FOXBORO -- Peyton Manning may not have Cam Newton's shakes or Ben Roethlisberger's strength, but that doesn't mean he's an easy target in the pocket.
The Broncos 37-year-old quarterback has been sacked just 13 times this season, second-fewest in the league behind only Detroit's Matthew Stafford (12 sacks).
When blitzed, it's even less likely than normal that Manning will succumb to pressure. According to Pro Football Focus, he's been blitzed 87 times this season. On those plays, he hasn't been sacked, he's thrown one interception, and his quarterback rating is 123.8.
Manning's long-renowned ability to read defenses and make quick decisions allows him to pick apart schemes that elect to take a player out of coverage in order to bring pressure. He's also been kept upright thanks in part to an ability to move around the pocket adeptly -- despite a bad ankle that forced him to miss practice on Wednesday -- avoiding hits with a subtle shuffling of his feet.
Patriots defensive lineman Chris Jones explained that the Manning he's seen on film is more mobile than people may give him credit for.
"It's something you definitely can't for granted because he does have a little bit of a movement," Jones said. "We see it. We're not gonna take it for granted. People can say whatever they want about his ankle. Either way he's still playing. We gotta prepare for what we know he can do."
The Patriots also know that Manning has carved up blitzes this season. Tthey don't need much of a reminder in order to remember what kind of damage a beaten blitz can do to a defense. Newton went eight-for-nine against Patriots blitzes on Monday night as he led the Panthers to a 24-20 come-from-behind win.
Since bringing added pressure has proven to be a flawed strategy against the Broncos, the onus of making Manning uncomfortable in the pocket could largely fall on the shoulders of Patriots defensive ends Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich and the rest of the Patriots defensive line.
"Obviously hey haven't given up very many sacks," Jones said. "They protect Peyton very well. We just have to find a way to get past them. As a defensive line that's our job to get the pressure on.
"He's Peyton Manning. He's a great, great quarterback. Everybody knows he's had a great career. He's doing great this year, and he knows how to play the game. He knows how to read things, and we just have to make sure we stay one step ahead of him."
Jones admitted that a matchup against an offense as potent as Denver's provides a sort of benchmark for a defense. Especially for first-year players like himself and fellow defensive tackle Joe Vellano. Both have been productive fill-ins after veterans Vince Wilfork (Achilles) and Tommy Kelly (knee) went down with season ending injuries.
They face their biggest test of the young NFL careers on Sunday night as they try to disrupt Manning and the fast-paced Broncos offense.
"We're still kind of young as a whole," Jones said of New England's defensive line. "But that's no excuse now. We're not rookies anymore, at least talking about Joe and I. We gotta be able to jump in and just make plays. That's what we've been working on this whole time."