By Jeff Legwold
Coming into Sunday's game against the Broncos, Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman had targeted wide receiver Vincent Jackson 95 times this season, or just over 20 more times than any other player in the team's offense.
So, the Broncos did what the Broncos do in those kinds of cases. They asked Champ Bailey to cover somebody who is often bigger and younger to take that option off the quarterback's wish list.
And while Peyton Manning's touchdown passes and Von Miller's quest for the NFL's defensive player of the year award are front and center these days, Bailey's work continues to be the stuff of a team with designs on much more than a division title.
When Bailey was matched up on Jackson in one-on-one situations, which was for most of the game, Jackson had one reception for 12 yards Sunday. And that catch didn't come until the third quarter was drawing to a close.
Jackson had another catch in zone coverage, away from Bailey, and his third and final catch of the game came with Bailey having already been taken out of the game because the Broncos were protecting a two-touchdown lead facing a three-day turnaround to play in Oakland on Thursday night.
"Vincent's one of the toughest matchups because he plays hard all the time," Bailey said. "He's not one of those guys where if he's not getting the ball, he's out there running slower or anything. He's a beast."
Asked if a younger quarterback — Freemen is in his fourth season — gets more frustrated when his favorite option isn't an option any longer, Bailey said:
"Probably, if you don't have your best player involved early it does get a little frustrating, because that's when those guys want to get something going. I don't count on that to help me so much, but that's the goal to take it out early, but I just try, every play, not to let him catch it on that play and then go on to the next one."
The Broncos are currently third in the NFL in total defense (yards allowed per game) and ninth in points allowed. That means statistically the group is not yet the best Manning has played alongside of in his career. The Colts were No. 3 in yards allowed and No. 1 in scoring defense in 2007 to go with No. 11 in yards allowed and No. 2 in scoring defense in 2005.
But the Broncos have the explosiveness in the pass rush to create defensive touchdowns — five this year and counting — and they have Bailey.
And that's the kind of combination Manning has never had.
Source: Denver Post