BOSTON (CBS) — The Denver defense figures to have a difficult time stopping Tom Brady on Sunday afternoon, but it appears as though they may have an even more difficult time stopping LeGarrette Blount.

Linebacker Brandon Marshall was absent from Denver’s Friday practice due to a hamstring injury, making him very unlikely to play on Sunday.

Marshall has 52 total tackles in 11 games played this season, and his absence in the middle of the Denver defense is likely to open up some lanes for Blount, Dion Lewis and the New England running game.

Pro Football Focus ranks Marshall as the 14th-best linebacker in the NFL, with a grade of 84.8. He ranks 21st at his position in the NFL against the run, with a 78.1 grade, and he’s ranked 13th in terms of coverage as a linebacker.

Todd Davis, the Broncos’ other top linebacker, returned to practice on Friday after missing earlier in the week due to a rib cage injury.

The Patriots’ ground game figured to be an important aspect of the team’s game plan this weekend anyway. Last year in the AFC Championship Game, Brady handed the ball off just 14 times for a grand total of 31 yards. It was the final act in a season that saw the Patriots rank 30th in rushing yards per game and 29th in yards per rushing attempt.

This year, the Patriots rank seventh and 21st, respectively, in those categories, presenting a more balanced offensive approach that makes the task more difficult for any opposing defense. For Denver without Marshall, the challenge grows steeper.


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