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Peyton Manning and Tom Moore meet again; 10 things to watch

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Judy Battista highlights the storylines and factors to pay attention to in Week 5, beginning with the reunion of two fine football minds and continuing with 10 more things to watch below.

It was only a few weeks before he would be released by the Indianapolis Colts in the spring of 2012 and Peyton Manning was ruminating on one of the shared circumstances that had allowed his brother Eli and him to enjoy so little tumult in their careers. Eli had worked with Kevin Gilbride, and Peyton with Tom Moore for years, enjoying a consistency in offensive systems that allowed them to hone the smallest details of their performance.

"Me and Tom Moore earned the right to stay together," Peyton Manning told me then, for a story in the New York Times. "It's a compliment to Eli and Gilbride. If you call good plays and it's working, they shouldn't want to fire you."

So much has changed since then. Gilbride has been replaced this season in New York by Ben McAdoo. Peyton Manning is now in his third season in Denver. And Moore, who had already been eased out of Indianapolis by the time Manning noted the bond that had stretched 13 years, is now in Arizona for his second season as an assistant head coach and offensive consultant to Bruce Arians.

On Sunday, Moore and Manning probably won't talk much before they face each other for the first time in a game that counts when the 3-0 Cardinals play the 2-1 Broncos in Denver. As devoted as Moore remains to Manning, he is not given to much outward display of emotion. But they remain intertwined.

When Manning was throwing at Duke University just before his release from the Colts and his whirlwind free agency, he asked Moore to come watch him work out with a few receivers and Blue Devils coach David Cutcliffe. During that visit, Manning noticed Moore limping badly and arranged for him to be checked out by Duke doctors, who eventually did the knee replacements that Moore credits with giving him his energy back. And when Manning signed with the Broncos, head coach John Fox invited Moore, with whom he coached in Pittsburgh, to meet with Denver's offensive staff to help familiarize them with what kind of plays Manning liked.

This week, Manning said he leaned a lot on Moore from the time he was a rookie, a mentorship that eventually morphed into a partnership of game planning and play-calling.

"There's no question we were together for a long time; we're very compatible," Moore said in an interview last week. "He made me a better coach and we worked hard together for the ultimate dream to win. We had a good run. I'm indebted to him because the things he did and how we worked together, it was a fun experience. You had to be prepared to answer his question. There was no easing off on anything and that's good. That's the way it should be. That's what a coach's job is, to make sure the player has an opportunity to succeed."

Now Moore and Arians, who was also in Indianapolis when Manning first joined the Colts, are creating success with Arizona's offense and, in recent weeks, with quarterback Drew Stanton. Stanton, a career backup, will make his third straight start on Sunday, as Carson Palmer's still trying to recover from a nerve injury in his right shoulder suffered in the season opener. In a holding pattern waiting for the ailment to "wake," Palmer's potential return date remains uncertain.

While Arizona's defense is fifth in the league and has not allowed a fourth-quarter point this season -- a surprise after it lost a number of significant players, including Karlos Dansby, Darnell Dockett and Daryl Washington, to a variety of circumstances -- Stanton's play has provided an unexpected steadiness. When Arians was in Indianapolis in 2012 with Chuck Pagano, the Colts acquired Stanton to be Andrew Luck's backup. Arians then brought Stanton to Arizona last year to back up Palmer. Stanton had not attempted a pass since 2010 when he was forced to start against the Giants in Week 2.

He has completed just 51.6 percent of his throws so far, but he has two touchdown passes and -- most importantly -- no interceptions. The Cardinals notched a come-from-behind road win over the Giants with Stanton leading three fourth-quarter scoring drives and a critical division win over the 49ers with him throwing two third-quarter touchdown passes to give the Cardinals the lead. Trying to go score-for-score with Manning provides a challenge for even the most tested quarterback, but this week, Arians laid out the mandate for Stanton: Don't do anything special, rely on the defense and the kicking game, and make a few plays when needed, like last week against San Francisco.

"It's a tribute to him and to his strength as a person, as an athlete, to stay focused and stay ready; when that time does happen, he's ready to do it," Moore said. "I give him all the credit in the world. It's not easy. Bruce has a very keen eye for quarterback talent. Bruce saw something that he really liked in Drew. He's very smart. Got a good arm and he has a passion for the game. You see his passion that he was a backup in Detroit, same thing in Indianapolis and he came here. He maintained his passion and his strength to prepare himself so when the time came, he was prepared."

Now Moore helps prepare Stanton. Arians calls the offensive plays, with Moore making suggestions. And the Cardinals, who finished 10-6 last year and have gone 10-2 over their last dozen games, could make an argument, with defensive coordinator Todd Bowles included, for being the best-coached team in the league. Arizona barely missed the playoffs last season, and is currently one of just two undefeated teams remaining this fall (along with the Cincinnati Bengals).

It is impossible to tell if the Cardinals can continue to play at this level, or if the attrition of top defensive players will finally take a toll, or if Stanton will at some point look more like a backup if Palmer is out much longer. Their schedule looks favorable, though: after the Broncos, seven of Arizona's remaining dozen games are against teams that did not make the playoffs in 2013.

