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What To Watch For: Patriots vs. Broncos

Friday, November 22, 2013

 

This Sunday night inside Gillette Stadium a rivalry will be renewed as Tom Brady and Peyton Manning will take the field against each other for the 14th time in their illustrious careers.

The Patriots will also start a new “rivalry” of sorts as they welcome back the all-time Patriots leader in receptions, Wes Welker. Welker will play his first game against his former team as a member of the Broncos after leaving New England in free agency in March. Although Welker is dealing with a concussion he has said he is doing everything he can to make sure he plays on Sunday.

The Broncos (9-1) have been the offensive juggernaut in the NFL throughout the season, averaging and NFL-best 455.5 yards per game with 350.4 coming through the air.The Broncos have also averaged a staggering 39.8 points per game and are on pace to break the 2007 Patriots’ NFL record of 589 points in a season, or 36.8 points per game.The high-powered Denver offense will be facing a Patriots defense that has been decimated with injuries throughout the season, and is going into this game very banged up.

This week’s injury report features four defensive backs: Kyle Arrington, Alfonzo Dennard, Steve Gregory and Aqib Talib, with Devin McCourty being the lone starter who does not appear on the injury report. With the Patriots working on a short week following their Monday night loss to the Carolina Panthers, injuries will be something to keep an eye on.

For however banged-up the Patriots defense is at the moment, the offense is nearly on the opposite end of the spectrum. Only one offense player missed Thursday’s workout, that being tight end Michael Hoomanawanui who left the Carolina game with a knee injury. Minus the Hoomanawanui injury, the Patriots finally have their full complement of offensive weapons in back-to-back weeks for the first time this season. Last week saw the return of Shane Vereen for the first time since Week 1, and this allowed the Patriots offense to look better than they have most of the season. The Patriots’ offense went for 390 yards against the Panthers, including 72 total yards by Vereen.

Get to Manning:
Whether the Patriots are in a 4-3 or a 3-4 defense, the pass rush needs to be able to get to Peyton manning without bringing any extra pass rushers. This responsibility will fall primarily on Chandler Jones. Jones has a team-high 9.5 sacks. Jones has three sacks in his last two games while facing Ben Roethlisberger and Cam Newton, two quarterbacks who are far more mobile than Manning.

Manning is also working through an ankle injury, which could slow his movement even more. Manning was a full participant in practice on Thursday, but it is still something to keep an eye on.

Force the turnover:
If there is one way to defeat Peyton Manning and the Broncos’ high-flying offense, it is to force turnovers. In the Broncos’ lone loss this season to the Indianapolis Colts, Manning and the Broncos turned the ball over three times, compared to just one for the Colts.

This is a strength for the Patriots defense, when they are healthy. The Patriots are currently 6th in the NFL in turnover differential with a +7 while the Broncos are tied for 18th with a -2. If the Patriots can force Manning to turn the ball over, it obviously limits the chances for Julius Thomas, Wes Welker, Eric Decker and Julius Thomas have to take on a banged-up Patriots secondary.

Emotional response:
The Patriots are obviously coming off an emotionally charged ending to the Carolina Panthers game. While we will not dive into the call, the Patriots need to respond in a critical AFC matchup.

Emotions will also be riding high with the return of Wes Welker. Welker left the Patriots in a somewhat contentious way during free agency, which will likely solicit a response from the crowd. With Welker being the fiery competitor that he is known as, it is a given that if he plays he will be on an emotional high that the Patriots defense will have to contend against.

Projection:
Patriots 30 Broncos 28

 

 

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