How Manning Can Get the Seahawks Right Where He Wants Them

Seattle’s secondary might seem like an impossible matchup, but Peyton Manning is a master manipulator. And there's one formation, in particular, he can utilize to put Richard Sherman & Co. in an unenviable position

By
Andy Benoit
· More from Andy·
(Steve Nehf/Getty Images)
(Steve Nehf/Getty Images)

The Seahawks’ defense has no weakness, so the Broncos must create one. The best way to do that is to align in a 3 x 1 formation with wide receivers Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker all to one side and tight end Julius Thomas alone on the other. (In football jargon, this would make Julius Thomas the “X-iso”; see image below.)

a

All season the Broncos have featured this formation prominently in the red zone. Super Bowl XLVIII will be determined largely by what happens when they use it not just there, but also throughout the rest of the field. If the Seahawks match personnel and put cornerbacks Richard Sherman, Byron Maxwell and Walter Thurmond to the three-receiver side, either Kam Chancellor or K.J. Wright will be left outside against Julius Thomas. There’s your weakness. While Chancellor is an excellent strong safety and Wright is a superb outside linebacker, neither is a good press-man cornerback—at least not against someone like Julius Thomas, who is a limber 6-5, 250 pounds, angular and explosive in confined movement. Peyton Manning would eagerly attack this matchup, and it’s almost guaranteed to be one-on-one considering free safety Earl Thomas aligns in centerfield on virtually every down. And if the Pro Bowl safety were inclined to rotate early to a particular side, he would have three reasons—Welker, Decker and Demaryius Thomas—to choose the side away from Julius Thomas. 

But it doesn’t necessarily have to be a 3 x 1 set. In the AFC Championship Game, Manning completed a crucial 37-yarder to Julius Thomas from a wide-split alignment out of a 2 x 2 set, with Wes Welker in the slot (see image below). Against man coverage, this set came with linebacker Jamie Collins (who, it’s worth noting, is a better athlete than Wright … and in terms of movement skills is actually comparable to Chancellor) getting beat. 

b

The Seahawks didn’t see trips receiver 3 x 1 formations too often this season, but when they did they generally matched corners on wideouts only in obvious passing situations. When facing the look on first or second down, they typically stayed in their base press-Cover 3. This includes when it’s a trips receiver 3 x 1 closed formation, which means Thomas, instead of playing X-iso, is aligned in his usual tight end spot along the line of scrimmage. 

If the Seahawks play base against these looks on Sunday, then either left corner Sherman or right corner Maxwell will be on Julius Thomas. In this case, the Broncos would create a weakness for the Seahawks on the strong side. Most likely, Thomas would align on Sherman’s side so that Manning could work the side opposite the league’s best cornerback. Doing that would make Sherman a nonfactor and give Manning three wideouts against two corners. The Seahawks would be in zone, so Manning wouldn’t necessarily be trying to simply locate whichever receiver isn’t facing a corner. Instead, he’d be evaluating specific zone-beater route combinations. He’d also have a full arsenal of receiver screens to choose from, as his two best screen-catching wideouts, Welker and Demaryius Thomas, would be close together. That creates opportunities for screens, both real and fake. 

c-d

e-f

This is the beauty of an overloaded trips 3 x 1 set: beyond creating favorable matchups, it forces the defense to reveal its coverage before the snap (particularly when the defense runs a straightforward, execution-based scheme like Seattle does). If all of the corners follow the receivers to the strong side, it almost always means the D is playing man. If the No. 1 and 2 corners stay in their usual outside spots, it means zone. Manning is tough enough as it is; when he can diagnose the coverage beforehand, he’s all but unstoppable.

