Quarterback Peyton Manning points to the defense in setting the Broncos… (Kent Nishimura / McClatchy-Tribune )
Getting an edge on Peyton Manning in three easy steps:
1. Draw up a comprehensive list of blitzes and pressure packages.
2. Put those on a card and laminate it.
3. Feed that play sheet into the shredder.
If there are blitzes that work against the Denver Broncos quarterback, they haven't surfaced this season, even with All-Pro left tackle Ryan Clady out for the season. No NFL quarterback has been more effective against the blitz, with Manning completing 63.6% of his passes in those situations (14 of 22) with four touchdowns and a passer rating of 140.5.
Surprisingly, Oakland's lightly experienced Terrelle Pryor is second on that list with a 133.5 rating when blitzed, followed by Atlanta's Matt Ryan, 130.1; Seattle's Russell Wilson, 127.8; and San Diego's Philip Rivers, 123.2.
The bottom of the list is predictable, populated with lower-tier quarterbacks such as Cleveland's Brandon Weeden, 58.2; Jacksonville's Chad Henne, 55.7, and Blaine Gabbert, 45.1; and Minnesota's Christian Ponder, 6.3, achieved by completing 29.6% of his passes when blitzed (eight of 27) with no touchdowns and three interceptions.
Washington's Robert Griffin III was outstanding against blitzes as a rookie, notching a league-high passer rating of 143.5. This season, with his mobility hampered by a surgically repaired knee, he looks like an entirely different player and has a rating of 67.8.
Manning is so thorough in his preparation, he will not only study the tendencies of a defense, but also he will learn everything he can about a coordinator and that coach's background, influences and mentors … anything that will give him an advantage when he brings the Broncos to the line of scrimmage.
"Certainly when teams blitz, you want to take your shots down the field, depending on what the coverage is," Manning said. "Other times, you want to try to help your linemen out and get the ball out of your hands. If we can catch a short pass and break a tackle, that's certainly a productive play."
Former NFL quarterback Rich Gannon, once voted the league's most valuable player, was exceptional against blitzes. He compares the maturation of quarterbacks in those situations to the classes a typical college student might take.
Identifying a blitz and safely throwing the ball away? You get an A in Blitz 101.
Spotting a blitz before the snap, making the proper protection adjustments, and picking up eight yards on a three-step slant? You've aced Blitz 202.
But what about Professor Manning?
"He's at the Ph.D. level," said Gannon, now a CBS analyst. "He anticipates ahead of time based on his film study and preparation during the week. He's able to preview information in the huddle ahead of time. 'Hey, guys, I'm anticipating pressure. Heads up for this.' Then he can get up to the line of scrimmage and recognize the front, the down and distance, the coverage, where the pressure's coming from, and change the protection.
"Now here's where he's different than most guys: Not only does he change the protection, but he makes you pay for doing so. He'll get into the right protection, take the hit off and allow himself time to set his feet and make an excellent throw, but then he'll put the concept with it that has a chance to rip your heart out, has a chance to be a touchdown."
One reason Miami is undefeated this season is the Dolphins have slammed the door on teams, something they didn't do in 2012. They have allowed just three points in the fourth quarter of games, after giving up 101 points in fourth quarters last season.
The Dolphins are 3-0 despite being outgained in each of their games. According to Elias Sports Bureau, the only other team in the last 15 years to win its first three games despite being outgained in each was last season's Arizona Cardinals. That should give Miami pause, considering those Cardinals started 4-0 before losing 11 of 12.
Can't block it out
Eli Manning was sacked seven times in Carolina last Sunday, with five of those coming in the opening quarter. It could be even uglier for the Giants in Kansas City on Sunday, facing a second-ranked Chiefs defense that leads the league with 15 sacks. New York's line is painfully young and likely will be missing a couple more starters because of injuries, guard Chris Snee and center David Baas.
New Orleans' Jimmy Graham has 313 yards receiving in the past two games, the most by a tight end in a two-game span in a single season since Denver's Shannon Sharpe had a record-tying 413 in 1996. Should Graham collect 101 yards or more against the Dolphins on Monday night, he would set the record for receiving yards by a tight end over a three-game span.
When Seattle plays at Houston, it will be the first time star Texans linebacker Brian Cushing will face his former coach at USC, the Seahawks' Pete Carroll.