BENGALS QB JOE BURROW VS. COLTS SECONDARY
Burrow heads to Peyton Place Sunday (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 19) to duel the Colts' No. 1 defense where Peyton Manning wrote the textbook two decades ago on how to overcome the trials and tribulations of a rookie franchise quarterback.
As Burrow worked on the field Wednesday in his first practice since last Sunday's fall-back-to-earth game in Baltimore to prepare for his sixth NFL start, Peyton Manning's dad checked in from New Orleans with some of the same soothing words Arche Manning used on his son every Monday morning during that bumpy ride that was 1998.
And ones he could have used himself on an October Monday 49 years ago when rookie Elisha Archie Manning III fired up a passer rating of 26.8 in the Saints' 28-6 loss in Atlanta in his sixth NFL start.
"Last Sunday could be kind of typical rookie game for a No. 1 pick," Archie Manning said. "It's a big transition. A big transition. I think Joe has handled it very well. Even though it was almost 50 years ago, my buddies and I, we've still got some stories from our rookie years."
Archie Manning has lived these rookie years from the top of the NFL Draft. Like Burrow, two of his sons went No. 1. Every Monday of that rookie year Peyton's Colts went 3-13, Archie, an overall No. 2 pick himself as the Ole Miss legend, would pick up the phone and ask him a bit tentatively, "How you doing?" He's kind of doing the same thing with Burrow, only now he can do it through a text. And on Wednesday Burrow revealed Archie not only touched base this week, but all the other weeks.
"That means a lot to not only me but my family as well," Burrow said.
This is the kind of a guy Archie is. He keeps in touch with a bunch of the quarterbacks that have worked his family quarterbacks camp. But a lot of times it's because they had a rough one. How about this one? Daniel Jones, the guy that replaced Eli Manning with the Giants, got a text this week, too. A few weeks back when he got hurt, so did Jets quarterback Sam Darnold.
"Just trying to be there for them," Archie Manning said. "I wanted Joe to work the camp and I wanted to meet his dad. We're both from small Mississippi towns and I knew he was a coach. I invited him, too, and Jim and I became friends, and Joe's mom. And I live in New Orleans, you can't help but follow LSU. I'm an Ole Miss fan, but you can't help but follow LSU. I think they had the greatest offense in the history of college football last year."
So Archie Manning has seen him plenty and you can punch his ticket on the Burrow Express.
"I think he checks every box. Every box," Archie said. "He's got size, he's athletic, he can move, he can escape, he can throw on the run. He's accurate with the football. He wants to be a great player. He has confidence. He knows what that takes. He's a hard worker."
Archie Manning asked who the Bengals have this week. "That won't be easy," he said, surprised the Browns beat the Colts last Sunday. They play defense. Archie and Peyton had plenty of conversations about NFL defense on those '98 Mondays.
"Dad, nobody is open," Archie remembers him saying. "He didn't mean the receivers weren't good enough to get open. He meant in this game that little crease is tight. You're open, but you're barley open and you're open for a split second. You've got to be on time. That's a big change, too."
The Colts haven't allowed many receivers to get open, a prime topic of conversation around Cincinnati this week after Burrow had just 10 completions to his wideouts in Baltimore. Indy's third-ranked rush defense is complemented by a top-ranked pass defense. The Colts' secondary has seven interceptions, two each from cornerbacks Xavier Rhodes and T.J. Carrie, both rated in profootballfocus.com's top 20 positional rankings.
Burrow knows he's seeing a different style of elite defense this Sunday. While the Ravens blitz uniquely, the Colts grind fundamentally.
"They do a great job of understanding their defense and the weaknesses of their defense," Burrow said before Wednesday's practice. "Every coverage has a weakness and it is usually finding the one on one and utilizing that leverage to find grass on the field and each individual player does a great job of understanding the weakness of the defense and changing how they play individual coverage based off each collective coverage."
Like Archie Manning says, "I know this. I'm sure he's learning something new every single week."
Burrow, already a Peyton-like media master who gives out just enough crumbs to make you think you're getting the whole loaf, gave an astute example of leverage from last week.
"I threw a post over the top and they were playing quarters coverage," Burrow said. "And that's what you want to do against quarters, but the corner played inside leverage and on top because he knew the weakness of that defense was throwing the post over the top. So, great defenses do that."
Burrow said Archie's text mentioned that Eli Manning had 0.0 passer rating in Baltimore when he was a rookie. In his fourth NFL start, Eli managed to complete just four of 18 passes for 27 yards.
"I know the Ravens play good defense. Good defense. Guess what? They have for a long time. That's when they had Ray Lewis and all that bunch," Archie Manning says. "We have the argument. I always said the greatest defense is the '84-85 Bears and I played against the great Steelers defense of the late' 70s. But Peyton says the Ravens in the early 2000s were the best."
Eli got sacked only twice that day, but Burrow got it seven times in Baltimore, meaning he's been sacked an NFL-leading 22 times. There are those comparing him to Peyton's battered successor in Indy, Andrew Luck, rather than Peyton.
"You always worry about that," Archie Manning says of the hits. "You can be smart when you're running, but sometimes in that pocket there's not a thing he can do about it. Except maybe pick up the beer tab for his offensive line. But you can't do that this year. He probably can't take his O-line to go get a beer."
Burrow gave himself heat for not getting rid of the ball fast enough in Baltimore. You can guess the coaches were telling him the same thing.
"You know, my eyes weren't great on Sunday. It's an understatement," Burrow said. "We didn't play very well as an offense but we're not panicking around here. It's a long season and we've been playing pretty well on offense the last three weeks, so we're not going to let one week of poor play determine the rest of the season."
Archie Manning is also looking at all five games and not the last one.
"Of the seven sacks last week, one or two might be on him. Who knows?" Manning said. "What I've seen from him and looking at his stats, he's playing smart football."
Here's another conversation Archie had with Peyton that rookie year:
"Peyton always had saying. There's a reason they had that No. 1 pick. And I'm not putting the Bengals down. I think the Bengals are on a good path. I really like their young coach and I know some of their staff. I know there are some players there. But you don't turn it around in pro football in a year's time. I really see it as a great opportunity for Joe."
Manning notes having a beer with his linemen isn't the only thing Burrow is missing from his rookie year.
"That's another reason I think Joe has done so well," Archie Manning says. "He didn't have the advantage of a minicamp or OTAs. I think he's doing just fine. I think the fans in Cincinnati should be excited about the future there."
But he knows all about rookie years and he'll keep letting Burrow know, too.
"It's just part of the process. You don't have to like it," Archie Manning says. "We always had a saying. Keep throwing wood. Just keep throwing wood."