Patriots Preview - Brady vs. Manning
Friday, October 05, 2012
It's easy to simply say it'll be "Tom against Peyton" this Sunday.
Actually, it'll be quite a bit more than just a battle of NFL premier quarterbacks when the Patriots return to Gillette Stadium to face the Denver Broncos. To begin with, the two signal-callers never actually have to play against each other, since each is a quarterback for his offense (if you were wondering, Tom Brady has won eight of 12 previous games against Manning-led teams). And, future Hall-of-Famer Peyton Manning is leading a new team for the first time in his storied career...after missing the entire 2010 season sitting out with a neck injury. In the past, the Patriots always knew they were in for a test when facing Manning and the Indianapolis Colts.
Is it the same with #18 playing for a different team?
"He's playing at a high level, yeah," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said this week. "Looks pretty good to me. Everything's good, his mechanics are good, his decision-making is good, he handles the team well, and all the little things: footwork, ball handling, mechanics. He's pretty good."
"I think he's someone that I've always looked up to and admired, and I respect the way he plays the position, and the way he works, the way he leads," Brady added. "He's been a phenomenal player. We played against him for a long time against the Colts, it seemed like every year."
In reality, however, New England's match-up with Denver will probably come down to play in areas other than at quarterback. Defensively, it's always a challenge for the Patriots when facing a Manning-led offense, and that won't change this week. Denver has plenty of ability, just like Manning had in Indy, with running back Willis McGahee, and receivers Brandon Stokley, Demaryius Thomas and Jacob Tamme. And the Broncos may now be rolling with this offense, as Manning completed 30 of 38 passes last week for 338 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
On the flip side, the Broncos' defense has players who can make plays - big stops, create turnovers and rush the passer. From 11-time Pro Bowl corner back Champ Bailey in the secondary, to the NFL rookie-defender-of-2011 in linebacker Von Miller, and uber-quick defensive end Elvis Dumervil...Denver has anchors at every position. They also have an outstanding rookie defensive end in Derek Wolfe (University of Cincinnati), who plays with great intensity and with a bit of a mean streak. There are players here.
It will be up to the New England players, and coaches, to figure out how best to beat the Bronco players...because it'll be more than just Tom vs. Peyton.
Regain the Edge
Last January's 45-10 playoff rout over Denver in Foxboro means nothing. Last time out at home, the Patriots were stunned by the Arizona Cardinals. Following that, a last-second loss at Baltimore. While there was a rebound in the second half last week at Buffalo, New England needs to figure out a way to start strong - and maintain the effort. Use the home field, use the emotion and energy of the fans and the momentum from a big road win in Buffalo.
Man Up on Manning
Manning struggled as the season got underway, and certainly still has a fair share of rust to his game as he continues his comeback from multiple neck surgeries that cost him the 2010 season. But slowly, he's getting his game back in gear, and even if his arm strength isn't what it once was, his receivers are learning his tendencies...and that's big news for Denver. The Patriots must pressure him into early decisions, not allow him to get rolling and not give him time to pick apart a secondary that is fragile, at best.
Unleash the Hounds
The tale of two halves against Buffalo was extraordinary, to say the least. While the Patriots contributed to their slow start in the first half with missed opportunities, they cashed in big-time in the second half by taking advantage of opportunities. When the chance to score comes about, punch it in. Versatility is key, and the Patriots proved they can run the ball against Buffalo. But don't be afraid to "wing it," if the Broncos are begging you to do it.