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49 comments
vamagman
vamagman

I don't know if Manning can beat the Seattle defense--we'll find out. If anyone can do it, it's him. It's not

like this is the first great defense he's played; he played the Ravens, when they were at their defensive best,

a few times and beat them. (Last year, ironically, Baltimore's defense wasn't a great as it was when Lewis was in his prime and they beat the Broncos in 10 degree weather.) The Broncos were stymied in two games  this year--Indy and San Diego. Indy played good pass defense and SD kept the ball away from Denver with a stout run game. Seattle can pass defend and run the ball, so they will be formidable. Should be a great matchup. o

blykmyk44
blykmyk44

For those that think Denver will get a few big play scores...just note that other than a 79 yard pass to hilton (a WR unlike any Denver WR) the longest pass score vs Seattle was 38 yards. There was only one other over 30 yards all season. Denver shouldn't be relying on "big plays" to beat this team. If it happens it'd be very out of character and anyone predicting it wouldn't be "right" it'd just be dumb luck.

logue.justinf
logue.justinf

I love it.  Denver fans keep bringing up historic offense but they don't like discussing any other part of "history".  You know where the best defense has beaten the best offense 3 out of 4 times.  How finesse teams don't do well against physical teams.  To hear a Denver fan tell it, Seattle shouldn't even show up for the game.  Yeah Manning and the broncos had a historic season against the weakest schedule in the league.  They will be playing a top defense for the first time this season and we'll see how it works out.

Hawaii007
Hawaii007

Personally I think that Broncos should run the 3x1 but have Welker the one isolated on Sherman on the outside.  Sherman has issues with quicker, smaller receivers, and his over-aggressiveness can be exploited better by Welker getting out of double-moves quicker and gaining separation that way.

DavidRobinson
DavidRobinson

Seriously, did you watch the two Seahawks/Saints games? Or the three Seahawks/49ers games?  I really don't think Thomas is better than Jimmy Graham or Vernon Davis, with all due respect to his superior talent.  Shall I post the numbers for the tight ends in those two games? K.J. Wright and Kam (Bam Bam) Chancellor were the primary defenders for those two tight ends in those five games.  Oh... bonus... They also played against Tony Gonzales... check out the stats, I don't think Seattle will have any problems with the tight ends.  More likely to have problems with the slot reciever, Wes Welker:


Jimmy Graham, Saints

Season totals: 16 games, 86 catches, 1,215 yards, 16 TDs

Against Seattle: 2 games, 4 catches, 50 yards, 1 TD



Vernon Davis, 49ers

Season totals: 15 games, 52 catches, 850 yards, 13 TDs

Against Seattle: 3 games, 8 catches, 57 yards, 1 TD



Tony Gonzalez, Falcons

Season totals: 16 games, 83 catches, 859 yards, 8 TDs

Against Seattle: 1 game, 3 catches, 29 yards, no TDs

everythingaudio4u
everythingaudio4u

I love this article.  It's almost like saying - I'm not a coach, I have no idea how to defend this amazing offensive scheme I'm talking about, and you can score a touchdown every drive from these two formations because the matchups are always in your favor.  Hell, just eliminate the running game completely as it's wholly unnecessary.

TheMantage
TheMantage

Before you take too much of this article to heart, remember that the defense gets paid, too.

blykmyk44
blykmyk44

Generally speaking....you're right...if manning runs these plays there will be open receivers for short 4 yard completions. Seattle is more than willing to bet that an offense cannot consistently make perfect throws for multiple 10-12 play drives. Especially in the red zone when things suddenly become much tighter.

If Manning busts off 4 or 5, 10 play TD drives then more power to him. This is actually where the preseason game is meaningful (or interesting). Manning had two long drives. Needed 13 plays to score his one TD and then had another 9 play drive where they fumbled. While preseason results are meaningless I think it is quite clear what Denver will need to do,to,win the game. The question is can they...and after 18 games it seems unlikely.

blykmyk44
blykmyk44

They should try running that play with Sherman all alone against a TE...reminds me of his INT vs SF in the regular season. Or there was the trips play that got him the Int vs the 49ers in the playoffs. Or there was the int he got vs Houston (not necessarily vs trips, but it was his responsibility to,cover the single TE.

logue.justinf
logue.justinf

Unstoppable?  What is Manning's playoff record again?  Does Manning get to start in the redzone or do they have to move the ball to get there.  Does manning plan on containing wilson from running or stopping beast mode?  The media don't give the Seattle coaching staff any credit and both teams will have wrinkles that they haven't shown much.  This is lazy writing, a writer explains 1 technical aspect of a game from the Broncos perspective and then lazily explains that Seattle can only respond 2 ways which isn't the case.  I remember in the 2005 season the seahawks were going to face Steve Smith and the Carolina panthers and the national media wrote story after story about how Seattle couldn't stop smith.  Then the seahawks caught everyone off guard and had a linebacker line up against the guy and chuck him at the line of scrimmage with help over the top.  Needless to say Smith and Carolina were quite stoppable that day.  

