Since his return to football, Peyton Manning has played four games, but on Sunday afternoon, he'll renew his rivalry with the New England Patriots, and is there anyone more qualified than Bill Belichick to game plan against him?
This will be the 13th meeting between the two, and if anyone will know if Manning still has it, it will be Belichick. The signs will come early - if the Patriots come out in their traditional 4-2-5 nickel, they still fear old number 18.
However, if they come out in their base 4-3, they are saying "Peyton, you're going to have show that you to beat us."
Manning's arm strength is still a question mark. He's looked good at times and plain bad at others. He doesn't have the weapons he had in Indianapolis, but isn't quite left with the cupboard bare in Denver.
Demaryious Thomas is a 6'5" target who has become one of Manning's favorites. Eric Decker has been his reliable first down maker. Tight end Jacob Tamme gives Manning his safety net at tight end.
Belichick is going to look at these options as priorities that will need to be controlled in order to win. He loves the nickel vs. Manning; it gives him the flexibility to cover the slot receiver with a defensive back while still having enough size to stop the run. One has to remember that throughout all of their battles, data has been accrued and strategies has been built. The cover 5 was created to confuse Manning. Belichick and Alabama head coach Nick Saban developed this defense in response to the growing passing game in the NFL.
So Manning's return to Foxboro is also seen as a measuring stick of what he has left in the tank. Belichick will play a lot of zone, giving Manning plenty of different looks, then if he gets to the red zone, Belichick will try to blitz to force a field goal.
Manning will figure out the looks, but does he have the arm strength to beat the coverages? That's what Belichick will do early - test the limits of Manning and then adjust. With all the knowledge he has on Manning, he'll know if it's a new Manning or the same ole same old.