One of the biggest questions throughout the NFL during the off season was would Manning return as the quarterback everyone remembered him as, or would the multiple neck surgeries have Manning returning as a shell of his former self.
After Sunday’s victory over Pittsburgh, it’s clear Manning is still a dangerous quarterback. Fortunately for the Falcons, Manning has crossed the paths of both Falcons head coach Mike Smith and defensive back Asante Samuel a combined 21 times.
With Brent Grimes out for the remainder of the season, the other Atlanta cornerbacks will have to work extra hard to slow down Manning. Starters Asante Samuel and Dunta Robinson will be relying on backups Chris Owens and Dominique Franks to step up. For the time being, it looks as though Owens may become the new starting nickel corner for Atlanta.
Asante Samuel will have to become the Falcons de facto shutdown corner for Atlanta as the Falcons play their home opener this Monday. While that may sound like a difficult task for any defensive back, Samuel knows he can get the job done.
There are two main reasons Samuel should be able to limit Manning’s passing game. First, as a member of both the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles, Samuel has faced Manning 11 times. Second, in all of those match-ups against Manning, Samuel has a good track record of defending his throws.
When Manning and the Colts met Samuel and the Patriots in the 2006 NFL Playoffs, Samuel intercepted a Manning pass and returned it for one of his four postseason touchdowns. In an interview on D-Block (a weekly linebacker show hosted on the Falcon’s official website), Samuel said that play was one of his career highlights.
In the 11 meetings against Manning, Samuel has three interceptions and 11 pass deflections. Samuel’s other two interceptions against Manning came in 2010 in the same game when Samuel was a member of the Eagles.
While it’s nice that Samuel knows he can shut down Manning, the rest of the defense should also know that their head coach also has a good track record against Manning. Mike Smith spent five years as the Jacksonville Jaguars defensive coordinator. Being in the AFC South Division, Smith faced Manning twice a year, for a total of ten games. In all ten games, Smith’s defensive until was able to hold the Colts high-powered offense to less than 30 points.
Smith’s record against Manning may not have been that impressive (3-7 in Jacksonville), but the games were typically kept close. Manning and his offense were held to under 25 points in seven of the games and averaging 22.5 points over all ten encounters. With the Falcons just scoring 40 points in their season opener, 23 points doesn’t seem like a such a tall order for the Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and the rest of the Falcons offensive unit.
Smith isn’t just familiar with Manning, he is also very knowledgeable of the Broncos defensive coordinator, Jack Del Rio. Del Rio was the head coach of the Jaguars when Smith was the defensive coordinator.
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Matthew Asher is a freelance writer covering all things Atlanta sports related. His work can be found on Examiner.com.