DENVER - Last week, during a conference call with the Philadelphia media, Peyton Manning claimed to have only a vague knowledge of the Eagles' defense.
He suggested that the short week of preparation caused by the Broncos' "Monday Night Football" appearance against the Raiders had forced him to ditch his normally thorough game-preparation plan, and read the CliffsNotes version of the Eagles' defense.
Even the Eagles were thinking the Hall of Fame-bound quarterback might not be at the top of his game against them because of the short week.
"We were hoping he'd be a little off today," cornerback Cary Williams said. "He wasn't."
No, he wasn't. Manning looked like a guy who had been studying the Eagles' defense for weeks. He looked like a guy who knew every move Williams and his teammates made before they even made it.
"He's been around," Williams said. "You know he's going to make his throws. He's going to get his guys that he wants to get open. He's going to find those matchups. Unfortunately for us, he found them."
Manning put a merciless beating on defensive coordinator Bill Davis' struggling unit, completing 28 of 34 passes for 327 yards and four touchdowns in an ugly, 52-20 Eagles loss. It was the most points given up by the Birds since the Giants put up 62 points against them 41 years ago.
"They were hitting on all cylinders today," Davis said after his unit gave up a staggering 35 first downs to Manning and the Broncos, 19 through the air.
"We had a couple of nice stops in the first half. But we didn't get our defenses executed in the second half. We ran into a pretty good buzz saw today. He outexecuted us.
"In the second half, we threw some new stuff at him. We changed up. The guys gave everything they had. He was just better than us today. We've got to regroup and focus on the Giants."
The Eagles have given up 138 points and 1,787 yards in their first four games. Manning's four touchdown passes brings the total they have given up to nine, which puts them on pace to give up 36 TD passes, which would be three more than the franchise-record 33 they allowed last year.
Opposing quarterbacks have a 107.2 passer rating and a .702 completion percentage and are averaging 8.1 yards per attempt.
"We only have one way to go," Davis said. "We have to get better. Everything about the defense has to improve. We know exactly where we are and who we are. We've got to just put our head down and put all our focus on the Giants."
You would think the 0-4 Giants, who are quarterbacked by the other Manning brother, would be the perfect remedy for what's ailing Davis' defense. Eli already has thrown nine interceptions and has an abysmal .563 completion percentage and 69.1 passer rating. If the defense can't find their mojo next Sunday in the Meadowlands against this guy, it never will.
Davis insisted last night that the defense's horrible performance yesterday is not because of a lack of talent. That's his story and he's sticking to it.
"Yes, we do. We have enough talent," he said. "We just have to keep getting better at the scheme that we're playing.
"We have a lot of season left, a lot of football left. Today's a hard one to swallow. We got whipped. But we've got to take it like pros and move on.
"We have to get better one week at a time. I know I keep saying the same thing. But we have to grow together, build it together and work at it until we're playing at the level we want to play at. Right now, we're far from it."
The Eagles had absolutely no answers for Peyton and his receivers. He found the matchups he wanted and exploited them. Demaryius Thomas had nine catches for 86 yards and two touchdowns. Wes Welker had seven catches for 76 yards and two touchdowns. Eric Decker had five catches for 88 yards. Tight end Julius Thomas had four catches for 43 yards.
In losses to San Diego and Kansas City, the Eagles had trouble getting off the field on third down. Yesterday, they couldn't even get Manning in third-down situations.
When he called it a night early in the fourth quarter and was replaced by Brock Osweiler, the Broncos had just five third downs.
In the second and third quarters, Manning engineered three 80-yard touchdown drives. A total of 29 plays and the Broncos didn't face one third-down situation. On those three drives, Manning completed 13 of 14 passes.
"This really sucks, man," said slot corner Brandon Boykin. "We work 8 to 12 hours a day, 6 days a week for this. When you don't do what you want to do, it's not a good feeling. We demand more of ourselves than this. It wasn't good."
Just two of Manning's 34 attempts traveled more 20 yards. He beat the Eagles with short and intermediate body punches. That's what the Eagles wanted him to do. But that strategy requires solid tackling and preventing receivers from gaining yards after the catch. At the moment, the Eagles are one of the poorest-tackling teams in the league.
"All of their routes are option-routes," Boykin said. "So if you're covering them inside, they're going to go out. Peyton is a coach on the field every play. You have to be at your best to stop him. They're just on a roll right now.
"We'll be fine. We always bounce back. We'll move forward from this. We know we still have so much potential. We just need to put it together like we did the first game. If we do that, we'll be fine."
They have Eli and the 0-4 Giants next week. Then they have the 0-4 Bucs and their rookie quarterback, Mike Glennon, the following week. If there ever was a chance to turn things around, this is it.
"We didn't play well, simply put," Williams said. "Peyton Manning has seen everything, been through everything. We're a defense that's still trying to gel, still trying to get a feel for how one another plays. Trying to get a feel for what each other sees out there and how we're going to react.
"It's going to take a little while for that to happen. We just have to find a way to get stops. And the last 3 weeks we haven't been able to."
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