Not letting Patriots pull hoodie over Broncos’ eye
Denver’s D ignores praise by Belichick, Brady to focus on limiting New England’s offense
Nope. Not a chance. Aqib Talib knows Bill Belichick well enough not to be lured into a false sense of comfort when the Patriots coach lathered him and the Broncos secondary in praise all week.
Talib safely ignores it, assuming it’s one of The Hoodie’s mind games. The Broncos’ all-pro cornerback spent 1K seasons (2012-13) playing for Belichick in New England and learned just how much the Patriots value keeping defenses off balanced.
Preparation is the most important factor for the Broncos’ defense this week — more than any other this season. Belichick excels at exploiting his opponent’s weaknesses and tweaking offensive game plans in a moment’s notice.
“It’s Patriot week,” Talib said, matter-of-factly. “(We’re) playing a Hall of Fame quarterback, Hall of Fame coach. It’s your ‘See where you at’ week.”
Denver’s 2-0 record against New England last season means little heading into Sunday’s game. The Patriots are a different bunch with a stronger offensive line and running game than 2015.
LeGarrette Blount is the Patriots’ first running back to surpass 1,000 yards since 2012. The 250-pound bell cow has a lot of power and a surprising amount of elusiveness to take pressure off the passing game.
“We know he’s going to try to run us over and run physical,” said Denver linebacker Zaire Anderson, a hard-hitting, run-stopper who could be making his first start this season in place of injured Todd Davis.
The Broncos expect the Patriots to lean on the running game to minimize the roles of Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware, Talib and the rest of the Broncos’ defensive playmakers.
“They feel like they know what we’re going to do,” defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said, “and we feel like we know what they’re going to do.”
That’s where the Broncos have to cause an upheaval by blowing up the Patriots’ planned schemes.
“Football has always been a man-on-man philosophy,” Ware said. “You can do the trick plays and say ‘this is the best chess matchup we’re going to have this week,’ but sometimes there are certain guys you can’t stop.” Miller is one of those guys. In last season’s AFC championship game, Miller destroyed the Patriots’ offense with 2½ sacks, an interception and a large portion of the 17 hits on Brady, leading to Denver’s 20-18 win. It was Miller’s third multisack game in seven matchups against the Patriots.
Like Talib, Miller also received high praise from the Patriots. Quarterback Tom Brady compared Miller to Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor, but the Broncos pass rusher said he wasn’t about to “melt” after the compliment or let it “take his stinger away.” There’s still a lot of work to be done.
“Before we get to the defense or team stepping it up another notch, it starts with individuals,” Miller said. “I’ve got to step it up another notch first to get it started.”
New England will have to decide between sending its running backs and tight ends on routes or staying in to chip Miller.
On the other side, the Patriots will be without their top tight end: Rob Gronkowski. He had 14 catches, 232 yards and two touchdowns against Denver last season. Yet the Patriots’ train hasn’t slowed down since he was placed on injured reserve two weeks ago.
“They got five different offenses they can run. So Gronk down, OK, they’ll run the next offense,” Talib said. “You gotta know all five of ’em. So it’s an extra hard week to prepare.”
Tight end Martellus Bennett has assumed Gronkowski’s spot, but without him New England has used less two-tight end formations. Instead, it has had success spreading around the ball in three- and four-receiver sets throwing to Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell.
“Brady’s been running the same offense for a decade and running it to perfection,” cornerback Chris Harris said. “They just try to hide it, try to trick it, try to fool you. Good thing we’re intelligent enough to see that.”
Denver linebacker Von Miller and the rest of the Broncos defense celebrate his interception of a pass by New England quarterback Tom Brady during the AFC championship game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on Jan. 24. The Broncos won, advancing to the Super Bowl. AAron Ontiveroz, The Denver Post
New England Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount gets shoved by Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib last season. Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post