ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --** The Patriots defense enters Sunday night's showdown against the Broncos having recorded 18 sacks in the team's past four games – and regardless of whether or not the Patriots' pass rushers have been in the spotlight enough, they've certainly caught the attention of Broncos Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase.
"Their edge rushers don't get the 'pub' a lot that these other guys get, but they do a great job," Gase said after Thursday's practice. "It's their constant effort to get to the quarterback. And then scheme-wise, they have some things that cause problems and they free up players and they'll get some clean rushes to the quarterback."
In New England's 31-21 win over Denver last season, the Patriots sacked Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning twice and held Denver to just 70 rushing yards. And despite the loss of defensive tackle Vince Wilfork for the season, Gase noted the Patriots have been impressive in making the necessary adjustments in the wake of injuries on defense.
"They're a well-coached team," Gase said. "(Defensive Coordinator) Matt Patricia has been there a long time and obviously (Head) Coach (Bill) Belichick, he knows exactly what he needs to do when something happens that's a massive change there personnel-wise. They do a great job as far as getting those guys ready to go and being able to stop an offense."
Revving up the Run Game
The Broncos carried the ball 36 times for 104 yards in their 27-17 win over the Chiefs in Week 11 – a strategy that Gase noted helped keep Kansas City's dangerous pass rushers at bay.
"I think we tried to do that last week a little more," Gase said. "There was an emphasis of running the ball more, especially with that team we just faced – with those rushers. That kind of helps our pass protection out. We still had 80-plus plays."
Running back Knowshon Moreno led the way with 79 yards on 29 carries – extending his season rushing totals to 150 carries for 600 yards. But while Moreno has carried the brunt of the workload throughout much of the season, Gase noted that the emergence of rookie running back Montee Ball – who scored a pair of touchdowns against the Chiefs – and the ongoing development of rookie running back C.J. Anderson could help balance out the repetitions.
"That helps," Gase said regarding Ball's development. "It helps to constantly give confidence to the coaching staff, to other plays on the field that he's coming along in the way that we need him to. As this season progresses, hopefully we can get him more involved and balance out the reps between him, Knowshon and C.J."
And, with winter approaching and cold temperatures expected for Sunday's game in New England, Gase noted that establishing a run game will only become more critical as the season goes on.
"It's got to be a big emphasis because the weather is only going to get worse and we have to be able to move the ball in the running game," he said.
Welker Reliable in Red Zone
As wide receiver Wes Welker prepares to play his former team for the first time since becoming a Bronco, Gase also reflected on Welker's effectiveness in the red zone this season.
Welker has caught nine touchdowns – tied with teammate Demaryius Thomas for fourth-most in the NFL – and Gase noted that Welker has served as one of many options that the Broncos have been able to count on in the red zone, depending on what the defense shows.
"Coverage. However the team is playing on him," Gase said of why Welker has been so successful. "Peyton is going through his progressions and when (Welker) is open, he hits him. That's the great thing. A lot of times for us, in our red area, we have a lot of different options."
Gase noted that whenever Welker has been able to find free space between defenders, the Broncos have made an effort to get him the football.
"Most of the time I would say the defense allows us, if they're not paying attention to Wes, we try to get him the ball," he said.
And ultimately – in maximizing the effectiveness of what Welker brings to the offense – Gase credited Welker and Manning for working to develop chemistry, while noting that the coaching staff has tried to enable Welker to apply his skillset in the offense.
"I think it's a tribute to those two guys working hard together and then as a coaching staff, us trying to make sure we had what he does well in our system," Gase said.