Preparing for Gronkowski reminiscent of Shannon Sharpe for Phillips**
The connection between quarterback Tom Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski is a daunting matchup for any team. Brady's accuracy paired with Gronkowski's size, hands and speed make for one formidable combination, and stopping them has been no easy task.
However, Buffalo had the most success of anyone this season, holding Gronkowski to just 37 receiving yards on Monday.
Take a look at photos from the last time the Broncos played the Patriots November 2, 2014 at Gillette Stadium.
"[Buffalo doubled him] some. They didn't all the time. He's a great player and you have to be aware of him," Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips said. "If you try to take away what they do best or take away their best player, that's what you have to try to do. It means doubling him a lot, certainly, but it also means putting enough pressure on the quarterback where the guy doesn't have time to throw to the guy even when he gets open sometimes."
Gronkowski's talent is rare, but preparing for him reminds Phillips of one other player: Broncos Ring of Fame and Pro Football Hall Fame TE Shannon Sharpe.
"We used to play against Shannon Sharpe every day on defense when I was here. We couldn't cover him in practice," Phillips recalled. "That's what I told [Ring of Fame Head Coach] Dan Reeves, I said, 'We can't cover him.' I've been in the league long enough to be against a lot of great tight ends and he's certainly one of them."
And even amid the injuries at wide receiver to starters Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman, Brady has been stellar with the depth that they have in their absence.
"They said that they had a lot of people hurt and then he [Brady] throws for 270 [yards] last game and threw it to seven different receivers," Phillips said. "You can say he lost this one or he lost that one, but it's still the quarterback making the plays. In their design, they do a great job with their offense getting matchups that they want, but the quarterback, when it comes down to it, he makes the plays for them. He puts the ball on the money so much. He gets rid of the ball instead of getting sacked and then he comes back and makes the play the next play."
DeCamillis gearing up for prime-time matchup**
As a former special teams coach, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick knows the value of an opportunistic special teams unit.
Their groups excel in almost every way, with top-10 rankings in average punt return yardage allowed, average kickoff return yardage allowed and average punt return yardage gained. But on average kickoff return yardage, the Patriots are last. However, at Sports Authority Field at Mile High—where kickoffs soar beyond the end zone more often than other stadiums—that issue is less of a concern.
During the Broncos' Wednesday practice preparing for the Patriots, Christian Ponder joined in after being signed that morning and DeMarcus Ware stretched with the training staff.
"We have to make sure that we do a great job against these guys," Special Teams Coordinator Joe DeCamillis. "Special teams-wise, we have our work cut out for us. They have another good group. I think they're top-10 in everything except for kickoff return, which, obviously, at this place isn't a big deal anyway because there aren't too many kickoff returns. We have a heck of a challenge in front of us this week."
New England's special teams proved to be a challenge for the Bills, too, as the Patriots came up with a fumble on a punt return on Monday that gave them the opportunity to take a double-digit lead into the fourth quarter.
But they also tend to create some big plays in unique ways.
"They're masters of it," DeCamillis said. "They'll mess with personnel and they'll mess with substitution, so you really have to be sharp as getting the right people on there and making sure that it's base defense, field goal block or whatever it is. We have our work cut out for us this week with these guys. [Patriots Head] Coach [Bill] Belichick and their whole staff do a great job of getting some free plays at times."
Dennison: Patriots defense a strong test for offense **
The Patriots have built their defense by heavily investing on that side of the ball through the draft, and the result so far this season is a group that holds its opponents to the fewest points in the NFL. Seven of the Patriots' listed starters were drafted by the organization, and five of them were first-round picks.
"They have a lot of talent. They've drafted very well," Offensive Coordinator Rick Dennison said. "They play tight coverage and they can rush the passer. They don't have to blitz to do that. It's a very good team. It's a big challenge for us."
Their pass rush has been particularly strong, as New England's defense ranks fourth in sacks per pass attempt, and that starts with defensive end Chandler Jones, who has 10.5 sacks and two forced fumbles.
"You can't block him," Dennison said. "He goes around, he goes through. He plays the run very well, too. He's a great player that is hard to block. It's hard to get on him."
Facing Belichick and his consistently tough defense will pose quite the challenge for quarterback Brock Osweiler in his second career start, but Dennison is focusing on making the game controllable for him.
"We're just trying to find first downs," Dennison said. "We're trying to do what we do best and just knowing that they're studying the tape. We just try not to be too predictable. Run and pass, we're trying to do what we do best."