ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – The Patriots' offensive attack in their last three games hasn't looked much like the one the Broncos saw in Week 12 in New England.
In fact, the Patriots threw the ball exactly half as many times in their Divisional Round win against the Colts as they did against the Broncos during the regular season. So this time around, the Broncos will be looking to slow down a more balanced – if not run-heavy – attack.
"They've run for 200-plus yards in the last three games so that's definitely some of the tape that's fresh in our minds," Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio said. "They have made a concerted effort to be the more physical team and have done so and so we understand that we can't allow that to happen."
Against the Colts, it was running back LeGarrette Blount that shouldered much of the load. He ran for four of the Patriots' six touchdowns and finished the day with 166 yards. Del Rio described Blount as a "big, physical player" and a "downhill runner."
But Blount is just part of the rushing attack that amassed 234 yards in the Divisional Round. And of course, the Patriots have other offensive weapons – namely, quarterback Tom Brady.
"Oh, of course they can still throw it—(they are) good at it. Play [action] pass shots and some of the quick game they do out of opened up formations," Del Rio said. "Tom (Brady) is one of the top quarterbacks in the league so when you have a guy directing it like that obviously you're going to be very good at it, but the thing they really are doing is physically they are getting after people, they're winning the heading battle in the trenches and running the ball right at people with Blount doing a large portion of the running, but all of their backs are capable. Good group and we're getting geared up for it."
Gase Expecting New Looks
Not only will the Broncos defense be tasked with handling a different approach from the Patriots, so will the offensive unit.
Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase knows that with a team as well-coached as the Patriots, this time around, they'll have a sharper plan of attack.
"This game will be different," Gase said. "Some of it will look the same but that's a well-coached group obviously with Coach Belichick. Matt Patricia does a great job as the defensive coordinator. They're going to have something different for us. Some of the stuff that they did last time they'll just do it better. That'll probably their big emphasis, 'Hey we have to play better in certain areas and we have to fix our technique.' It's going to be the same thing for the things that we didn't do as well, we have to do better."
Not only is Gase expecting the Patriots to make fewer mistakes, he's also expecting to see some things from the defense that he hasn't seen before. In response, he wants his unit to focus on their execution.
"They'll have some different pressures each week," Gase said. "You're going to get something that you haven't prepared for, which is normal around the league. But when they've made mistakes, they'll make sure they don't make them a second time. You have to anticipate that and that's why you have to be on your execution and make sure that you're not making the mistakes."
Broncos Secondary Locking Down
The Broncos' secondary has been hit hard with injuries this season and the most recent loss of cornerback Chris Harris Jr. has put some extra strain on the back end of the defense.
Earlier this week, the team signed cornerback Marquice Cole, a former Patriot, to fill the roster spot voided by Harris Jr.
"We're trying to bring him up to speed and he's a member of our football team," Del Rio said. "We're getting him caught up not only with defense but with special-teams roles as well and we'll see where that goes."
Regardless of what role Cole will play this weekend, Del Rio is looking to every member of the secondary for contributions this weekend.
"We need everybody that's going to be up, corners, safeties that are involved and that get a uniform – need him to help us win, help us play well," Del Rio said. "I wouldn't isolate on any one guy. I think we've got a number of guys that will be up and used in different combinations and the guys that play need to play well."
Since he returned from injury, cornerback Champ Bailey has been helping the secondary from the slot, instead of the outside where he has spent the majority of his career. With Harris Jr. out, the possibility exists that Bailey moves back to the outside.
Del Rio said that no matter where Bailey plays Sunday, he's pleased that the veteran cornerback has recovered from injury and has been able to make an impact for the defense.
"I think he's a consummate pro," Del Rio said. "He's been strong from start to finish in terms of the way he approaches things. There was a tough stretch where he wasn't available. The doctors didn't give him the green light. He's got the green light now, he's playing and he's a good football player so we're certainly glad we have him."