Unfamiliar Stadium, Unfamiliar Opponent
Through five weeks in the season, the Broncos will have played three NFC East teams. They fall into the category of "unfamiliar opponents," as quarterback Peyton Manning puts it.
The Broncos haven't played the Cowboys in the regular season since 2009, and needless to say the majority of the roster has been overhauled since then. In fact, the 22 players that start on offense and defense on Sunday could be entirely different than the starters in 2009. With Ryan Clady -- who started at left tackle in 2009 -- on injured reserve, the whole offensive side of the ball will be different. If Champ Bailey does not suit up Sunday, the entire defense will be different as well.
Manning has never been to AT&T Stadium, either, and said he will "try to get to know it in pregame a little bit."
But that unfamiliarity on the players' side hasn't affected the game planning from the coaches.
"The good thing about the variety of coaching that we've had, a lot of these guys have played this division," Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase said. "For me it was like three years in a row I saw this division. From '07, '08, '09 it was, 'Alright, I don't want to see these guys for a while.' There are some familiar faces but at the same time there are some different guys and we're trying to figure out who they are and what kind of problems they're going to present to us."
Chris Clark vs. DeMarcus Ware
The Broncos' players and coaches have had nothing but praise for the way Chris Clark has handled stepping into a starting role at left tackle.
But Sunday will provide a whole new challenge with All-Pro DeMarcus Ware coming for Manning.
"He's a great football player; he's a Pro Bowl guy that's been that way for some time," Head Coach John Fox said. "Their front seven is very good; their front four in particular is probably as good as we've played to date. They'll create some problems, not just DeMarcus—the whole front four is pretty good."
To that point, Gase said the Cowboys' defensive line will "probably be our biggest challenge to date."
"(They're) just relentless," he said. "From the beginning of the play to the end of the play they're going to play all the way to the whistle."
But the Denver offensive line has kept Manning upright for all but two sacks since the season-opener, and Manning has faith that the group -- Clark included -- will continue that trend Sunday.
"Chris has done a good job," Manning said. "I think it's helped him, as I mentioned earlier, that he really was the starting left tackle in mini camps and OTAs and training camp (when T Ryan Clady was injured). I know that's paid dividends for him as far as learning the offense from the cerebral standpoint. I think he will just continue to get better through the season."
Dez and DT
Dallas' Dez Bryant and Denver's Demaryius Thomas will likely draw comparisons throughout their careers. Taken two picks apart in the 2010 NFL Draft -- Thomas was 22nd, Bryant 24th -- both possess big-play ability and big-time size -- Thomas is 6-foot-3, 229 pounds and Bryant is 6-foot-2, 222 pounds.
So far in their careers, the two have combined to haul in 400 passes for 5,814 yards and 51 touchdowns.
Sunday will mark the first time the two have been on the same field in a regular-season matchup.
"They both have great individual talent. They both play with good quarterbacks," cornerback Champ Bailey said. "They're going to get their numbers. They're both kind of big, speedy receivers. The typical guys that are coming out of college these days. They're pretty close. I like my guy a lot, but we've got our hands full with (Bryant)."
The Broncos faced a bit of a scare when starting linebacker Danny Trevathan injured his knee in practice Wednesday. But he recovered for full participation both Thursday and Friday and is probable for the game. Only two Broncos are questionable for the contest -- linebacker Paris Lenon and cornerback Champ Bailey.
Fox said Bailey's progress has been "very good."
"He's improving every week, day to day," Fox said. "As far as any decision it will be a game-time, hour-and-a-half before kickoff decision. We've still got time to make that evaluation."
For the Cowboys, a number of players are up in the air for gameday. Wide receiver Miles Austin, linebacker Justin Durant and defensive end Edgar Jones are all doubtful. Defensive end George Selvie and wide receiver Dwayne Harris are questionable.
On the Road Again
The Cowboys are undefeated at home in 2013. The Broncos are undefeated on the road -- but have only played one game away from Sports Authority Field at Mile High to this point.
"In order to be good in this league you have to win on the road," defensive end Shaun Phillips said.
The Broncos have done just that over the past two seasons, tying for the franchise record with seven, a feat also accomplished in 1976-77. A win on Sunday would set a new mark at eight and counting.
"I think every road trip is a huge game to us because it's us going against them and their entire stadium, all their fans," wide receiver Eric Decker said. "We're going to have a great, competitive battle and hopefully we play well."