Kickoff set for 4:25 Eastern Standard Time….Foxboro…Massachusetts…Denver Broncos…New England Patriots…Peyton Manning…Tom Brady. Sounds like just another Sunday right, well, you guessed wrong. Last season, the rivalry between these two quarterbacks took a season off as Manning was dealing with a neck injury as the Indianapolis Colts went up to New England to visit the Patriots.
The Patriots got the best of the Colts, leading them 31-3 late in the third before Indy would score three TD’s in the fourth as the Pat’s would go on to win 31-24.
Obviously the rivalry between the two teams lost its luster without one of the stars of the NFL in play.
Manning and Brady face off for the first time since 2010 where Brady and the Patriots got the best of Manning 31-28 and stopped a late comeback by the Colts. Within inside of two minutes, James Sanders intercepts Manning’s pass to help preserve the win. The two have had their memorable moments against each other, meeting twelve times in the regular season with Brady winning the first six matchups and Manning catching up winning four of the last six. They also have met three times in the postseason, 2-1 in Brady’s favor, but are split in the AFC Championship game as the two have seen each other twice.
This year, it’s a different story as Bronco fans like to say, Manning is now a Bronco and “all colts grow up to become broncos”. But, as all Bronco fans want to forget, there was a Bill Belicheck desciple here in Denver for a year and a half. Dare I say his name? It was Josh McDaniels.
Many Bronco fans believe it was a conspiracy by the Patriots and McD to have him come to Denver. He comes to Denver, trades QB Jay Cutler and WR Brandon Marshall. Terrible and questionable draft picks including DE Robert Ayers, RB Knowshon Moreno and QB Tim Tebow. Halfway through the 2010 season, McD was fired and eventually was hired back on to the Patriots staff as an offensive consultant, and is now their offensive coordinator. The thought process was that he comes to Denver, ruins the team and goes back to New England. But it is what it is, a conspiracy theory.
But McDaniels knows the Broncos, particularly Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy. McCoy was hired by McDaniels in 2009 and worked in conjunction to implement the offense with the Broncos. With McDaniels leaving and John Fox coming in, the offense was left up to McCoy to run. McDaniels knows what this offense is about and could work in his favor in preparation for this weeks game against the Broncos.
The New England Patriots running game is coming back to life, and in a big way. Running backs Brandon Bolden and Steven Ridley both rushed for over 100 yards and three TD’s in their win against Buffalo last week. The rushing attack has been on life support since the retirement of RB Corey Dillon. Denver’s rush defense seems to be back, on paper. They are 10th in the NFL giving up an average of 87.5 yards per game, well see just how good this running game is or if this N.E. running game is back and just how stout the Broncos rush defense really is.
The Broncos defense looked revitalized as well lead by defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. But one problem they have had has been dealing with tight ends early this season. Fifteen receptions for 168 yards and three TD’s. As of late, they have been getting better, but look for the Patriots to try and work the linebackers down the middle and with the seam routes with TE Rob Gronkowski and game-time decision TE Aaron Hernandez.
Interesting stat, courtesy of ESPN. It will be what the Broncos do best on defense against what the Patriots do best on offense. Denver’s pass rush has come alive when the blitz is present, allowing only a 47.5 completion percentage, best in the NFL. But when Brady has pressure in his face, he does his best work, completing 66.7% of his passes against the blitz, including four touchdowns to zero interceptions. The offensive line for New England is key for Denver as they are dealing with transition from experience to youth, but the numbers don’t lie. Denver will have to find creative and exotic ways to get into the face of Brady if they want to slow down this offense.