FOXBOROUGH — Despite three interceptions credited to the secondary against the Buffalo Bills Sunday, the Patriots defensive backs are coming off a shaky performance in which the team gave up 350 yards passing and four touchdowns.
Add to the fact the team will be facing Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos this week, and it’s clear that the time for celebrating Sunday’s 52-28 win is over.
Manning, who threw for 338 yards on 30 of 38 passing, including three touchdowns, last week in a win over the Raiders, provides a tough matchup for any team. The Patriots are keen about staying mentally sharp against such a precise and often prescient passer.
“One thing about Peyton is you know he’s a smart guy,” said Devin McCourty. “I think the physical tools you already know is there but the toughest thing for us is going to be, you know, trying to make things difficult for him. He does a great job of leading defenses and getting guys in the right place. We’re really going to have put in the extra time that you know he’s putting in to try to be prepared to play well on Sunday.”
The steps it takes to prepare for a Manning team, playing in an offense that is “identical” to the Manning-led Indianapolis Colts, according to Patriots coach Bill Belichick, is all about focus, says McCourty. That’s because Manning does not make many mistakes.
“And that’s the hard thing,” he said. “You know, I think one thing is that we get to see a lot is another quarterback that does that all the time. Playing against Brady, he’s the type of guy that we know that if we’re a little off, he’s going to be right on. So I think that mental focus that we have to go and attack practice with, we get practice at it [already]. So it helps us a little bit going into Sunday. But I think the biggest thing is to try to really prepare and keep preparing and get ready for Sunday.”
The Broncos feature a trio of wide receivers who provide their own matchup problems, including DeMaryius Thomas (21 catches, 325 yards, two TDs), Eric Decker (24 catches, 322 yards, one TD), and Brandon Stokely (13 catches, 158 yards, one TD). Thomas and Decker both stand at 6-feet-3.
“You know playing against those guys last year two times, we knew they had good receivers with DeMaryius Thomas, Decker and then a guy like Stokely who has been playing 14 years in this league,” McCourty said. “It’s obvious he can get open, he’s been doing it for a long time. We know with Decker and Thomas, they’re big, physical guys that we’re going to have to challenge them when they go down the field and then when they catch underneath passes, we’re just going to have to get them on the ground. It’s gonna be tough, so we’re gonna have to really work hard at that.”