|New England Patriots v. Denver Broncos|
After last season's absence as a member of the Indianapolis Colts, Peyton Manning leads the Denver Broncos into Foxboro today to renew his rivalry with the New England Patriots Tom Brady. Manning hasn't made the perfect start to life with his new club, but he will be more motivated for this game than any previous, while the Patriots will respect his abilities as they always have.
Both sides enter the game at 2-2 coming off of massive victories in Week 4. While the Patriots were sweeping past the Buffalo Bills, Manning was leading his Broncos easily past the Oakland Raiders. The Raiders and Bills proved to be inferior opposition to both sides, but that shouldn't be the case in this game.
The Patriots have already lost at home to the Arizona Cardinals, so they will be desperate to win this game. However, the Broncos have similar motivation because they have failed to overcome the two teams on their schedule so far with winning records—the Housotn Texans and Atlanta Falcons. Neither Manning or Brady are used to being under .500, but one of them will have to be for the second time this season at the end of today.
Despite a strong showing on defense last week, large portions of the Patriots success in Buffalo could be attributed to the play of Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick repeatedly missed opportunities deep against the Patriots secondary and turned those plays into interceptions. While Manning has had issues with throwing the ball deep this year, most notably his three interception first quarter in Atlanta, he should make better decisions than Fitzpatrick did last week.
If Manning is on form, he has the weaponry outside to cause the Patriots problems. The Patriots secondary particularly struggles with more physical receivers. In Demaryius Thomas, the Broncos have one of the most physically gifted receivers in the whole league. Thomas will be a constant threat in jump ball situations while also having the speed to take advantage of any space he is given.
The Patriots were gashed repeatedly last week by the Bills' TJ Graham as Chan Gailey used screen passes early to great effect before stretching the field deep. Thomas has excelled in screen play this season and there's no reason to believe that the Patriots will be able to stop him this week. If the Patriots feel the need to double up on Thomas, Eric Deker proved last week that he is more than capable of an increased workload. Deker had seven receptions for 79 yards, a feat he'd happily repeat today as Manning spread the ball around to his receivers.
With the Patriots defense likely focusing on Manning, the Broncos will look to use Willis McGahee often to either take advantage of seven man fronts, or draw extra defenders towards the line of scrimmage. McGahee has proven to be an ageless runner this season while rookie Ronnie Hillman and Lance Ball were both involved last week. The Patriots may be tempted to revert to a 3-4 front in order to adjust to the Broncos' balanced attack. Rob Ninkovich's ability to play with his hand on the ground or standing up affords the team that flexibility.
On offense the Patriots shouldn't have an easy outing today. At least, not as easy as they did last week. The Patriots were able to dominate the Buffalo Bills' front seven last week as the team's much celebrated defensive line proved to be more style than substance. Even without Logan Mankins the Patriots were able to consistently push the Bills around in the running game while protecting Brady with relative ease.
The Broncos bring two relentless edge rushers to Foxboro in the forms of Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil. Miller will spend time at linebacker and defensive end as the Broncos look to pressure Brady, but his role will likely depend on the health of the Patriots' tight ends. Both Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez are listed as questionable entering the game. Furthermore, Mike Hoomanawanui, one of two backups at the position, is also questionable after suffering a concussion.
The Patriots actually have a very lengthy injury list which includes last week's breakout star at running back, Brandon Bolden. Bolden is dealing with a knee issue and his status is unclear. Along with Bolden and the tight ends, the Patriots are also sweating the health of Shane Vereen, Logan Mankins, Nick MacDonald and Sebastien Vollmer while Julian Edelman has already been ruled out of the game.
Comparatively the Broncos are expected to be at full strength as only a handful of players are listed on the injury report as probable. The Patriots injury hit roster wasn't exposed last week, but this week's matchup is a much more tasking one when those losses could prove to be the difference in the outcome of the game.