georgia Dome, he will face a Falcons defense that is minus a former Pro Bowl cornerback and that allowed 258 passing yards to Kansas City's Matt Cassel last week.
Falcons head coach Mike Smith knows that his defense will have to be as precise as possible against the Broncos.
"We've got to play sound technique and make sure we're in the right place because if you're out of place by a half yard, you're going to pay for it," said Smith, who as Jacksonville's former defensive coordinator was in the same division as the four-time MVP during Manning's long run with Indianapolis. "He's got a very good understanding of how you're trying to defend him. If you give him pre-snap reads, he's going to know where to go with the football."
Perhaps few players in NFL history have enjoyed the reputation that Manning has for his smarts and football IQ. For a Falcons team that has suffered its share of breakdowns in the secondary and blown coverages in big games in the past, Manning will provide a special challenge.
"Trying to hide coverages — like you say, he's so smart, all that stuff how to check down — it's like he's played defense before some of the things that he knows," Falcons defensive end John Abraham said. "He probably can be a defensive coordinator after he's done compared to offensive coordinator. I've played him ever since I was in college. He played for Tennessee, and I played for South Carolina. He's been the same since. He hasn't changed."
Although Abraham is toward the end of his second decade playing against Manning and has a great familiarity with him, Broncos head coach John Fox has learned a great deal about Manning since the quarterback made his choice to play for the Broncos back in the spring after the Colts elected to cut him and rebuild by taking Andrew Luck as the first overall pick in the NFL Draft in April.
"I think his reputation in this league is very well documented on how hard he prepares mentally and physically," Fox said in a conference call with Atlanta media on Thursday. "I think he came into the league that way and is still that way.
"I think when you see it firsthand, it's a little bit different. It probably exceeds the expectations you had just on his reputation, so he's done tremendous."
Last year, the Broncos revamped their offense during the season when Tim Tebow was named the starter. The Broncos went on to win the AFC West with an offense that emphasized the run and led the league in rushing yards.
With Manning, the pass once again is getting more attention.
"Anytime you have a player, whether it was last year or this year, regardless of the position, part of coaching is to put them in the best position to succeed," Fox said. "You take input and you look and study what they do well and, obviously, you're going to put them in those positions."
To that end, the Falcons' Smith said he sees that Manning has brought with him parts of the Colts' former offense.
"I think some of the concepts that have shown up in the preseason indicate there's some of the Indy passing game," Smith said.
And the Falcons will have to defend Manning — and every other quarterback they play for the rest of this season — without cornerback Brent Grimes, who suffered a season-ending Achilles' tendon injury on Sunday. Dunta Robinson will take Grimes' spot as the right corner, and Chris Owens will play in the slot in the nickel package. Third-year backup cornerback Dominique Franks also could see increased time.
Falcons safety Thomas DeCoud talked about how losing Grimes will affect the defense.
"You may have to be more cognizant of certain things here and there," DeCoud said. "At the end of the day, we're all professional athletes. I've said this a couple of times: Chris and Dominique have a lot of game experience themselves and they have a lot of talent so I don't expect it to be too much of a drop-off.
"Although, you know, Grimes is one of the best corners in this league and has been one of the best corners in this league for the last few years and there's going to be some step-off but I don't think it will be too drastic."
It's all part of the puzzle of defending Manning.
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