Peyton Manning is going to get his completions.
He’s going to get his yards and, very likely, his points. The Dallas Cowboys understand that.
But they can’t let him have his way.
That, cornerback Orlando Scandrick said, is a sure recipe for defeat, no matter the quarterback.
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“You don’t want them to dictate what you’re going to do because you’re already beat if you start doing that,” he said. “You don’t have a chance.”
Problem is, Manning has been dictating to NFL defenses for years.
He is a four-time league MVP. He has the most 4,000-yard passing seasons in NFL history. He has won the second-most games in NFL history.
And this year might be his best of all. He carries an absurd 138.0 passer rating into Sunday’s game against the Cowboys with 16 touchdown passes against no interceptions on a 75 percent completion rate.
With him, the Denver Broncos are unbeaten and carry an NFL-record streak of 15 regular-season victories by a touchdown or more. Plus, their four-game total of 179 points is the second-best ever in the NFL.
So how can the Cowboys dictate to him? How can the Cowboys beat him?
They could try to fool him.
“He’s played a lot of games. He’s taken a lot of snaps in the NFL. And he’s rarely surprised or bothered by things you do schematically to him,” coach Jason Garrett said. “And that comes from his experience but from his preparation as well. You can tell he’s one of those players that has a great memory. If you’ve gotten him on something years ago, he’s going to remember it. It’s in that memory bank, and somehow, some way, he’s going to bring it out and use it to his advantage.
“I don’t know that you trick him regardless of what defensive scheme you’re playing.”
Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin shrugged off the idea, too.
“There is no look you can give him that he doesn’t know,” he said. “There are looks you can give quarterbacks but not a guy who studies the game that hard.”
The Cowboys can try to cover more tightly.
“He’s getting rid of it quickly because he has guys open,” Scandrick said. “Pressure and coverage go hand-in-hand. You need to take away those quick throws and make him hold it a little bit so your rush can get there.”
But Manning has at his disposal one of the league’s most difficult players to cover, receiver Wes Welker, who has five 100-catch seasons in the past six. And a 6-foot-5 tight end in Julius Thomas, who has 4.6 speed. And a 6-3 receiver in Demaryius Thomas, who ranks seventh in the league with 7.4 yards after the catch.
“They’re fantastic. They make plays down the field, a lot of plays down the field, but they also make plays with the run after the catch,” Garrett said. “Not only do you have this incredibly good quarterback who has great understanding of what he wants to do against you each and every week who knows how to attack a defense, but he’s got some weapons to do it with.”
So the Cowboys must tackle.
“Tackling is No. 1 every week,” Scandrick said.
Points from the offense will help, too.
“It’s human nature to feel you have to do something,” guard Brian Waters said. “You can’t keep going out there and going three and out. You have to answer back.”
But the Cowboys at least know they have done it before. In 2010, they intercepted Manning four times in a 38-35 victory at Indianapolis. Scandrick and then-rookie linebacker Sean Lee each returned interceptions for touchdowns. Lee had two interceptions in all.
“I thought we did a good job of getting at least some pressure on him and making him move around a little bit,” Lee said, remembering that game. “With any quarterback, pressure is huge. With your coverage against a great quarterback, you have to be detailed with your fundamentals.”
Ah, yes, pressure on the quarterback. The great equalizer. It has been there for the Cowboys, with 14 sacks through four games. Manning has been sacked five times in four games.
“Pressure is pretty good if you get there, but it’s not like he’s never seen the blitz, either,” Kiffin said. “He’s the best at getting it out quick.”
Perhaps more than anything, the Cowboys have to be persistent. They have to stick with it, Kiffin said.
“You have to hang in there and minimize the explosion plays, and you’ve got to line up and play the next play,” he said. “The guy hit seven [touchdowns] the first week of the season. Good God, let’s go back and play.
“You have to keep playing.”