CMFJ
CMFJ

Nice breakdown.  I'd be interested in learning about how Seattle played Jimmy Graham and Vernon Davis, since they were clearly very effective at that.  

Hawaii007
Hawaii007

@blykmyk44 so two long drives in the half, the last one that resulted in a fumble at the goal-line that was returned for a TD, I hope you don't expect that to happen.  So let's say the higher percentage result occurred, the Broncos scored, so that is 14 points in the half.  Oh and don't forget the fumble by JT after a 20 yard completion that also aborted another drive.  So maybe even 17-21 points in the half.  Manning went 11/16 for 167 yards in the half that he played.  If Manning does that on Sunday the Broncos will definitely be in good shape.

In case you were counting on creating fumbles, Broncos during the regular and post-season dropped 15 fumbles, lost 9.  Sounds like the team has trouble holding on to the ball?  Well since December, the team has put the ball on the ground just one time, losing it once, and that was against SD in the playoffs and that was a questionable call to say the least.  Should have either been considered incomplete or down by contact.

amilian
amilian

@blykmyk44 OMG why do you think the Broncos will not be able to execute their normal Offense they've been playing the same for all 18 games, defenses get tired Denver will get 2 or 3 long drives with short throws and runs and probably will bust a big one in one of the other drives , the only way Seattle will win is if it gets turnovers against this offense but the Broncos don't beat themselves they are gonna have to make plays, in the end this offense is too much they will blow this game open and will win Broncos 42- Seahawks 23

jb22
jb22

What part of their record breaking 18 game stretch makes you think that's unlikely exactly?

mannyomahaomaha
mannyomahaomaha

@logue.justinf  Yeah Kerry Collins is really a great comparison to Peyton Manning?  You can do better than that.........  by the way you mentioned Smith.  How about D. Thomas, E. Decker, J. Thomas and might i mention WES WELKER!!  I don't think you can even remember the other 2 receivers or the tight end let alone their running back.  Maybe you should rethink the comparison?

nowhereman222
nowhereman222

@logue.justinf The Seahawks may give the Broncos fits on offense, but did you really just compare the 2005 Carolina Panthers to the best offense in the history of the league (arguably?)  Its gonna be tough for the Hawks to control 4 different receiving weapons.  If any D can do it, I'm sure Seattle is up to task, but yes, when Manning has had time to throw into zone coverage, he's been nearly unstoppable this season.  

Kruegerman
Kruegerman

@CMFJ The Saints have only 2 receiving threats. The Niners have 3 receiving threats, but they also have a QB who completed less than 60% of his passes. The Broncos have 4 legit receiving threats and a good pass catcher out of the backfield on top of a QB who completes nearly 70% of his passes.

Hawaii007
Hawaii007

@CMFJ Graham the week before was held by the vaunted Philly defense to 3/44.  Davis was held by the GB and Carolina to 3 catches 38 yards, COMBINED.  Seems like the Seahawks' ability to hold either of them down is not that unique.   

DavidRobinson
DavidRobinson

@CMFJ Check out the stats I posted above on Jimmy Graham, Vernon Davis, and Tony Gonzales.

amilian
amilian

Remember when the Patriots played the Falcons and they double teamed Tony Gonzalez most teams will double the best weapon of the other team, that's how they played Jimmy Graham, they were effective against those weapons because they played their 2 games with the Saints @home, 2 games with SF @home, and the other in SF they won 4 of the 5 games because they had home field, how can u double Demaryus Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker, Julius Thomas and Knowshown Moreno etc in a given play who do u double up?

blykmyk44
blykmyk44

They flat out dominated both guys. The authors initial scheme just flat out hasn't worked vs Seattle,very often. Sherman has dominated the TEs.

