The problem with trying to defend Peyton Manning is that in his 16-year NFL career he's seen just about everything. Not only that, he's one of the best anticipatory passers ever. As in: He throws the ball before the wide receiver -- and certainly the defender -- knows it's coming. That's nearly impossible to stop.
So for the Patriots, the plan isn't to try to shut Manning down, but to slow him down. Which is also much more difficult than it sounds.
"I would say the chess game is pretty one-sided," Patriots safety Devin McCourty said, according to ESPN.com. "It's like being a kid going against a father in chess. He's a very smart quarterback. He knows what he wants to do.
"Most the time he knows what the defense is in, so if what he had planned isn't going to work, he's going to get the offense in something else. I think that's what you see out there on the field and I think a lot of times people talk about trying to know what's in his head and know what he's trying to do, but he's really just going off us. We end up in something at the last minute, he knows and then he goes to something else."
Perhaps most troubling for the Patriots' defense is that Manning is better this year than he was in 2014 when he threw 55 touchdowns.
"I feel like it's another year, same story going against Peyton," McCourty said. "He's getting the ball where it needs to be, either vertical or short. Whatever the defense gives him, he takes full advantage of it. There's not much you can do that he doesn't know."
The Patriots will be tasked with slowing Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Wes Welker and Julius Thomas, while playing cat-and-mouse with a Hall of Fame quarterback.
"It's kind of like we talked about a little bit last week, where there's going to be times where we're just going to have to go cover the guys," McCourty said. "Same as last week, you can't double everybody. They have a lot of weapons [that] on other teams they'd be the star guy where you just double him and defend everybody else. You can go down the line with all those guys that are out there. You can't do that, even if you do choose to double one, [Manning is] going to find it and throw to somebody else.
"It's going to come down to a lot of matchups one-on-one where you've just got to try and make a play. Obviously you go by their numbers and their games -- they've made a fair share of those plays and the defense really hasn't. We're going to have to just go out there and compete. That' s the thing when you play in these type of games. It's just going to come down to competing. You go against great players, they're going to make some plays. But we've got to try to make ours, too."
Manning isn't perfect, but that's easy to forget given how well he's played this season. That said, given how well the Patriots have played this month, we like them to win Sunday.