INDIANAPOLIS – You know who I wouldn't want to be this week for the Indianapolis Colts? It's an easy choice.
Greg Toler or Vontae Davis.
That doesn't mean the Colts cornerbacks won't embrace their chance to match wits and moves with Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning and his penchant for making corners look overmatched at best, downright silly at worst.
Toler and Davis sound like they're up for the challenge, even eager to see what they can do against Manning. Give them credit for that. They're both young, brash, unafraid to take risks and confident in what they can do.
But Manning has a way of humbling even the best of them, and he'll do everything he can to expose Toler's and Davis' weaknesses at 8:30 p.m. Sunday in Lucas Oil Stadium.
If they can avoid being in the future Broncos' video tribute to Manning, they'll have done their job.
“The closest thing I could compare him to is Tom Brady,” Davis said. “I played against him twice and he's another quarterback who's resilient and just going to attack you. I expect the same thing from Peyton, an attacking-style quarterback.”
Toler, too, understands what the Colts are up against. While Davis had never played against Manning, Toler has a bit of experience, having been an Arizona Cardinals rookie when Manning and the Colts beat the Cardinals 31-10 in 2009. Manning threw for 379 yards and four touchdowns in that game. He was picked off once.
“The small things count, penalties, getting great field position for our offense so those guys can have a chance to put the ball in the end zone,” Toler said. “Rattling Peyton and getting him off his throws, not showing your hand too early as far as scheme wise, moving around, trying to confuse him. He plays mind games with you as an offensive guy. He's a coach on the field, so if you show your hand too early he definitely can digest it and make plays.”
Manning is playing some of the best football of his career. Some analysts would even say this is his best, although after so many years of watching him do incredible things for the Colts, I'm less inclined to be that definitive.
It's safe to say Manning is much better than a year ago when he first returned to the field with the Broncos after missing the 2011 season with neck problems.
Manning's black-and-white numbers say it all: 178-of-240 passing (74.2 percent) for 2,179 yards, 22 touchdowns and only two interceptions. Passer rating is an imperfect stat, but even so he has a 128.8 rating, which would be the best of his career if it holds over 16 games.
Manning has four receivers with at least 30 catches and 350 yards: wide receivers Demaryius Thomas (37-528), Wes Welker (37-378) and Eric Decker (34-477) and tight end Julius Thomas (31-381).
“They've got a lot of good players around Peyton,” Davis said. “Wes Welker, Thomas, Decker. His job is not easy, but he has some weapons and that's our job – we have to limit him from making those plays and keep him from getting the ball to his receivers.”
Toler and Davis will be joined in the Colts secondary by veteran safety Antoine Bethea and the expected return of injured safety LaRon Landry. Given the amount of passing Manning will likely use, Colts defensive backs Delano Howell, Darius Butler, Cassius Vaughn and Josh Gordy will also get their chances at making plays.
“It's going to be a chess match, of course,” Bethea said. “He looks for his mismatches just like any other quarterback does. It's going to be tough. He might get us a few times, we might get him a few times, but for the most part, like I continue to say, we've got to go out there and play ball. When we get chances to make plays, we got to make our plays.”
Part of the success of the secondary will be whether Colts rush end Robert Mathis and players up front are able to bring some pressure on Manning.
That's always a tough assignment because no one reads a defense and gets rid of the ball quickly more consistently than Manning.
“Going into this game, we just have to make plays,” Toler said. “We know they're going to make plays. They do a good job, but we do a good job of keeping guys out of the end zone. We have to know they're going to make plays and move on to the next play and try to disrupt the timing between Peyton and his guys.”
All defensive backs must have short memories. They have to be able to get burned, feel the frustration and let it go because the next play is going to come soon enough.
With all that surrounds this game, Manning will be ready to unleash his entire repertoire on the Colts defense.
“Hat's off to those guys, they're playing great football,” Toler said. “But I think we're our biggest challenge. If we play our style of football, I don't think no one can be on the field with us.”
You have to love Toler's confidence. Defensive backs need some swagger to survive. Still, I can't imagine a tougher job than the one they face Sunday night.