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Wade Makes Peyton Super Again

Wade Makes Peyton Super Again
Former Bills Coach's Mastery of Brady Gives Manning Last Chance

So, as you might have heard (and certainly will approximately 2,384 times in the run-up to Super Bowl 50), Peyton Manning is going back to the Big Game one more time.

He should really buy something nice for Wade Phillips.

If not for the positively brilliant game plan designed and implemented by the former Buffalo Bills head coach last Sunday against New England, Manning’s role in the Feb. 7 telecast from Santa Clara would be limited to his trademark 30-second aw-shucks appearances endorsing insurance, colored sugar water and crappy pizza.

That Manning’s rotting corpse was even on the field against the Patriots stands as a testament to the job done all year by Phillips and the most dynamic defense fielded by the Broncos since the Orange Crush carried another feeble Denver offense to Super Bowl XIII in January 1978.

Phillips’ defense was, without any statistical dispute, the National Football League’s best in 2015. The Broncos gave up the fewest yards overall and the fewest passing yards, while finishing third against the run. They led the league with 52 quarterback sacks, without exposing themselves to the big plays that can result when the pass rush doesn’t get there. No defense gave up fewer passes of 40 yards or more than the five yielded by Denver. In case you were wondering, the Bills, as coached up by Rex Ryan, finished second-from-last with 21 sacks, while giving up 11 40-plussers to tie for 17th in the rankings.

As impressive as they were in the traditional statistical categories, which do not take into account game situation, field position or anything else besides pure counting of yards, Denver was even better by the more sophisticated analytic numbers. Rather than attempt to accurately paraphrase the Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) system devised by Pro Football Outsiders, the most widely cited Moneyball-For-Football metric, we’ll simply quote

“It takes every single play during the NFL season and compares each one to a league-average baseline based on situation. DVOA measures not just yardage, but yardage towards a first down: Five yards on third-and-4 are worth more than five yards on first-and-10 and much more than five yards on third-and-12. Red zone plays are worth more than other plays. Performance is also adjusted for the quality of the opponent…Because DVOA measures scoring defenses are better when they are negative.”

The Broncos led the league in Defensive DVOA, as well as Weighted Defense, which puts more emphasis on games played later in the season, when more is at stake. Again, as a point of comparison, Buffalo finished 24th and 29th in those two categories.

The numbers, impressive as they are, don’t come close to capturing how dominant the Broncos looked throttling Tom Brady for most of the AFC title game. Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware didn’t just seem to be hurrying, flustering and/or flattening Brady on just about every pass attempt—they really were. According to Bill Barnwell of, Denver hit Brady 20 times and made him hurry at least 10 other times.

And they did it without frequently blitzing linebackers or defensive backs, a tactic long a vital part of Phillips’ defensive approach. Instead, Phillips positioned the likes of Danny Trevathan, Brandon Marshall, Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward to jam New England’s receivers at the line and smother their short routes, denying Brady the quick options he has been using to thwart pass rushes for a decade-and-a-half.

Phillips even used a three-man rush on 14 pass attempts, according to Barnwell’s ciphering, confusing Brady to the degree that he managed just four completions for 41 yards in those situations, while getting sacked once and throwing an interception to Miller, the fearsome pass rusher who had dropped into pass coverage on the play.

Hear that, Mario Williams?

Phillips’ success with Denver comes after spending a year out of football, just the second time he was without a job for a full season since 1976, when he started his NFL coaching career running the defensive line for his father, Bum Phillips, with the Houston Oilers.

His masterpiece against New England seems to have generated more media praise than any achievement across those 40 seasons, which has to be especially gratifying for a guy who got barbecued locally during his three-year stint as head coach in Buffalo and nationally throughout three-plus seasons running the Dallas Cowboys.

Given Manning’s physical decline and Denver’s general offensive struggles (the Broncos have been outgained by their two playoff opponents), Phillips will need to produce another pièce de résistance to give his team a chance against Cam Newton and Carolina, which was a five-point favorite at press time.

That’s a far more likely route to a Denver win than a suddenly revitalized Manning. Both Phillips and Manning are scions of 1970s NFL legends, it’s the 68-year-old Son of Bum (as he self-identifies on his highly likable Twitter account) who remains at the top of his game.

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