Moore said he has repeatedly thanked Arians for hiring him because, at age 75 and with 37 years of NFL coaching under his belt, Moore has little interest in retiring to his Hilton Head home. He still gets so worked up before games that he will get dressed in his coach's outfit as soon as he gets to the stadium and then go sit on the bench hours before almost anyone else even filters in. On Sunday, he will watch his quarterback warm up and perhaps cast a glance to Manning. For a while in 2011, it seemed possible that both halves of that nearly perfect partnership would never resume the jobs in which they had flourished together for Indianapolis. They both have, connected now only by that long-shared history and what they learned from each other.

"I'm very content working and wherever that is, that's cool with me," Moore said. "I lived the dream. And still living it."

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Here are 10 more things to watch as the rest of the Week 5 schedule plays out:

1) Is this a changing-of-the-AFC-guard moment in New England? The undefeated Bengals lead the league in scoring defense, yielding just 11 points per game, and have snagged six interceptions. They have just seven sacks, but the Patriots' offensive line has allowed a league-worst 55 total pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. Tom Brady is struggling. He leads the league with five fumbles and is completing fewer than 60 percent of his passes, with almost no deep throws (1-for-20 on passes of at least 20 yards in the air) and a career-low average of 5.77 yards per attempt. The Bengals beat the Patriots 13-6 in Cincinnati last season, but the Patriots are 39-3 in their last 42 home games, winning the last 10 straight.

2) The Chiefs have scored 75 points in the last two weeks, behind a running game that has rolled up 381 yards in that span. But they might have to turn more to Alex Smith and the short passing attack (the K.C. quarterback's averaging a league-low 6.4 air yards per attempt) against his former team. San Francisco's defense is allowing just 69.3 rushing yards per game, ranking second in the league, and has yielded just 2.7 yards per carry over the last three games.

3) The Cowboys lead the league in rushing (165 yards per game) and are running on 50.8 percent of plays, one of just three teams rushing over 50 percent of the time. Tony Romo's 118 attempts are his fewest through four games in his career. That may help keep J.J. Watt at bay. According to Pro Football Focus, Watt has 32 pressures, leading all 3-4 defensive ends by 17 pressures. That figure would have put him in the top 20 for the entire 2013 season among 3-4 defensive ends.

4) Can FedExField make up for what seems like a glaring mismatch on Monday Night Football? Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins has five interceptions this season, tied for the most in the league. The Seahawks have 30 interceptions since last season, the most in the league. Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson has a passer rating of 108.9, third best this season. Washington's defense is allowing an opponent passer rating of 104.8, 28th in the league. But Seattle's only loss was on the road to the Chargers. The Seahawks are 9-8 on the road (vs. 17-1 at home) since 2012, scoring eight fewer points and allowing 4.3 more points on the road.

5) The Jets have a burgeoning quarterback controversy on their hands, but their shaky secondary should be the bigger concern this week. Chargers QB Philip Rivers has three straight games in which he has completed at least 72 percent of his passes, and has thrown nine touchdowns against just one interception (in Week 1) on the season. Expect him to attack cornerback Antonio Allen. According to Pro Football Focus, Allen has allowed 23 receptions while in coverage this season, tied for second-most in the NFL.

6) Does benching EJ Manuel for Kyle Orton ignite Buffalo's offense? Since the beginning of last season, Manuel has the lowest completion percentage on third down of any quarterback with at least 75 third-down attempts. His career completion percentage is below 60 percent and he's yet to record a 300-yard passing game. Orton passed for 358 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions in the Cowboys' season-finale loss last December, his most recent start. But the Lions have the league's top-ranked defense.

7) Drew Brees should be able to slice through the Buccaneers, who are allowing a passer rating of 118.4. That's 7.5 points higher than the all-time worst for a season (set by the 0-16 Lions in 2008). But will the Bucs be able to exploit a Saints defense that has yielded 67 plays of at least 10 yards (second-worst in the NFL), has allowed opponents to score on 51.3 percent of their drives (second-worst in the NFL) and has just one takeaway (fewest in the NFL). (UPDATE: The Saints placed safety Jairus Byrd on season-ending injured reserve Friday, a crushing development that makes the defense even more vulnerable.)

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8) The Giants' offense has a chance to take another positive step against the Falcons' 31st-ranked defense. Big Blue has steadily improved in the West Coast offense, with Eli Manning completing 73 percent of his passes in the last two games. The Falcons' defense hasn't had a sack in three of their four games.

9) Does the Eagles' offense get back on track against the Rams' struggling defense? Last week against the 49ers, the Eagles went 11 drives without an offensive touchdown. Last year's league-leading running game is now ranked 26th, with LeSean McCoy averaging just 2.74 yards per rush behind a banged-up and inconsistent offensive line. And Nick Foles has taken a beating, completing 57.8 percent of his passes and accounting for six giveaways. The Rams are allowing 155 rushing yards per game, have allowed at least 30 points in two of three games and have just one sack, but their defensive front remains one of the most athletic in the league and could still present trouble for McCoy.

10) Good news for the Steelers: The Jaguars have allowed 152 points in four games this season, the most through the first four games since the 1961 Raiders. But is the Steelers' defense vulnerable to Blake Bortles' short passing attack after giving up 245 passing yards to the Bucs in the second half last week? Bortles completed 78.4 percent of his passes in his starting debut last week, and on the season, he's connected on 29 of his 33 attempts within five yards of the line of scrimmage.

Follow Judy Battista on Twitter @judybattista.

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