Behind Enemy Lines: How to slow down manning

The 49ers face one of toughest tasks in the NFL this week: going to Denver to try and beat five-time MVP Peyton Manning and the Broncos. We asked our Broncos insider on how to slow down the Sheriff.

The 49ers travel to Denver on a short week Sunday coming off their 31-17 win over the Rams Monday night with a banged up defense.

Patrick Willis appears unlikely to play after suffering a toe injury in the win, while rookie defensive back Jimmie Ward (quad) and Tramaine Brock (toe) are also dealing with injuries.

San Francisco goes against five-time MVP Peyton Manning Sunday night, who leads the the NFL's third-ranked scoring offense and fourth-best passing attack.

We spoke to Mile High Huddle lead publisher Chad Jensen about what it will take for the 49ers to slow down Manning and the Broncos vaunted offense.

Niners Digest: Chad, the Broncos are scoring on 75 percent of their red zone tries, predictably the best rate in the league (tied with the Raiders and Falcons). With all of those weapons at Manning’s disposal, what’s the best way to slow them down and keep them out of the end zone?

Jensen: The best way to slow up the Broncos in the redzone is drop eight guys into zone coverage. Yes, I said eight guys. The Jets did this with success in Week 6. Force Manning to go through every read, and get his happy feet going and hope that your three rushers can get there.

Be willing to accept that Manning might check into a run play. Ronnie Hillman is no LeSean McCoy. If he gets 4 yards, so be it. But don't blitz in the red zone, and drop as many guys into coverage as you can.

ND: How is Denver utilizing their running backs Hillman and Montee Ball? Are they being used in similar ways or do they have differing skill sets?

Jensen: The Broncos are currently striving for "balance" on offense. The offensive line has struggled to open running lanes for the ball carriers thus far. The primary reason is because they don't practice it as much. It's not the focal point of their offense. And when Manning checks to a run at the line of scrimmage, often times blocking assignments, and the cohesive way they're communicated among the linemen, fall by the wayside.

What Hillman has done that Ball has not, is he's been more decisive hitting the hole. He doesn't wait for a crease. He gets downhill right away. And his speed has allowed him to explode through the hole and get to the second level. Ball has struggled in that regard.

ND: How are teams defending Manning this season? He doesn’t complete many throws when he’s pressured, but he gets rid of the ball quicker than anyone. Are teams trying to blitz him or hanging back in coverage?

Jensen: We've seen a combination of the two. The Cardinals blitzed seemingly on almost every play. The Jets dropped back, daring them to run. The most effective method is a happy medium. Primarily, you want to figure out a way to pressure Manning inside. That's where he struggles the most.

Given the 49ers are likely going to be without three All-Pro linebackers, do see this as a pass-heavy or run-heavy game plan for the Broncos offense?

Jensen: At home, pass all the way. Again, the team is striving for balance on offense, but their forte is their aerial attack. Don't expect that to change on Sunday. The 49ers have to figure out a way to neutralize Julius Thomas. Over the middle and down the seams, he can be a killer.

Perrish Cox will get all he can handle in Demaryius Thomas. But just when you think you have their No. 1 guy locked down, Manning will light up Emmanuel Sanders. It's a puzzle for defensive coordinators.

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