St. Louis Rams vs. Denver Broncos: Five Keys To Victory

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Sep 21, 2014; Seattle, WA, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) is touched down on a broken play against the Seattle Seahawks during the fourth quarter at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Another weekend, another chance to upset a “lock” playoff team and Super Bowl contender. While the Rams gauntlet of a schedule can be difficult to stomach at times, it at least gives the young squad an opportunity to perform against some of the best in the league on a weekly basis. This week, they’ll face off against arguably the “best of the best,” with Peyton Manning and Co. primed for another shot at a Super Bowl ring. After losing to the top team in the NFC last weekend, what will it take to knock off the top team in the AFC this week? Here are our five keys to victory…

1. Get pressure on Peyton Manning without sending 5+

Peyton Manning, if nothing else, is the most cerebral quarterback that has ever played the game. His preparation and pre-snap reads are second to none in the NFL, which leads to his efficiency and “cleanness” at the end of the game. Sending five or more players at Peyton hasn’t and doesn’t work. However, as the handful of teams that have slowed Manning have demonstrated, if you can get consistent pressure on the statuesque signal caller, without sacrificing in coverage, he can be tamed. While you still might not wrangle him to the ground, Manning is significantly less efficient under pressure this year, completing only 49.3% of his passing attempts, compared to his overall figure of 67.7% on the season.

2. Tackle. Period.

While this is obviously the case in every game, it is particularly important against Peyton Manning and Co., who rely heavily on yards after the catch when moving the ball through the air. For the second year in a row, Demaryius Thomas is leading the league in YAC, currently posting a 7.1 yard average after the reception. If the Rams can sniff out those shorter passes and wrap up, it could go a long way in slowing the Broncos offense.

3. Capitalize on defensive opportunities

If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it 100 times: Peyton Manning doesn’t have the strongest arm in football. While his arm strength is certainly nothing to scoff at, his aerial dominance relies primarily on timing and accuracy. The former of those requires both the receiver and the quarterback to be on the same page… on the same sentence… on the same word. As a result, when pressure, coverage, or mental mistakes from the receivers disrupt that timing, there are usually a handful of opportunities for turnovers in the secondary. To channel our inner Dos Equis Most Interest Man in the World: The Broncos do not lose often, but when they do, it’s because they lost the turnover battle. Check their last three losses for evidence.

4. Establish the run early, and don’t go away from it

Being the “top ranked” anything in the NFL is often misleading. Currently the Broncos are technically the “top ranked” run defense in the league, allowing only 67.0 yards per game. That would be impressive out of context. However, when you consider that opponents are often down early and are forced to throw for the majority of the game, that low number is not necessarily surprising. In fact, opposing offenses have only attempted 189 rushes against the Broncos (lowest in the NFL). If the Rams want to win today, they’ll need to stick with the run for as long as possible, hopefully taking advantage of Denver’s propensity to send five rushers on every snap. Tre Mason has certainly shown he is capable of exploiting gaps in the second-level. He’ll need to continue that trend today.

5. Don’t “Austin Davis” in the fourth quarter.

Like him or not, Austin Davis has not been good at the end of games, particularly of late. After a catastrophic meltdown against the Arizona Cardinals that single-handedly turned a three-point game into a 31-14 blowout, Davis was benched and Shaun Hill was re-named the starter for the season. The longtime Detroit backup is arguably the one of the top backup signal callers in the league. He is proficient in reading defenses, understands the playbook and his hot reads, and, most importantly, is smart with the football. There are a lot of ways to loss to the Denver Broncos, but the easiest is to give Peyton Manning more opportunities to score.