- Calvin Watkins, ESPN Staff Writer
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IRVING, Texas -- The quarterback that's on an unheard of pace for basically every passing category visits AT&T Stadium on Sunday.
That same quarterback threw reporters off during a conference call with a comment about not being familiar with the Tampa 2 scheme run by the Dallas Cowboys' defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.
"I can't really say I'm that familiar with it," Denver quarterback Peyton Manning said Wednesday. "I don't know if that really holds true. This is an unfamiliar opponent. Still early in the season, so there's still some what-ifs. You never quite know how a team is going to play you. Playing a team that's tough at home that is capable of creating a lot of turnovers. They're good at getting you off the field on third down. They're good at creating sacks, so it's going to be a tough bunch and it's gonna be a real challenge in my opinion."
Few teams run the Tampa 2, but Manning is quite familiar with it. While spending his years in Indianapolis, Manning practiced against the Tampa 2 scheme run by former coach Tony Dungy. Dungy brought the Tampa 2 with him from Tampa Bay where he learned it under the teachings of Kiffin.
Manning is 2-0 against Kiffin in his career. In 2003, Manning threw for 386 yards and rallied the Colts with 28 fourth-quarter points to beat the Bucs, 38-35, in overtime. In 2007, Manning threw for 253 yards and two touchdowns in a 33-14 win.
The next season, Manning faced off against Kiffin's former defensive line coach, Rod Marinelli. This time, Marinelli is running the Tampa 2 for the Detroit Lions and Manning broke a 21-21 fourth quarter tie with 10 fourth quarter points in a 31-21 victory. Manning threw for 318 yards and just one touchdown in the victory.
Maybe Manning has forgotten what the Tampa 2 has looked like because it's been four seasons since he's played against it, but Kiffin hasn't picked up amnesia when it comes to the quarterback.
"He studies, most of the quarterbacks do, but there are a select few who really, really, they're all like coaches on the field," Kiffin said. "They say that, but he is special, now. He's been doing it so long. There is no look you can give him that he doesn't know. There are looks you can give quarterbacks, but not a guy who studies the game that hard."
The Cowboys' defensive issues of late might come to hurt them against a quarterback like Manning who spreads the ball around and doesn't spend a lot of time studying the field. Manning has a fast release, good for avoiding sacks, he's been taken down five times and for spreading the ball around. Manning has completed a pass to 10 different players this season and has completed pass plays of 78, 61, 44, 36 and 33 yards this season in addition to his short throws.
"This guy gets the ball out quick. Unbelievable. The ball is coming out quick," Kiffin said. "He's the best at getting it at quick. And the rush. You have to have good coverage and that's why it's called a coverage sack. You got to do both."
Coach Jason Garrett was critical of the Cowboys' pass rush in last week's loss against San Diego. There were coverage issues with nickle corner Morris Claiborne, who gave up four receptions, and linebacker Bruce Carter, who allowed two touchdown receptions. Kiffin is thinking of sitting Carter in the nickle defense for veteran Ernie Sims and Claiborne is trying to bounce back against one of the NFL's greatest players. Manning's abilities to throw the deep ball will test a Cowboys' defense that starts rookie J.J. Wilcox at one of the safety spots.
"The one thing I would say is nobody is building him up, he's doing it," Garrett said. "You know it's not like this is false bravado. It's on the tape. You are going to watch the tape and see how good they are, and see how well he is playing, and the weapons that he has and how he's using them and just how efficient and effective they've been. So, we are going to watch the tape and evaluate and put a plan together and we are going to go play."