SAN JOSE, Calif. – As football-style chess matches go, this one might be as good as it gets.
Peyton Manning vs. Luke Kuechly.
Manning is, of course, the grand master. At 39, he doesn’t have the physical skills that allowed him to establish himself as one of the best quarterbacks ever to play in the NFL. He struggles to throw. He does more managing than play-making. But the Denver Broncos’ quarterback is the league’s indisputable football genius, capable of seeing and anticipating and adjusting to whatever is happening across the line better than anyone at the position.
In Super Bowl 50, however, Manning could very well be squaring off against the one defensive player capable of holding his own when it comes to the cerebral part of the game. Kuechly is only 24, but the Carolina linebacker has an uncanny ability to make all of the right defensive calls and changes before the snap that allow him and the rest of the Panther defenders to consistently be in the right places at the right time.
Kuechly is ready to face one of the greatest challenges of his career in matching wits with Manning.
“There is definitely some back and forth,” he told reporters. “I think he is probably one of the best guys at the line of scrimmage who has been around it a long time. He can switch stuff and get them into plays that allow them to be successful. He sees defenses and knows where he is going to run the ball and where he is going to throw it. We have to be on top of our game because we know he is going to be on top of his. We will have a good plan, and I’m sure there will be some back and forth going on. … If there are some checking and changing that needs to be made, then we are going to make it.”
Kuechly can anticipate making a whole lot of changes Sunday. In many cases, Manning runs the offense from the line of scrimmage, using a wide variety of verbal and hand signals to tell his teammates where to go and what to do.
“He’s got an audible for just about everything it seems,” Kuechly said of Manning. “He has all his gyrations, hand motions and his words, but the biggest thing is doing your job. You have to do your responsibilities, play your game and that’s what it comes down to. Theoretically, we have a defense for everything. It’s just who is going to execute it better.”