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News Article | Jan 11, 2013 | by Eric Wright

Breaking Down the Divisional Round Part 1



This week, we get to watch some of the best quarterback and receivers in football go at it. For the cornerbacks that have to defend these players, everything is about matchups. Different people have different strengths and weaknesses.

You also have to take into account the bigger picture schematically -- the way you go about defending these guys, the different coverages you can play. There’s so much that goes into gameplanning to stop these guys. We don’t play man-coverage every play.

What I’ll do here is let you know the strengths of each player and their team’s offense as I see it, and how that may effect each game.

RAVENS VS BRONCOS

When you talk about this matchup, you have to start with Peyton Manning. Peyton is a student of the game, and he’s so smart that most times, they’re going to be in the best play call. Nine times out of ten, he’s going to guess right as to what you’re doing on defense. I think he’s that smart. You can tell he obviously puts a lot of time into studying tendencies and opponent film. It could be the littlest thing that you may not even think you do. That’s the thing he’s looking for. 

You can tell [Peyton] obviously puts a lot of time into studying tendencies and opponent film. It could be the littlest thing that you may not even think you do. That’s the thing he’s looking for. 

There are some things that all quarterbacks look for: safety rotation, linebacker positioning and different stuff like that. He studies even deeper. If he can get a tip off of a cornerback standing a certain way, he’s going to use it. His preparation is extreme, and it’s proven to be the difference in making him one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game.

Those little things help you tremendously in anticipating what could potentially happen within a play. But going up against somebody like that, you have to be totally disciplined in what you’re doing, because they’re going to get you anyway. They’re going to make plays. But you don’t want to give them anything because of lack of focus and lack of discipline. If you stay focused it’s going to put you in position to make the plays you should make. That’s the only way you can go about it.

He’s not going to miss when you mess up. Some quarterbacks you may mess up and for whatever reason they don’t see it, but with Peyton, if you don’t push back far enough in your depth in one of your zone drops, he’s going to get you. That’s what you’re dealing with when you play elite quarterbacks like a Peyton Manning.

The Broncos have some good targets for him, too. Eric Decker is sort of a guy that no one really knew about, but even last year, he stepped on the scene and made his presence felt. Now that Peyton is over there, he’s been spreading the ball around nicely, but I think it’s really benefitted Decker. He’s a quality wide receiver, and a quarterback like Peyton really highlights his ability as a route-runner.

On the other side, you have Anquan Boldin, who had a huge game for the Ravens last week. He’s a really strong guy who is ultra competitive. His route-running is really good, and he’s strong at the reception point. So he does a great job of hauling in the ball wherever it is, whether it’s going across the middle or going up for jump balls. He always has a legitimate shot at coming down with the ball because not only is he a bigger body, but he’s really strong.

PACKERS VS 49ERS

When you’re playing against a guy like Aaron Rodgers, you just have to be as sound as possible in your coverage responsibilities, and as a defense in general.

Rodgers is just a really competitive guy, and he plays with a borderline arrogance. I think he knows how good he is. He has tremendous knowledge of the game, and more importantly, he has a tremendous knowledge of his offense and the system that they’re running.

He has a great knowledge of where the ball should go, and how he should deliver it. He’s one of the best red zone passers in the game. He can throw all the different combinations of fades, and every red zone throw you can think of. I’m sure you can probably put a highlight film together of him throwing these passes and nine times out of 10, the defender has no shot of even getting to the ball and that’s regardless of the coverages. You see guys draped all over his receivers and he still finds a way to get them the ball in the perfect place.

You always have to play as technically sound as possible when you against those good passers, and try to make the plays that come to you. They’re not always going to be 100 percent right and their balls aren’t going to be perfect all the time. That’s when you make your plays. With Peyton Manning, with Aaron Rodgers, you have to remain disciplined, and you’re going to make your share of plays.

You cannot allow [the Packers] easy plays like those big pass plays. They have the ability to go the long hard way and put together long drives, but they do a good job of getting those explosive plays and making it easier on themselves.

Rodgers has a lot of talent around him too. Greg Jennings is a good route runner, and I think being in that offense with Rodgers for a number of years, they’ve developed the rapport to where he can make big plays for them. Rodgers relies on him to make those plays. He can run any route on the tree because of his skill set. He has the speed to put pressure on you, and he might go deep. He also has really reliable hands. He’s a solid and consistent threat for them.

You cannot allow them easy plays like those big pass plays. They have the ability to go the long hard way and put together long drives, but they do a good job of getting those explosive plays and making it easier on themselves. Going up top to Jordy Nelson or big plays to James Jones, who has been doing a great job for them this year. They have so many threats that you have to play as sound as possible, and just make them do it the hard way. But it’s easier said than done. They are an explosive offense. They have the weapons and the ability to put up those three or four-play drives where they just hit a big one, and score a lot of points.

As many of people that follow me know, I’m from the Bay Area and grew up a huge 49ers fan. Now that I’m in the league, I don’t follow them like I would if I wasn’t in the league. But I watch their defense more than anything because my good friend Dashon Goldson plays for them, and that’s a guy that I’m really close with. So when I do watch them, I just watch their defense.

If we’re playing similar opponents or we see some things in studying that may help, sometimes we talk to each other. I think that’s pretty standard throughout the league. Any time you’re trying to win a game, you look to whatever you can to gain that edge.

I’ll be back in San Francisco this weekend, and I might get a chance to feel the pulse of the city a little bit, and see how people feel about the Niners.

To read Eric's take on Sunday's games, click here.

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