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BOSTON (CBS) – The Denver Broncos are a lot more than just Tim Tebow, and the New England Patriots know that.
“I think they have a good football team, they have a lot of good players – it’s certainly not a one-man team,” head coach Bill Belichick said Monday. “They’re good on defense, they’re good in the kicking game and they run the ball on offense well, they have a well-balanced attack.”
“Obviously, they’ve played great when they’ve needed to play well in the fourth quarter, whether it’s kicking 60-yard field goals or driving the length of the field for a touchdown or making a defensive stop or whatever it is. That’s really the mark of a team, is to play well in critical situations and win games and Coach [John] Fox has them doing that. I think that speaks to everybody,” said the Patriots coach.
While Tebow has been a major reason for the team’s success, winning six straight and seven of eight since he took over as the starting quarterback, he is not the only reason.
Denver has the best running attack in the NFL, rushing for 156 yards per game. Willis McGahee paces the Broncos with 76 yards a game, with Tebow chipping in with 47 yards on the ground to go with his 105 yard average through the air. While the Patriots defense is one of the best against the run, they will have a new kind of running attack to deal with come Sunday.
“They have a lot of confidence in it,” Belichick said of the Broncos running game. “They call them, they don’t get discouraged with it, they hang with it. They try to get it worked out if a play is not going well. They hit you on a lot of different points of attack, different scheme runs.”
“Of course the quarterback has put up quite a few yards himself. Also their option plays, the option, dive option program, that type of thing. There’s a lot of different ways they get that rushing yardage in bursts,” said Belichick. “They really test your defense all the way across the board from the pass rush contain the quarterback standpoint, to playing the normal run-block type of plays to their kind of specialty plays, element of Wildcat, quarterback scrambling, things like that. They get you on a lot of different levels.”
The Patriots will have to make changes this week to prepare for a running quarterback, something that will affect other aspects of the defense as well.
“Offensively it gives you an extra blocker somewhere or it takes a defender out depending on what formation you use. It really puts everybody in play, whereas on a normal running play, the quarterback hands the ball off to somebody else and acts out of the play at the point he hands it off,” said Belichick. “The quarterback, in an offense that runs the ball, he has the whole other 10 people to block for him or to force the defense to catch or cover him in some way which drags a defender out of it. It’s like gaining an extra player schematically.”
So how will the Patriots go about preparing for this? No offense to Brian Hoyer or Ryan Mallett, but neither of them can emulate Tebow in practice. So the Patriots could use a running back or wide receiver lining up under center when hitting the practice field this week.
“That’s something we definitely have to talk about,” said Belichick. “The most important thing for our defense is to get a good look at as close to what the actual plays are going to look like as we can replicate them. However we do that, whichever players we use to try to get that look – we’ll definitely talk about that and try to do it in the way that gives the defense the best look at it.”
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With all the focus on Tebow and the Broncos offense, the Denver defense gets a little lost. The Broncos defense has allowed 15 points or less in five of their last eight game, and features another tandem of pass-rushers New England will have to contend with. Rookie Von Miller already has 11.5 sacks this season, and with Elvis Dumervil’s 7.5 sacks next to him, the offensive line will have their hands full Sunday.
“Those guys are explosive guys that have different rush techniques, good speed,” offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien said Tuesday. “It’s a fast defense overall. We’re going to have to do a good job, especially early in the game of getting used to the speed of the game as it relates definitely to those two guys and then the rest of the defense too. It’s a real challenge, especially on the road with the crowd noise and all those different things that will go into the game plan.”
It won’t help having Champ Bailey lining up ready to pluck a Tom Brady pass out of the air, something he’s done once in three regular season meetings, and once in the playoffs.
“He basically covers the other team’s best receiver every week. I would say he’s definitely in the upper echelon of players,” O’Brien said of Bailey. “He’s in his 13th year and I don’t see any drop off with that guy. I have respect for their whole secondary with [Brian] Dawkins, [Quinton] Carter and [Andre] Goodman; Chris Harris and Jonathan [Wilhite] is out there now. They have a strong secondary and we have to be ready to go against them.”
Tune in to the Patriots-Broncos game Sunday on WBZ-TV and 98.5 The Sports Hub at 4:15pm. Pregame coverage begins Sunday morning at 11:30am on WBZ-TV with Patriots Gameday; pregame coverage on the Hub begins at 1pm. After the game, tune in to The Postgame Show on 98.5 and Patriots Fifth Quarter on MyTV38.