How to stop NFL's top passers

Debating defensive tactics to slow the Broncos, Packers, Falcons and Saints

Updated: September 20, 2013, 1:01 PM ET
By Mike Sando and Matt Williamson |
ESPN Insider

Peyton Manning, Drew BreesGetty Images, USA TODAY SportsAttempting to stop Peyton Manning's Broncos or Drew Brees' Saints is no easy task.

Most defensive coaches and players are fighting a losing battle against offenses and the NFL in general. Each offseason, they operate under labor rules promoting what is most important to offenses (timing) and limiting what is most important to defenses (physical play). Then, when the season gets going, defenses live by playing rules increasingly shaded to protect quarterbacks and receivers. Meanwhile, colleges keep turning out quarterbacks with the skills to succeed in the pro game.

That context explains why multiple passing records have fallen during the first two weeks of the 2013 regular season, including the single-game TD passing record, which Peyton Manning tied by tossing seven scores in Week 1.

So what is a defense to do when facing the Denver Broncos, Green Bay Packers, Atlanta Falcons or New Orleans Saints? ESPN.com's Mike Sando and Matt Williamson search for answers to stop each of these offenses in their Week 3 conversation.

Slowing the Broncos

Sando: We excluded New England from this conversation because the Patriots have serious issues on offense right now. They rank 28th, one spot lower than the New York Jets, in yards per pass drop-back. Meanwhile, their former top receiver, Wes Welker, has three touchdown receptions in his first two games with the Broncos. But there is at least one potential problem, as the Broncos just lost left tackle Ryan Clady for the season. Is that a big deal?

Williamson: The deep-passing game requires offensive linemen to hold up longer, but at this stage, that isn't a big part of Manning's game. While we're looking for weaknesses, I'd say where Manning is worst is arm-strength throws. I don't think Peyton throws the ball well at this point in his career. If he has to drive deep outs or deep digs over the middle, or comebacks where you fit it into a tough spot -- or late in the year in Denver when the wind is kicking up -- that is a trouble spot.