Three things to watch Sunday afternoon against the Broncos:
1. New Manning, same as the old Manning?
Peyton Manning comes to town in the much-anticipated revival of a rivalry between he and Tom Brady. But is it the same Manning we’re used to seeing? It depends on who you ask. Many NFL pundits say that Manning can no longer throw the deep ball like he could prior to neck surgery. On the other hand, Bill Belichick and the Patriots say the Broncos are using the same exact offense Manning used in Indianapolis, which was obviously an effective one. You could see a lot of shorter passes made under coverage on Sunday.
2. About that ugly secondary
If Manning can’t convert on any big-yardage passes Sunday, then maybe something really is wrong. You’d be hard-pressed to find a somewhat decent QB who can’t throw on New England’s secondary. On the season, the Patriots have given up 1,126 yards and nine touchdowns – 25th and 26th worst, respectively, in the NFL. Sure, they looked fine against the likes of Jake Locker and Kevin Kolb, but Joe Flacco and Ryan Fitzpatrick have combined for 732 yards over the last two games. We’re still looking for consistency out of Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty, who has yet to make the leap from borderline good to great.
3. A running game … which is nice
Don’t look now, but the Patriots may actually have a real running game. Last week, both Stevan Ridley and undrafted rookie Brandon Bolden played huge roles in the Pats offense, combining for 243 yards and three touchdowns. It was the balanced attack that Belichick and the Patriots always seemed set on establishing. This year they have the players to do it. Denver’s run defense ranks ninth in the NFL (just behind the Patriots) giving up an average of 87.5 yards per game. Can we expect the Patriots two-headed monster to top that number? Houston’s Arian Foster is the only back to run for more than 50 yards on Denver (he had 105 in Week 3), so it will be tough.