Of course, there is more to playing Manning than dealing with his histrionics at the line, but that's where everything starts, with Manning either calling audibles or trying to make the defense think he's doing that, leaving an impression that he has seen something telling on the other side of the line and is marshaling his troops to counter it.
"It's freaking annoying," said the other corner, Asante Samuel, who has a long history with Manning from his days as a New England Patriot. Samuel returned a Manning pick for a touchdown in the Pats' January 2007 AFC Championship Game loss to the Colts. "I freaking hate it."
Eagles fans have good reason to feel the same way. By now, you might have heard that although Eagles coach Andy Reid is 11-0 the week after the bye, he is 0-3 against the Colts. The most recent of those losses came in 2006, so it isn't like a lot of current Eagles bear the scars, but in matchups with the late Jim Johnson, Manning always seemed to be able to sense what the Birds' defensive coordinator had coming. The combined final score of those losses was 124-51, with Indianapolis scoring at least 35 points in each game.
Most awe-inspiring was the 35-13 licking Manning and the Colts laid on the Eagles at the Vet in 2002. The Birds would go 12-4 that year and lose the NFC title game to Tampa Bay in an upset. Their defense was lights out, featuring Troy Vincent, Hugh Douglas, Brian Dawkins, Carlos Emmons, Bobby Taylor and Corey Simon, all at their best. Manning tore them up, his offense scoring the most points of any Eagles opponent that season.
Maybe it's a good thing that none of the current Eagles defenders was playing here in 2002.
If there is a common thread with the three losses to Indy, it's that you aren't going to confuse Manning with your blitz packages; you're going to have to get four-man pressure and good coverage.
"He's unlike any quarterback I've ever seen . . . He's seen about everything," Johnson's successor, Sean McDermott, said yesterday. "He's had the kitchen sink thrown at him. It just comes down to making plays; it comes down to what happens after that ball is snapped and making plays."
Samuel said the key would be "to give him a bunch of different looks, not let him know what defense we're playing."
This could be a defining moment for McDermott and his defense. They've had the bye week to sort through what went wrong in that disaster of a fourth quarter at Tennessee, when a 19-10 lead became a 37-19 loss. Corner Ellis Hobbs, who bore a good bit of responsibility for Kenny Britt's seven-catch, 225-yard day, is sitting out with a hip flexor problem he belatedly confessed to, giving Patterson the opportunity to start.
When the Birds adjourned for the bye, McDermott was hearing speculation he might be fired - speculation the front office quickly quashed.
"Comments that are going to be made are not under my control," McDermott said after his regular Thursday media session. "What's going to be said is said. That's only going to push me harder. What I'm focused on is our defense. In a lot of ways, I'm proud of what we've done defensively, so far. I think a lot of people around the league would love to be where we are and have done what we've done defensively, with the turnovers and with the [ranking of 12th overall] coming out of the Titans game . . . I look forward to growing with these guys and working to accomplish our goals."
McDermott not only has an inexperienced corner in Patterson, he has a rookie free safety in Nate Allen, who also struggled in double-coverage against Tennessee's Britt. How does McDermott keep the new guys from being awestruck, as they face what might be the best quarterback in NFL history?
McDermott said that while the Eagles approach Manning with respect, "we're not going to back down, and I don't expect our players, young or old, to back down. I think . . . it goes back to the types of players, the character and the integrity of the players that we have in that room."
Allen said he "can't worry about who it is," that once the game starts, he won't be thinking about facing an all-time great.
Allen said he has to watch some of what Manning does before the snap, to make sure nothing gets changed that would affect the defense's call, but he will strive to "not get caught up in trying to match all his fake calls, and whatever calls are real, just let him do what he's got to do, and stay disciplined in what we're doing."
Manning is missing some of his favorite weapons - most notably tight end Dallas Clark - but he has done pretty well with whomever seems to be on hand.
"You can plug anybody in there you want," Samuel said, and Manning will "tell you to go to the spot, hit you right in the butt."
Patterson said with Manning, he doesn't worry so much about being targeted - he said Manning doesn't much worry about which defender is on his intended receiver.
"I expect he's going to come at anybody that's open . . . You see all the time, he's throwing at guys who are covered, covered well - he's trying to fit it, it doesn't matter whether he's open or covered," Patterson said. "You're going to get the ball. So I'm expecting the ball. I'm pretty sure Asante is expecting the ball. He has no respect for the person [covering] with that ball. I think we all know that."
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