Brady, Manning very difficult to game plan against

Sunday's matchup between New England and Indianapolis is really rare. This is a game where someone actually may have a point when he says of the two offenses, "You can't stop 'em, you can only hope to contain them."

Both teams are led by Hall of Fame-bound quarterbacks in their prime, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. And that's as good a place as any to try to start finding answers to the question: How do you (try to) stop them?

"To me, it starts with the quarterbacks," said Ron Rivera, the San Diego linebackers coach who faced the Patriots in September and the Colts in the Super Bowl last February, when he was defensive coordinator of the Chicago Bears. "You've got to do something to throw them off, distract them, get in their face.

"Whether it's being able to bring the pressure or confuse them in terms of your initial alignments (or) being patient ... They both thrive on the convulsion actions before the snap - lifting the leg, shooting the hands, the jerky actions all designed to get you to show your hand first."

Problem for the defenses in that: Brady and Manning rarely get pressured or confused.

"They've got two quarterbacks who can actually see the game the way the defensive coordinators see it," said Ozzie Newsome, the Baltimore Ravens' general manager. "When you're playing the Colts and Patriots, if a mistake is made (on defense), they capitalize on it. Their quarterbacks see it and they capitalize on it.

"It's not about tricks (on defense) because the two quarterbacks are too good."

Another AFC coach, who asked not to be identified by name, said the difficulty in building a defensive game plan was that, "Both of them can hurt you in so many different ways."

"I don't know that you can go into that game saying, 'We can stop them,'" he said. "What you really want to do is do everything you can to keep the score down and hope that your offense can score with them."

This coach pointed out that Washington last week seemed intent on preventing Moss from getting a big play. That part of the strategy worked well, with Moss limited to three catches for 47 yards. But the Patriots still eked out a 52-7 victory.

"Usually, in the NFL, the players are close enough in talent, if you have the right call, you can execute and sort of accomplish something, but both of those quarterbacks can take a defensive coordinator out of a game," the coach said. "You might have the perfect blitz call for what they run, or you might have the perfect coverage called, and the quarterback can recognize it and change it at the line of scrimmage.

"Everybody can design a defense that can (stop) a certain play or an offense that can beat a certain defense. They both have that trump card in the quarterbacks who can put their offense in perfect position against a certain defense."

Brady and Moss provided the evidence of that a couple weeks ago against Miami. Moss caught two long touchdown passes when he was bracketed in double coverage simply by out-jumping the defenders.

"It's so frustrating when you have the perfect (defensive) call on to stop what they're going to do, and the quarterback just lobs the ball in the air and (Moss) takes it away from those guys," the anonymous coach said.

History, however, tells us no team is unstoppable.

To get to the quarterbacks, Rivera said, the defenses would have to go through the receivers, "by being disruptive with (them)." Easy to say, hard to do. And Brady is tough to pressure, particularly in the shotgun, because he tends to get a little deeper than most quarterbacks and compensates for the longer dropback with a strong arm.

"You've got to be able to get your hands on their wide receivers and tight ends," Rivera said. "You've got to get up and re-route them. One thing their veteran receivers do very well is they understand spacing. When they curl up and run their routes against zone defenses, you never see them standing next to (a defensive player).

"That's what happened last year with Brady. He had a whole bunch of young receivers. They hooked up next to a defender. Now they have guys like (Wes) Welker. He knows how to find the open spaces."

On the other side, the questions about the Colts' offense concern (1) Marvin Harrison's injury troubles this year and (2) the Colts' instability at left tackle, where rookie Tony Ugoh replaced the retired Tarik Glenn.

"The key is the (Indianapolis) left tackle," said an AFC personnel executive who asked not to be identified by name. "How is he going to play? Who is going to play? Knowing (Bill) Belichick, he will focus on their Achilles heel and to me, (left tackle is) the Achilles heel right now, if there is one."

Newsome expects the two head coaches, Tony Dungy and Belichick, to have as much impact on the game as Manning and Brady. Maybe more.

Remember when ...

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There has been one regular season game in NFL history in which there were no punts: San Francisco-Buffalo in 1992, and there are some parallels with Sunday's game. The 49ers- Bills in 1992 matched two Hall of Fame quarterbacks, Steve Young and Jim Kelly, and two teams in the midst of unprecedented runs – the 49ers, who won at least 10 games for 16 years in a row and five Super Bowls in 14 years, and the Bills, who won four straight AFC championships.

That game produced 65 points and 1,086 yards of offense (fourth highest in NFL history at the time), including 852 passing yards (third highest in NFL history at the time) by the two quarterbacks. It is one of just two non-overtime games in NFL history in which both quarterbacks passed for more than 400 yards. They also threw three touchdown passes each. But there also were six turnovers in the game, one interception and two lost fumbles by each side.

After all that passing, however, Buffalo won, 34-31, scoring the winning touchdown on an 11-yard run by Thurman Thomas with 3:04 remaining. With a minute remaining, the 49ers' Mike Cofer missed a 47-yard field goal attempt that could have sent the game into overtime.

"You've got two of the smarter defensive head coaches," Newsome said. "I'm setting the table for those two guys to impact the game even moreso than Brady and Manning - not so much coming up with something, but having their team so well prepared that whatever the other team does, they'll be able to deal with it."

But the personnel director from another AFC team, who asked not to be identified, doesn't think it's possible to deal with everything these quarterbacks can do. At least not the way they are playing at the moment.

Brady, of course, is on a record pace with 30 touchdown passes in eight games, and the Patriots are on a record pace, averaging more than 41 points a game. Manning's numbers are not quite so outlandish, but the Colts still are averaging 32 points a game.

"Right now, I find it hard to believe that the quarterbacks will not be able to overcome whatever is thrown at them," the personnel man said.

He had all the right analogies. It's McEnroe-Connors, Ali-Frazier, Nicklaus-Palmer, Russell-Chamberlain.

There is, of course, another factor to the offenses, which tends to get overshadowed because of the brilliance of Brady and Manning and their receivers. It's called the running game.

Now, these are not teams that need to run the ball to set up the pass because they throw the ball so well under any circumstances. But Newsome believes the running game will be a big factor, and -- get ready for another football cliché. In this game, running really might help set up some big pass plays.

"The team that runs the ball the best will probably win," Newsome said. "One thing we know is that, if either one of those defenses has to do something to stop the run, then you are definitely setting up the offense to get a bunch of 1-on-1 outside with Reggie (Wayne) and Harrison or (Donte) Stallworth and Moss. That's the quickest way to get beat. You put the corners 1-on-1 with those guys, and they're going to lose some battles."

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