Fear Denver's receivers more than its quarterback


Fear Denver's receivers more than its quarterback

Starting today and right on through Sunday, we're going talk a lot about Peyton Manning. We'll talk about his new home in Denver, his history in New England, his rivalry with Tom Brady and how much he has left. We'll crack jokes about his commercials, his pouting face and his assortment of horse-like features. It will be all Peyton all the time until Tony Massarotti's head explodes all over the Sports Hub studio.

And whatever. It will be fun. Admit it, you missed Peyton Manning. I know I did.

But heading into Sunday's game with the Broncos, I'm far more worried about his receivers:

Eric Decker: 6-foot-3, 206 pounds
Demaryius Thomas: 6-3, 229 pounds

Both are big, strong, quick and freakishly athletic. Both fit the description of the kind of receiver that can get out into open space and make a mockery of this Patriots secondary, regardless of whether the ball's thrown by Peyton Manning or Phil Manning.

Last year, the Pats only faced Decker once, and held him to one catch for 22 yards in a Week 14 win. (Decker didn't play in the playoff game at New England thanks to a first round cheap shot by James Harrison.) On the other hand, Thomas had some success. He caught seven balls for 116 yards in Week 14, and then six for 93 in the playoffs.

So far this season, both guys are clicking with their new QB. Decker's averaging six catches a game (and has 15 over the last two weeks) and has yet to post a game under 50 yards receiving. Thomas had an off-week two Sunday's ago against Houston (three catches for 34 yards), but other than that has posted lines of five catches for 110 yards and a touchdown, eight catches for 78 yards and a touchdowns, and five catches for 103 yards.

Of course, if either guy has a big game on Sunday, all the credit will go to Manning. Decker and Thomas could catch two touchdowns each and all anyone will talk about is how Peyton threw four TDs. But as far as the Pats are concerned, I'd be less worried about who's throwing the ball than I am trying to contain the two monsters trying to catch it.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Titans roll to 36-22 victory over Jaguars


THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Titans roll to 36-22 victory over Jaguars

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - There's nothing like a visit from the Jacksonville Jaguars to make the Tennessee Titans remember how to protect their home field.

Marcus Mariota threw for 270 yards and two touchdowns to end his home struggles and the Titans had their highest point total of the season in a 36-22 victory over the Jaguars on Thursday night.

Click here for the complete story

Develin stays on top of tight end techniques in case he's next man up


Develin stays on top of tight end techniques in case he's next man up

FOXBORO -- Once the Patriots traded AJ Derby to the Broncos for a fifth-round pick earlier this week, they were left with just two tight ends on their roster. While those two tight ends -- Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett -- have played as two of the best tight ends in football this season, it's a position group that has been considerably thinned. 

Until coach Bill Belichick adds another player at that spot, James Develin would be the logical "next man up." A position group unto himself as the team's lone active fullback -- the other fullback in the locker room is practice-squad player Glenn Gronkowski -- Develin meets with Patriots tight ends and coach Brian Daboll on a daily basis because the fullback and tight-end responsibilities in the Patriots offense are similar, particularly in the run game.

As much time as he spends with that group, Develin tries to absorb what he can when it comes to the nuances of the position. 

"I always kind of try to prepare, obviously, for my fullback role, but then in any other role that I might be called upon for," Develin said on Thursday. "A couple years ago, we had a bunch of injuries during the offseason program, during OTAs, and I filled in a little bit at tight end. I try to keep myself familiar with all those techniques and that tight end role so if the day were to come where I needed to go out there and do it, I'd be able to go out there and do it."

When the Patriots began the season relying more on the run, Develin was called upon to play a relatively significant role in the offense. He averaged 21.3 snaps per game through the first three games of the season, but that number has fallen to 13.6 since Tom Brady's return from a four-game suspension. Still, his role can be a critical one. 

The Patriots' running game faltered last season after both Blount and Dion Lewis went down with season-ending injuries. Having Develin in the mix as an extra blocker would not have guaranteed a more efficient attack, but it may have helped the team's running-game woes late in the year. 

Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels now has the luxury of bringing Develin onto the field when he wants some added muscle for his blocking schemes, and should the Patriots need a tight end in a pinch, Develin could do that too.

"A lot of times, especially in the blocking game, really the only difference [between fullback and tight end] is that I'm five yards off the ball in the backfield and they're up on the line," Develin said. "The angles are a little bit different. But a lot of times the assignment is typcially the same thing. It's just the technique of getting there and the angles that you take.

"Then in the passing game, as a tight end, there's just a lot more routes and stuff like that. I try to work on that to help me as a fullback to be a little bit better in space . . . It's a sybiotic relationship." 

As it is, Develin will line up occasionally outside. Though not a threat as a receiver in that spot in the same way that Gronkowski or Bennett would be, he understands some of the different looks tight ends have to be comfortable with.

If an emergency arose and he was asked to fill that role, he wouldn't hesitate.

"There's a little bit of carry-over depending on what we're doing or whatever play we have called where I'll line up on the line," he said. "But that's kind of what a fullback has to do. You kind of have to be able to be thrown into whatever position on the field that you gotta do and you gotta just do your job."