|11.14.09 at 8:40 pm ET|
While Brandon Meriweather readily admitted Friday he was scared of Peyton Manning in his first encounter with him in 2007, the Patriots coaching staff did their best this week to ease the fears of Meriweather and other defensive backs as they get ready to face No. 18 on Sunday night at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Pats coach Bill Belichick went out of his was on Friday to give props to the little mentioned Brian Hoyer, the quarterback out of Michigan State who — this week — simulated Manning for the defense.
“[Brian] Hoyer’s done a real good job for us this week, I’ll just say that up front. He’s done a great job of running the Colts offense for our defense, running the scout team, and I think he’s run the plays, made the decisions and given our defense the looks that are probably most similar to what Manning would do. He’s done a nice job of that.”
And that job certainly isn’t the easiest in the world.
Manning is known for running up and down the offensive line, calling audibles and calling out decoys to keep the defense on its toes. This week, that was Hoyer’s job at practice.
“We do it in our terminology, of course,” Belichick said. “He doesn’t want to run a lot of bad plays, so if it’s a bad play into a bad defense, then he’s going to go to something else and that’s pretty much what Brian’s done for us. Whatever plays we have called, if our defense happens to be in a look that we think Peyton wouldn’t run that play against, then we have him go to something else. We don’t know exactly what it’s going to be of course, but it’s the process and the flexibility they have at the line of scrimmage that was well simulated.”
One aspect of the Manning-led offense that is nearly impossible to replicate is the tempo.
“Yeah, especially because they change the pace,” Belichick said. “They have an ability to play fast, they have an ability to play at a moderate rate, and sometimes they can slow it down and go to the line and make a bunch of calls and snap the ball with one or two seconds left on the 40-second clock and wait and get their look. It’s a problem for the defense because if you show it early, then if he sees it early he can change it.
“But if you’re not ready to play when they’re over the ball, then they can snap it right away and then you’re out of position. It puts some stress on you from a timing standpoint of disguises and showing what you’re going to do. If they don’t like it, then they try to get to something they prefer against that particular look.”
Which brings us back to the young Patriots defenders who could come under fire. Darius Butler, a rookie corner out of UConn, is in the same shoes, in the same city, facing the same future Hall of Fame QB that Meriweather was two years ago and Jerod Mayo, Terrence Wheatley and Jonathan Wilhite were last season.
“If you haven’t played in this league, you probably haven’t seen it at all,” Belichick said. “I think talking to our younger players through the years, guys like [Brandon] Meriweather and [Jerod] Mayo, talking about the first time they played them, it certainly helps to play them once. There is no doubt about it. The timing, the tempo of the game, Manning’s quick release and his ability in the pocket to get rid of the ball so quickly and to scan the field — like Brady — like we’ve talked about.
“But competitively, you don’t see too many quarterbacks at his level. Having played him before, I think that’s certainly helpful for young players. As much as you can talk about it before the game and say this is the way it’s going to be and all that, but until they get out there and experience it, it’s not quite the same.”
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