After two weeks away from home, the Patriots return to Gillette Stadium on Sunday to host Peyton Manning and the new-look Denver Broncos. Here is a brief introduction to the Broncos, including some name and faces of note:
Record: (2-2, second in AFC West)
Head Coach: John Fox (second season, 10-10 record)
Offensive Coordinator: Mike McCoy
Defensive Coordinator: Jack Del Rio
THREE PLAYERS TO KNOW, OFFENSE
1. QB Peyton Manning. The familiar Patriots foe has made his mark during his first season with the Broncos, leading a revamped offense and showcasing some of the skills that have made him one of the best in league history. Manning's arm strength coming off of mulitple neck surgeries continues to be an oft-discussed area, although he still brings laser-tight accuracy and superb control of the huddle. The always compelling Belichick vs. Manning chess match will be a storyline leading up to kickoff.
2. WR Demaryius Thomas. Arguably the most athletic and explosive receiver Manning has ever had at his disposal, Thomas is a developing star with impressive athletic gifts. Thomas has a huge frame for a receiver (6-3, 229), and continues to integrate himself as a cornerstone of the offense.
3. OT Ryan Clady. In his fifth season and at only 26 years old, Clady is amongst the best young tackles in all of football. The Broncos offered an extension to Clady this summer that reportedly carried a maxmium value of $50 million, but the two-time Pro Bowler turned it down. He's reliable as both a pass and run blocker.
THREE PLAYERS TO KNOW, DEFENSE
1. CB Champ Bailey. Age has yet to catch up to the 34-year-old, who continues to play at an extremely high level in the back end of the Denver defense. Bailey has strong man coverage skills, can be a factor in the running game, and is a valuable leader in a secondary that features a number of younger players. Tom Brady will have his eyes out for Bailey before every snap.
2. DE/OLB Von Miller. Only in his second NFL season, Miller is a ferocious young rusher off the edge who can beat an opposing tackle in a number of ways. The defensive rookie of the year, an All-Pro and Pro Bowler in 2011, Miller already has 15 tackles and 3 sacks through four games in 2012.
3. DE Elvis Dumervil. Beyond his natural abilities, Miller also benefits from playing opposite of Dumervil, a compact package who also can turn the corner in a hurry. The 2009 NFL sack king with 17, Dumervil presents a very difficult challenge for any offensive tackle he aligns opposite of.
2012 RECAP THROUGH FOUR GAMES
After a strong opening statement with a Week 1 defeat of the Steelers home, the Broncos dropped consecutive decisions in Weeks 2 and 3. They bounced back in Week 4 against Oakland, and now find themselves trailing only San Diego in the AFC West. While Manning hasn't been at his sharpest in all four games, he's certainly improved the offense and brings stability to the unit. Defensively, the Broncos have been without stalwart linebacker D.J. Williams, who was suspended six games this offseason for a failed drug test. His sideline-to-sideline range and tackling productivity have been missed.