FOXBOROUGH — It’s not just Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning today. There’s a slew of things to watch for as the Patriots host the Denver Broncos.
1) The secondary — Steve Gregory is out of today’s game with a hip injury and will likely be replaced by safety Tavon Wilson. This also affects the team’s sub packages, where Wilson played alongside Gregory as the team increased from four to five and six defensive backs. Anyone from Ras-I Dowling to Marquice Cole will likely also contribute, but it will be key to see who handles the responsibility of coverage and who handles the responsibility of run support in those packages.
2) How is Dont’a Hightower feeling? — The linebacker went through the week with limited participation in practice after suffering an injury to his hamstring against the Buffalo Bills. Hightower’s health is important for the Patriots’ run defense, which currently sits at No. 7 (85.2 yards per game) in the NFL. The team went out and re-signed Bobby Carpenter this week as insurance.
3) Will Aaron Hernandez return? — He’s listed as questionable and actually had limited participation in practice this week. But high ankle sprains are tricky. For Hernandez to return this soon (only four weeks removed) would mean he’s really pushing it on a four-to-six week timeline. And for the type of player that Hernandez is, someone who depends on cuts and turns to break tackles, the likelihood that he’s anywhere near 100 percent is scant. But Patriots fans should be ever hopeful. However, in case he isn’t ready, expect Daniel Fells in the starting lineup again. If you recall, he caught Tom Brady’s first pass against the Buffalo Bills last week.