Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning made a great play on a 22-yard gain to Demaryius Thomas on Monday night against Oakland. It was a great throw, with perfect ball placement, but the game film showed there was much more to that highlight play that probably went unnoticed.
The play the Broncos called was ruined right after the snap, and Manning made something happen on his secondary read. Manning's quick decision making and execution on the play were impressive.
The Broncos showed a power run to the right, and ran a play-action fake off it. The left guard pulled to sell the run fake. Tight end Julius Thomas and slot receiver Wes Welker ran vertical routes. The goal was to get middle linebacker Nick Roach and the slot cornerback to come up on the run fake, so Welker and Thomas could run deep with one safety to deal with them both.
Two things prevented this play from happening as drawn up. Thomas got jammed at the line. And Roach didn't come up on the run fake, because it was a "Tampa two" zone defense. Roach's first responsibility in that defense is to step back, then come up if it's a handoff.
Here's Thomas just after getting jammed, and you can see Roach (53) dropping back in both angles:
When Manning turns his head around after faking the handoff, he sees those two things and knows design of the play is done. He is not going to get what he was expecting.
Bill Walsh loved to the use the term "isolate" for what Manning did next – the quarterback has to immediately isolate what’s important and pertinent on that play. Another quarterback might have sat on that initial read for another second, which is an eternity in an NFL game. And then you have nothing.
Manning went right to the backside out route by Demaryius Thomas.
And the throw itself is as good as you’ll ever see. That’s what ball location is all about. That’s not the primary read. He was looking front side, because of Thomas and Welker, and came back around to find Thomas and hit him with a perfect throw.
Manning's command of the game was also displayed on a second-quarter touchdown to Julius Thomas.
Manning recognized the Raiders were blitzing from the slot with safety Charles Woodson, who was lined up across from Thomas. Manning also noticed linebacker Kevin Burnett was in man coverage, stacked behind Woodson and about 10 yards off Thomas.
Manning does two things before the snap to make this play work. He slides the protection to the left (you could hear him call it out on the television broadcast), which is why left tackle Chris Clark ended up blocking Woodson. Then through hand signals he changed the route combination for Thomas, who was in the slot, and running back Knowshon Moreno split wide. Moreno ran a simple slant, and Thomas ran quickly to the flat.
Because Manning knew it was man-to-man coverage and saw Burnett was 10 yards off Thomas, Manning knew there was no way Burnett could get to flat that quickly. He threw a quick pass, Thomas turned upfield and had the first down before Burnett got to him, then broke one tackle to get the touchdown.
Manning recognized the blitz and man-to-man coverage, changed the protection and slid the protection to pick up the blitz, then called a new route combination based on Burnett's pre-snap alignment. He did all of that before the snap.
These plays, and the adjustments made by the quarterback, show why Manning is great.
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NFL analyst and NFL Films senior producer Greg Cosell watches as much NFL game film as anyone. Throughout the season, Cosell will join Shutdown Corner to share his observations on the teams, schemes and personnel from around the league.
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