It's the most critical decision a defensive coordinator must make in any week leading up to a game against Peyton Manning. Rush or cover?
The Jaguars, of course, are facing that decision this week. They chose to cover in their last meeting against Manning and the Colts. They chose not to blitz, instead, getting as many defenders as possible into the passing lanes. It's a strategy built on denying the big play and forcing Manning to drive the ball long distances.
Too often in that game, however, that's exactly what Manning did. The Colts scored on touchdown drives of 66 and 76 yards in the first half in accumulating an insurmountable 17-0 lead. The Jaguars' defensive strategy in that 29-7 loss, coupled with the loss of quarterback David Garrard in the second quarter, resulted in more than a nine-minute time of possession advantage for the Colts.
So, what will the Jaguars do this time around?
"It's very important," defensive end Paul Spicer said of the need to get pressure on Manning. "That's the key to our success and you have to get in his face and get him out of his rhythm. If you don't, it's going to turn into a seven-on-seven game and it'll turn ugly for us."
Spicer leads the Jaguars in sacks with six. He'll lead the charge up front, but most would expect the Jaguars to have to blitz their linebackers and defensive backs to get the kind of pressure on Manning that would truly disrupt him.
"Oh, yeah, I think we can," defensive tackle Grady Jackson said when asked if the Jaguars can be successful at pressuring Manning. "We have to rattle him and re-set the line of scrimmage."
Manning is 8-3 lifetime against the Jaguars. He has been sacked eight times in those games.
"You have to get him to move. If his feet get comfortable in the pocket, he'll pick you apart. Watching film, when he's moving around he throws bad balls," Jackson said.
Is blitzing him too risky?
"I don't think it is. New England did it. The Chargers did it. You gotta rattle him," Jackson added.
In a playoff loss to Pittsburgh two years ago, Manning was blitzed often and sacked five times. In a loss to San Diego that season that ended the Colts' quest for a perfect record, Manning was sacked four times. In an AFC title game loss to the Patriots in the 2003 season, Manning was sacked four times.
This much is known for sure: If you can get pressure on him, your chance of winning increases significantly. The risk is that if you don't get "home" with the blitz, you leave yourself vulnerable in coverage and Manning will make big plays and move the ball more quickly down the field. The risk in not blitzing, of course, is that he'll move the ball down the field more slowly, thus, dominating time of possession in achieving the same result.
That's how most teams continue to defense Manning, Colts coach Tony Dungy said. There remains a fear of Manning that causes teams to select the less dangerous option.
"They're playing not to give up big plays in the passing game," Dungy said. "We like to see people blitzing and play man coverage because we have people who can beat that. I think people play to their personality. I don't think you can make a steady diet of blitzing if you're not a blitzing team."
So, will Dungy get his wish on Sunday, or will the Jaguars play it safe, as they have tended to do in the past against Manning?