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Patriots Present Tough Challenge

Posted Dec 15, 2011

The improved Broncos defense is charged with the task of stopping the high-flying Patriots offense, led by quarterback Tom Brady, this week.


ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- When the New England Patriots come to town this weekend, many people will be focused on one person in particular – the man wearing the No. 12 jersey, quarterback Tom Brady.

As he has done throughout his 12-year career, Brady is once again putting up numbers that place him among the league leaders. He is second in the NFL in touchdowns, passing yards and passer rating.

His ability to constantly find his receivers and put the ball where nobody else can is a product of his calmness and focus each and every play.

“I think the one thing that you see about him is that he’s so calm in the pocket,” safety Brian Dawkins said. “I’ve never seen a guy who can stand as still as a statue in the midst of the pocket with guys around him as he does at times. Sometimes he’ll stand completely and totally. To me, that confidence (in his teammates) and poise in the midst of that chaos is unmatched.”

But the leader of the Patriots' dynamic attack also has some high-octane weapons at his disposal in wide receivers Wes Welker and Deion Branch and tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.

Welker, a 5-foot-9, 185-pound receiver, leads the league in catches (100) and receiving yards (1,339). In fact, he has 20 more catches than the second-highest player.

“We know Wes has worked that slot as well as anybody has ever done it, probably in the history of the league as far as how many catches he’s been putting up,” Dawkins said.

Just as the Denver defense has to cover the short, speedy receiver, there are two completely opposite players to worry about in Gronkowski and Hernandez.

Gronkowski in just his second year in the league has become one of Brady’s favorite targets. The 6-foot-6, 265-pound tight end gives Brady a tall target to throw to, and Gronkowski’s size prevents players from pushing him around. He already has 14 touchdown catches on the season – an NFL-record for tight ends – and he is so tough to match up with that one of the best cornerbacks in the game said it would be a tremendous challenge to cover him.

“What makes them so tough is their size,” Champ Bailey said. “I can keep up with them with my feet, but it’s just the pushing and shoving and the ball placement. It is tougher when you have a quarterback like Tom Brady because he puts the ball where nobody else can get it. It’s going to be challenging but we’re up for it.”

Everyone in the defense will likely be accountable for stopping Gronkowski at different times throughout the game, whether it be defensive linemen slowing him at the line of scrimmage, or linebackers or cornerbacks picking him up in coverage.

“You just try to get your hands on him as soon as you can, try to jam him on the line, slow him down, slow his momentum down,” linebacker Joe Mays said. “Just make Tom Brady look somewhere else.”

The Denver defense tasked with the assignment of limiting Brady, Gronkowski and the high-powered Patriots offense is a much different and improved unit from the beginning of the season. The Broncos have kept opponents under 16 points in five of their last eight games. Defensive Coordinator Dennis Allen credits that to healthy players and the fact that they’ve had more time playing in the system.

“I think our guys have gotten a better understanding of what we’re trying to do defensively, how we’re trying to do it, the way we’re trying to play the game,” Allen said. “And then we’ve gotten some guys that are back who are healthy and help us as far as pass defense.”

The Broncos defense has also made timely plays. Last week, Wesley Woodyard forced a fumble in overtime just as the Bears were getting into field-goal range, while the week before cornerback Andre’ Goodman intercepted Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder in the final minutes to set Denver up for the game-winning field goal.

“I think what you’ve got to give our players credit for is they never quit," Allen said. "They always keep competing. … I think the heart and the fight of those guys in that locker room, you can’t question that.”