In Denver’s Week 15 win over the Ravens, Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning did most of his damage on play-action passing plays.
According to ESPN, Manning completed eight of his 11 throws after freezing the Ravens defense with a fake hand-off. On those plays, Manning piled up 133 of his 204 passing yards and threw his only touchdown pass, a 51-yarder to wide receiver Eric Decker.
The best way to defend those plays might be stopping Denver’s running game. The Broncos rushed for 163 yards and two touchdowns on 45 carries in that matchup, led by running back Knowshon Moreno, who had 115 yards on 21 carries.
That’s why defensive coordinator Dean Pees said stopping the run will be “very important” in limiting Manning’s effectiveness with the play-action passing game.
“We didn’t do a good job of it in the first game, especially in a couple of the packages that we were in,” he said. “We’ve got to do a better job. There’s no doubt about it that if you’re running the ball, it’s going to set up your play-action a heck of a lot better. We need to try to get him into third-and-longs and that kind of situation. The way you have to do that is you have to stop the run.”
While staying with tall and talented wide receivers Decker and Demaryius Thomas isn’t easy, Pees said that they were able to get open -- Decker, in particular -- in the last game because the defensive backs anticipated running plays on the fakes and got caught looking into the backfield.
“If you start wandering around, looking at something that you’re not supposed to look at, that’s always gotten us in trouble,” he said. "That’s, sometimes, where you give up the big plays. Everybody has to do their job. We have to expect the front seven has to do a good job of stopping the run, the secondary has to do a good job of covering on the play-action passes.
“To sit there and say that a linebacker is not going to bite up on a play-action fake is ludicrous. They are. If they’re going to stop the run, and Peyton does as good of a job as anybody of selling the play-action, we can preach that all we want to, [but] that guy is going to bite up. So the guy on the back end really has to keep his eye on his luggage and know what he’s doing back there.”
The Ravens actually covered well in standard passing plays, holding Manning to 71 yards as he completed nine of his 17 attempts when not executing a play fake. That’s a passer rating of 63.6.