BY
BY

@CMFJ They held the sh*t out of both

blykmyk44
blykmyk44

Btw...if you're saying Denver might have put up 17 pts in the half...Seattle put up

blykmyk44
blykmyk44

You're saying my exact point. Seattle forces you to not make those plays. The biggest flaw in the "if he didn't fumble" argument is that you're pretending that Seattle had no part in generating that fumble. Seattle is the best take away team in the league. They get even better when the field gets shortened in the red zone.

The key will be...can Denver score in the red zone or will Seattle force TOs or FGs. Anyone pretending they know what will happen is full of you know what...heck...it will probably come down to luck.

blykmyk44
blykmyk44

If they are able to do three or four long drives vs a good defense then good for them. To claim they have been playing perfect methodical error free football against top defenses would be a strange point. It is hard for any team to put together multiple 10+ drives in a game...

I don't get why fans of either team get so worked up about the game. It is the definition of a coin flip. If you don't agree then you're just being illogical.

everythingaudio4u
everythingaudio4u

Because they haven't played a defense anywhere near this good.  The Patriots are rated 25th in yds/game on defense and the Chargers are 24th.  During the playoffs the Broncos scored 26 and 24 pts respectively against those teams.  The "anemic" Seahawk offense, somehow managed 23 pts against both the #3 and #4 defenses in the NFL.


The Broncos had the 32nd ranked strength of schedule (SOS).  18 EASY games.  They went 15-3.  The Seahawks had the 10th ranked SOS.  They went 15-3.


Against teams with defenses ranked BELOW 20, the Broncos scored 34 pts/game.  They played 11 games against such bad defenses.  The Seahawks only played 3 games against defenses ranked 20 or below, and averaged 39 pts/game.

read.jk
read.jk

@nowhereman222@logue.justinfIf he has time, though. Avril, Bennett and Irvin are all about puttin Manning on the ground. I'm sure we're planning on doing that more often than we have yet this season.

George
George

@nowhereman222 @logue.justinf FIVE receivers - Merino picks up a rusher, then goes "outlet" in the flat or a screen.   Manning wins that numbers game for a first down more often than not.

blykmyk44
blykmyk44

The saints only have two receiving threats? Well I think that shifts my MVP vote to Brees. He threw for almost as many yards as Manning against much more difficult defenses and only had two guys who could catch the ball? That is pretty amazing.

blykmyk44
blykmyk44

They did not double those players. Seattle's scheme doesn't play for much dramatic double teams. If you're going to spout off...be factual.

DavidRobinson
DavidRobinson

@amilian The 'Hawks typically don't really "double" anyone.  They shut down Graham, Davis, and Gonzales in mostly single coverage with Wright or Chancellor.

everythingaudio4u
everythingaudio4u

This is why you are NOT a defensive coordinator and have no understanding how the Seahawks are the #1 defense in the NFL.

logue.justinf
logue.justinf

@BY @CMFJ Yeah when you are a physical defense from a major market you are tough, when you are a physical defense from seattle, you cheat

blykmyk44
blykmyk44

33 in that half. So...I mean you're right that if Denver plays perfect and Seattle plays poorly Denver will win. That doesn't seem too mind blowing.

mannyomahaomaha
mannyomahaomaha

@everythingaudio4u  so your actually talking about a strength of schedule that was released before the year started?  KC had 2 wins last year.. you apparently didn't watch too many Bronco games?  when your up on a team by 3 and 4 scores what do you think happens?  I'll give you a hint.. the defense slacks up and gives the other team room in the middle (which explains the passing yards).  They go into a prevent defense, Seattle's offense will be exposed... you say Denver has not played a Defense like Seattle?  What quarterback like Manning has Seattle played?

blykmyk44
blykmyk44

Denver played the 30th ranked schedule vs defenses in the league this year...

Kruegerman
Kruegerman

@everythingaudio4u Idiot, the #32 ranking was a preseason ranking based on 2012 records. Look at how many teams from the AFC West actually made the playoffs. Denver also played 3 teams from outside the division that made the playoffs. Denver's final SOS ranking was 17th.

logue.justinf
logue.justinf

@Hawaii007 @everythingaudio4u Are you kidding?  Both the patriots and san diego were in the game late despite the broncos dominating and you can't dispute the fact that the broncos played an easy schedule against teams that don't play defense.

