It depends on how you define the word “stopped”. If you mean shutout or kept under 10 points, then no, the Broncos offense cannot be stopped. If you mean held under 50 points so as to give your offense a chance to win the game, then yes, the Broncos offense can be stopped. But it won’t happen with conventional methods.
Peyton Manning is attacking defenses with the best arsenal he’s ever had. With Wes Welker in the slot, Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker on the outside, and Julius Thomas at tight end, Manning has four pass catchers who can win in one-on-one situations. If defenses drop too many defenders into coverage to take away these one-on-ones, he’ll run it with Knowshon Moreno behind an athletic and more than capable offensive line.
Manning is and has been the best quarterback in the game (depending on who you ask) because of his ability to read, recognize, and react to defenses better and quicker than anyone ever has. He’s in total control of the entire game. He’ll use hard counts and audible to draws to slow down the pass rush. He gets his team into the best possible look on almost every play. He is aware of everything.
So how can you stop Manning and this offense…or slow it down? There isn’t one simple way. No blueprint exists. It comes down to a combination of things, as beating a good team often does.
First and foremost is the pass rush. If defenders cannot get to Manning and put him on the ground, the rest is just semantics. This might seem like an obvious answer, but it’s the number one thing that beats all quarterbacks. Without it, defenses are fighting an uphill battle.
Defenses cannot sit back passively and just try to take away the big play with soft coverage. Manning is a patient quarterback who will read the coverage and take what it gives him. He’s got playmakers all over the field who can take a pass close to the line of scrimmage and turn it into a huge chunk of yards on any play. Taking away the deep ball won’t eliminate big plays – the Broncos just have too much talent for that.
Defenses have to avoid one-on-one situations whenever possible. As mentioned above, the Broncos have four players who can win in these situations, and unfortunately for defenses, only one has to be open for the play to be successful. Don’t believe us? In week 5 vs. the Cowboys, Manning was 16-20 for 194 yards and 3 touchdowns against any variation of man coverage.
Blitzing is probably not a good option either. Manning has a near perfect 147.6 passer rating vs. the blitz this season with 7 touchdowns and no interceptions. Blitzes leave defenders in one-on-one coverage. See the above paragraph for why that’s a bad thing.
Defenses also cannot be predictable. Again, this might seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many teams play against Manning and the Broncos straight up without disguising coverage. We’re not sure what the defensive coordinators of those teams expect to happen when they play this way.
Most of what we’ve said here has to do with what defenses can’t do. So what should they do? For one, in conjunction with the previous point about predictability, defensive coordinators must be sure to have their players constantly moving before the snap, never tipping their hand. They must get to coverage from unconventional initial alignments, hopefully catching Manning off guard, even if it’s only a little bit. Peyton might not get fooled often, but disguising coverage could possibly slow down his decision making just enough to allow the pass rush to get to him.
Defenses HAVE TO TAKE CHANCES. Sitting back and playing it safe won’t stop the Broncos. Instead, it will only lead to a slow death. Opposing teams have to steal possessions through turnovers, so jumping routes, stripping the ball, and trying to bait certain throws is an absolute must.
Ultimately, “slowing down” the Broncos offense is meaningless without the offense on the other side of the ball doing their part, like the Cowboys did in Week 5. While a shootout with Peyton Manning is never an optimal situation for opposing teams, the offense needs to be aggressive and score to give their team a fighting chance. Keeping Denver off the field with long drives won’t do much if those drives don’t result in points, especially since the Broncos are capable of scoring quickly regardless of how much time is on the clock.
There is no blueprint for beating the Broncos. It will take big plays in all three phases of the game as well as some outside-the-box thinking. A combination of good game-planning and physical execution is necessary. It can happen. The question is, will it?