Not let­ting Pa­tri­ots pull hoodie over Bron­cos’ eye

Denver’s D ig­nores praise by Belichick, Brady to fo­cus on lim­it­ing New Eng­land’s of­fense

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Cameron Wolfe

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

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