Posted Wed Oct 3rd by Jon Heath
As Week 5 of the NFL season approaches, the Denver Broncos (2-2) are preparing to face the New England Patriots (2-2) on the road. Here are six mid-week thoughts for your consideration going into the game —
(1) Brady vs. Manning rivalry continues as both QBs prepare for historic showdown.
Sunday will mark the thirteenth time quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have faced off (including the postseason). In their first twelve meetings, as members of the Patriots and Colts, respectively, Brady won eight games, doubling Manning’s win total, 8-4. Manning has however won four the last six meetings between the two future Hall of Famers.
Per the league’s PR department, the game will mark the first time in NFL history that a pair of quarterbacks with 300 career touchdown passes (Brady: 307, Manning: 407) will duke it out on the gridiron. Additionally, per the Broncos’ PR department, the game will also mark the second time in NFL history that a pair of quarterbacks with 125 wins have faced off. The last time such a showdown occurred was back in 1998, when Dan Marino‘s Dolphins defeated John Elway‘s Broncos, 31-21 (Elway then defeated Marino 38-3 in the postseason).
For more on the rivalry, we turn to SI‘s Kerry J.Byrne:
The NFL has given us plenty of sexy, big-name quarterback rivalries over the years.
But none ever matched the fireworks of Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady: two prolific future Hall of Fame quarterbacks who put up monster numbers and meet year after year in games that have a profound impact on the Super Bowl picture.
The winner of the regular season series between Brady’s Patriots and Manning’s former Colts gained home-field advantage over the other in the playoffs every single time. That’s eight of the last 11 seasons, for those of you keeping score at home (2001, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010).
The two have also squared off three times in the postseason, in 2003, 2004 and 2006. The winner of that game went on to win the Super Bowl all three years. Manning sparked the greatest comeback in conference championship game history to steal a win over the Patriots in the 2006 AFC title tilt.
In other words, Manning and Brady meet far more often than most great QB rivalries — and they meet in Big Games of Big Consequence.
Excited yet? If not, this should help:
(2) Rob and Chris Gronkowski will face off for the first time in an NFL game this weekend.
Sunday will mark the first time Rob and Chris Gronkowski (brothers, as you likely guessed or already knew) face off in an NFL game. Both Rob and Chris are offensive starters (at tight end and fullback, respectively), and they may also see each other on special teams.
“Last year, I would have played against him, but I got hurt. It’s going to be crazy when we finally step on the field together,” Chris Gronkowski told Buffalo News reporter Tim Graham. ”I might get a chance to go against him on kickoff. We always talk about how I’m going to drill him. He says he’s going to lay me out. What’s really going to happen is we’re probably not even going to have the chance to block each other. But I’ll still try to light him up if I get a chance.”
Chris, though two years older, is four inches smaller and twenty pounds lighter than his 6-foot, 6-inch tall, 265-pound younger brother Rob. Despite the size difference, and the fact that he has only played in 18.5% of Denver’s offensive plays this season, Chris has no problem with dishing out some brotherly smack talk. Well see if he gets the chance to light up his bigger, younger brother this weekend.
(3) Should Keith Brooking start over Joe Mays at middle linebacker?
The Broncos will get linebacker Joe Mays back from his one-game suspension this week, but will he reclaim his starting role? As Tim Lynch pointed out in our Week 4 Game Balls, the defense as a whole performed better with Keith Brooking than with Mays. With Brooking in the starting lineup, the Broncos were able to bottle-up Oakland’s Darren McFadden, holding the running back to just 34 yards on 13 carries.
While no one can deny his thumping ability, Mays has proven to be a liability against the pass and at times against the run, as well. Brooking, a fifteen-year veteran, is not as fast as he once was, but his leadership and knack for finding the ball are two traits the Broncos haven’t had at middle linebacker since perhaps the days of the great Al Wilson.
Give us your take — who is Denver’s best option at middle linebacker?
(4) As usual, Brandon Stokley has been Mr. Reliable.
But the Broncos, Manning, and fans all know that Stokley can always be relied on. With a knack for always being in the right place at the right time, Stokley has been one of Manning’s favorite third down targets — hauling in 73.3% of the balls thrown his way, which is the best percentage among Denver’s receivers and tight ends.
The Slot Machine has been Denver’s third wide receiver (behind Thomas and Decker) through the first four weeks of the season and his targets have been on the rise. With Denver’s offense getting into a groove, expect Stokley’s numbers to increase. Stokely will remain Manning’s go-to-guy on third down as long as he remains a reliable target. As the season progresses, Stokley remains the same: consistent.
(5) Ronnie Hillman’s workload is increasing, as is his production.
After falling behind in training camp with a bothersome hamstring, rookie running back Ronnie Hillman was inactive for the first two weeks of the season. But after Knowshon Moreno started the year ineffectively, the Broncos activated Hillman in Week 3, sitting a healthy Moreno.
In his first game, Hillman saw little action, rushing twice for seven yards and catching a pass for one yard. Last week, Hillman’s workload increased as the Broncos gave him ten carries and he rushed for 31 yards (3.1 avg.). Out of the backfield, Hillman caught two passes for 32 yards (16 avg.).
Hillman showed shines of promise and the Broncos have been slowly working him into the offense by giving him larger roles each week. We’ll be watching to see what kind of role the team has planned for him this week in Foxborough.
(6) Miscellaneous game notes.
CBS’s No. 1 crew of Jim Nantz (play-byplay) and Phil Simms (color commentary) will call the game, which is expected to be aired across most of the country (we’re still waiting for a Week 5 broadcast map). In the fourth quarter this season, the Broncos have outscored their opponents by 45 points. That may come in handy against a team like New England.
The Broncos will be looking to harass Brady early and often, hoping to disrupt the Patriots’ high-powered offense. When Denver played Matt Ryan‘s Falcons three weeks ago, the Broncos utilized outside linebacker Von Miller‘s pass rushing ability by moving him to defensive end. Miller may see significant time at DE this week as well. Through four games, Miller and defensive end Elvis Dumervil have combined for 5.5 sacks, a forced fumble, a safety and 16 quarterbacks hits, with the latter ranking second overall among pass rushing tandems in the NFL.
Sunday will mark the 43rd time Denver and New England have faced off (dating back to their AFL days), with the Broncos leading the all-time series 25-17 (9-8 on the road). The game will also be a reunion of sorts for Josh McDaniels, Brandon Lloyd, Niko Koutouvides, and Daniel Fells, all of whom have spent time in Denver.
Check back over the weekend for injury updates and more buzz leading up to the game. We’ll have a LiveBlog again on Sunday and as always, Kyle will be tweeting updates from @BroncoTalk. See you at kickoff!