ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- **Teams can pick up yardage via the air on the New England Patriots' secondary: in the last four games, foes averaged 236.3 per game and 5.67 yards per pass play against it.
But the Patriots are a team built to play complementary football. And when their offense re-emerges as a potent threat, their defense becomes more aggressive, attacks and forces the issue.
That plays right into the hands of a secondary headlined by cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner and safety Devin McCourty: a secondary that embraces physicality and a ball-hawking style in the same way the entire Patriots team savors a blustery day with the wind blowing from the open north end of Gillette Stadium.
"They're big, physical, can run and they're making a lot of plays," said Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas. "So we've got to go out there with our 'A' game as a group of receivers and try to get open for Peyton (Manning)."
Revis, who joined the Patriots after Aqib Talib signed with the Broncos, has been everything they hoped. He has not allowed a touchdown since Week 1, and according to ProFootballFocus.com, opposing quarterbacks have a 65.9 passer rating when throwing at Revis. Just 21 of 38 passes thrown in his direction through eight games were completed.
Browner offers a stark contrast in size and style to Revis. At 6-foot-4 and 221 pounds, Browner is five inches taller and 23 pounds heavier than Revis, and is one of the few cornerbacks league-wide who can provide a physical match for a receiver like the Broncos' 6-foot-3, 229-pound Demaryius Thomas.
Both are capable of handling one-on-one coverage. That doesn't mean the Patriots will leave them to fend for themselves on the outside.
"With the excellent cover corners, it allows them to do a lot of things and, like you said, put those guys out there because they have such great cover skills," said Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning.
"It's a matter of trying to be good at what you're doing, and you know you've got to be prepared to handle the different adjustments that they can certainly make you go through during the course of a game."
Those adjustments help the Patriots keep opponents off balance and set up takeaways: two per game, third-most in the league.
"If the ball's on the ground, they are going to get it and they do a good job of being in tight coverage forcing interceptions in that area as well," said Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase. "For us we just have to make sure we hold onto the ball."
And make sure that Browner, Revis and the rest of the Patriots' defensive backs don't get to it first.