It’s confusing enough for a veteran defensive signal-caller to separate the real from the, uh, nonsense as Peyton Manning goes through his many and varied gesticulations at the line of scrimmage. So imagine what a young middle linebacker like Jonathan Goff might have to go through Sunday.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see his eyes roll around in his head like a Vegas slot machine. But that’s not what he’s anticipating. Nor are his teammates.
They think he’s too smart to be sucked in by Manning’s dummy calls.
“He’s from Vanderbilt,” defensive end Justin Tuck told reporters of the third-year linebacker whose fiery play landed him the middle linebacker spot and the radio helmet out of training camp. “He’s probably smarter than you are.”
As sharp as Goff might be – and he’s pretty smart considering how well he’s picking up defensive coordinator Perry Fewell’s new system – there still remains the question of the general chaos Manning creates as he waves and signals changes on the fly in the Colts’ no-huddle style. Like any no-huddle, it’s not a hurry-up. But the way Manning runs it is so different than other quarterbacks simply because so much of what Manning does is more illusion than reality. Call it football’s version of sleight of hand. But whether Manning is pulling an ace from the deck, or a joker, is mostly guesswork.
Guessing right, Goff said, is a matter of film study.
“It’s all a matter of how intense the preparation is,” said Goff, who acquitted himself well with two tackles against the Panthers last week. “All that’s going to come with film study and making sure we’re on the same page. It’s more about worrying what we do moreso than worrying about all his hand motions.”
There happens to be a grain of truth to that, though it’s not the whole truth. The Giants, in fact, are worried about Manning’s pre-snap antics, so much so that they had scout team quarterback Sage Rosenfels throwing out an extra signal or two during team drills. The no-huddle, which Manning keeps steadily up-tempo, minimizes defensive adjustments. Though the Giants got a taste of that in the preseason with the Ravens, there’s a big difference between the way Joe Flacco ran his offense and how Peyton Manning runs his.
Besides, Flacco is no real threat to throw for 400 yards and three touchdowns, as Manning did last week while playing catchup with the Texans.
“Obviously, he’s one of the best quarterbacks in the league, but we can’t worry about his mannerisms and what he’s saying. We’ve got to worry about what we’re doing,” Goff said.
In doing so, however, one might wonder if Goff and his unit mates have tried to quantify, at least mentally, the baloney-to-beef ratio of Manning’s pre-snap ritual.
“I don’t think Peyton knows,” Tuck said. “I have no clue. They say he has a different tone when he’s being coy and when he’s being for real. But I don’t know.
“Do I think it’s important? I don’t think so. Regardless of what he checks into, we’ve got to be on the same page. As good as Peyton is, it’s not really about him. It’s about us. As long as we do what we need to do, and don’t let their style rattle us – one D-lineman running this way, the other running that, one DB covering this way and the other that – we’ll be fine.”
Goff, however, thinks he might have picked something up in the film room.
“You can kind of get a feel for it on film,” Goff said. “If you watch enough film, you can break down all the different types of keys, things like that. I mean, it’s football. You’re bound to get other guys tipping off what they’re about to do.”
That’s where Goff will truly have to be on his game. Though he’ll be off the field quite a bit – they’ll have to play a lot of nickel to deal with Dallas Clark, Reggie Wayne, Austin Collie, Pierre Garcon and Tony Gonzalez – when he’s on he’ll have to be especially wary of the run. Though they only ran Joseph Addai 10 times last week, the Colts will want to establish a viable ground game to make Manning’s passing even more dangerous.
Of course, putting Manning on his back a few times would certainly help the cause. That means staying aggressive, something Fewell has drummed into his unit’s heads since he took Bill Sheridan’s job in the offseason.
“If you focus on what (Manning) does, you take away from what we do,” Fewell said. “We want to focus on what we do and what we want him to see, and then let Peyton do what he always does.”
Fewell said the overall communications have improved since the no-huddle experience in Baltimore. It’ll have to take another step Sunday.
“We’re going to be better with it Sunday,” Fewell said. “That was a good preseason warmup for what we had to face.”
Now, it’s just a question of not allowing Peyton Manning to dismiss the Giants’ defense with a wave and a word.
Of baloney, that is.