The perennial two top quarterbacks in the National Football League, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, met in their latest match up today. Although Brady and the New England Patriots won the game, the real rivalry involves Manning, and the head coach of the Patriots, Bill Belichick.
Arguably, Manning as a quarterback and Belichick as a head coach are two of the most intense students of the game, and each are masters of their position. Manning turned pro in 1998, and Belichick became head coach of the Patriots in 2000.
Since, their paths cross quite regularly. Between 2000 and 2004 the two teams met eight times, counting playoff games, and the Patriots won seven of them. The consensus was that Manning had let Belichick’s game plans get into his head. However, after that atrocious start against the Patriots the Colts have one five of the next seven games, including playoffs. Two of those games were in the Patriots back yard, in Foxborough, Massachusetts.
Why the Statistical Change?
Over the years, Manning achieved a 109.0 quarterback rating completing passes down the middle against other NFL teams. Against the Patriots, though, Manning’s quarterback rating throwing down the middle was 76.4. Belichick studied Manning’s game film, found his tendencies and devised defensive schemes that caused Manning to force passes. Forcing the ball accounted for incompleted passes and interceptions.
In a game of cat and mouse, Manning studied Belichicks defensive schemes and realized what was happening, and reduced by one half the number of times he threw down the middle. His new tendency of throwing sideline passes were instrumental in the Colts winning streak against the Patriots since 2004.
Their first meeting in 2010 added another scenario to the equation, injuries. Manning and the Colts entered the game with an inordinate amount of injuries, including favorite targets of his passes. As a result he resorted to forcing some passes, and ended the Colts chances to tie or win the game by throwing an interception.
Trailing the Patriots 31-28 Manning drove the Colts down the field, and with less than a minute left in the game the Colts were on the Patriots 24 yard line. They were within the range of field goal kicker Adam Vinatieri, which would have tied the game and sent it into overtime. However, Manning wanted to try one pass into the end zone to win the game, plus take off a few seconds on the clock. The rest is history. Manning forced a pass to Garcon and under threw it. The Patriots Sanders intercepted, and game, set and match went to Belichick, and the Patriots.
Once again Belichick came up with a defensive scheme that caused Manning to force passes. Yes, Manning had to work around injuries to key players, but Belichick’s defensive scheme resulted in forced passes. There is nothing more to say.
ESPN Boston: The Real Rivalry : go.com