But Manning’s record over Ryan isn’t just about personnel issues. Manning has consistently laid Ryan bare by preying on his bluster, punishing him for his habit of trying to buffalo quarterbacks with blitzes. As NBC analyst Rodney Harrison pointed out, “It took Peyton probably right around a quarter to really figure out exactly how they were trying to attack him and what defenses they were in.” In six games against Ryan’s schemes Manning has thrown for 1,513 yards, and 12 touchdowns to just two interceptions. He’s simply not fooled by Ryan. There’s no tricking Manning, no faking him out, no stampeding him. “It’s probably impossible to do with this guy,” Ryan admits.
Manning studies too exhaustively; he crosses every T and aces every test. He’s so thorough that he even went back and studied tape of the defenses Ryan’s father Buddy ran with the Chicago Bears. He identifies every tic and tendency, and when the blitz comes, he finds the single coverage and preys on it.
“He looks at everything and that’s the one thing about Peyton you have to respect,” Harrison says. “He looks at your feet. He can tell if you’re a young defensive back, if you’re playing man-to-man, if you’re playing zone, if you’re standing high, if your hips are high, he can look at those different types of things and know if you’re playing man or zone and he will exploit you.”
Manning brought the same sharp perception to handling Ryan’s attempt to bait him with this week the “personal” remark. Obviously, Ryan hoped for some sort of response from Manning that might excite his defenders. But Manning was too disciplined, too focused. “They’re as good as advertised,” Manning said. He went on to praise Ryan’s schemes for their complexity.
In fact, when the Jets aren’t dealing with tangential commotions, they just might be as good as advertised — they might even be almost as good as Ryan says. They’ve averaged 31.3 points in the last three games as 24-year-old quarterback Mark Sanchez has made the leap to brilliance despite a sore shoulder, and their 304 points allowed is sixth lowest in the league. And for once, they may catch Manning vulnerable, given how injury-depleted the Colts are, with 17 players out, including his biggest middle-of-the-field targets, Dallas Clark and Austin Collie.
But as even Ryan concedes, “It’s a lot easier to dream about it, talk about it and think about it.” Now, he says, “We have to just go out and do it.”