Hawaii007
Hawaii007

@everythingaudio4u why are you comparing the Broncos' opponents defense numbers and the Seahawks' opponents defense numbers?  Are you trying to compare offenses and say the Seahawks can outscore the Broncos against the same defense?  I think you should be comparing the fact that the Seahawks gave up 15 (should have been more if the Saints had a half-competent kicker) and 17 to far inferior offenses, in spite of being able to force 4 turnovers total.  

If you want to compare relative offensive performances, if you really watched the Broncos games, you will know that the final scores does not do the way the offense dominated in those games justice.  One punt total in both games.  The Broncos had 8 total possessions against the Patriots, including the one to run the clock out at the end of the game where they drove the ball from their 49 for 38 yards in 7 plays, and scored 26.  Seahawks had 11 total possessions in the game, including one to kneel down to end the game, and scored 23.  Another more revealing fact, Seahawks had 308 total yards, 199 less than the Broncos.

logue.justinf
logue.justinf

@Hawaii007 @nowhereman222 @logue.justinf Hey Hawaii007 I think you have reading comprehension issues.  The fact that the author states that Seattle will only approach the formation 1 of 2 ways isn't accurate.  Maybe the wrinkles Seattle comes up with won't work but the article is about how seattle will either do this or that as if there are only two options and there aren't two options.  

George
George

@blykmyk44  Broncos wide and slot receivers will keep a lot of those "speed" defenders busy covering patterns in the secondary.  Moreno slips the one first tackle, and it's first down.   It's been happening all year, folks.   Kudos and respect to Seattle's D though.


This game will be fun.

blykmyk44
blykmyk44

Assume you were saying too slow to cover Moreno. Moreno isn't faster than any other RB in the league...so I'm not sure your point. If manning is dumping to mare no...the Seahawks are winning.

Hawaii007
Hawaii007

@DavidRobinson @amilian @blykmyk44 not saying the CBs that are on the team are not good, but the NFL is a "what are you able to do for me today" league, and you do realize that Winfield does not play for ANY team this year?  It is like saying that the Patriots' receivers were good because they didn't want to bring Lloyd back in spite of his 1000+ yard season last year.

DavidRobinson
DavidRobinson

@amilian @blykmyk44  Seattle linebackers are amoung the fastest in the league.  Ask Darren Sproles how the Seahawks shut down running back outlets.  As I've stated in a previous post, Seattle's "weakness" against the passing game will be the slot reciever.  (Typically Walter Thurmond or Jeremy Lane will cover the slot for Seattle).  Both are top notch cover corners, and both beat out Antoine Winfield for positions on the team this year.  You can check out what type of season Winfield had last year here:

http://espn.go.com/nfl/player/stats/_/id/1775/antoine-winfield


As you can see, he had a pretty good season.  Seattle has 4 cornerbacks that would be starters on almost every team in the league.  Additionally, they can cover TE and RB with their very talented coverage LB's or SS Kam Chancellor.  


I'm actually pretty intrigued with this matchup, because both teams match each other very closely.  I think the game's going to come down to Denver's O-line vs. Seattle D-line.  If Seattle forces Payton to hold the ball longer than normal (a likely scenario), it's going to come down to how long Denver's line can hold up against a very good (not elite however) Seattle pass rush.

amilian
amilian

@blykmyk44 Too fast to cover Knowshown Moreno his real outlet, now you have 5 receivers to cover what do u do?

blykmyk44
blykmyk44

The problem with the outlet stuff is Seattle is so fast. An outlet throw vs a bad defense gets Denver 4 yards and keeps them in front of the chains. But, most outlets for Seattle gain very little. This is both due to scheme and speed. I would not,rely on Moreno to have a huge game. The best place to attack Seattle is almost always up the seem.

logue.justinf
logue.justinf

@George @nowhereman222 @logue.justinf did the broncos go undefeated?  What is manning's playoff record again?  When the best defense plays the best offense in a super bowl who typically wins?  The Saints tried several screens against Seattle and it's not like the saints lack weapons.  When a finesse team plays a physical team in the playoffs who normally wins?  

Canakz
Canakz

@logue.justinf @BY @CMFJ They are physical and they do cheat. Then again, which defense doesn't cheat a bit? With all the rules now favoring the offense, defenses have to find a way to even the playing field. 

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