BOSTON (CBS) — Denver’s Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium has always been a notoriously tough place to play for visiting teams, and the Patriots are not immune to that. Between the overwhelming crowd noise and the thinner air wearing players out faster than they’re used to, the stadium has made for some tough adjustments for teams that aren’t well-prepared for the environment.
But there’s another big factor that doesn’t get talked about nearly enough when discussing Tom Brady’s 3-7 record in Denver: they have almost always had a good defense on the other side.
Despite the recent struggles of the Broncos’ otherwise talented D, Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is still taking the group very seriously and treating it, as he should, like the most important factor for Brady and the Pats offense to come out of Denver with a win.
“Well, from our perspective, the defense is the most challenging part,” said McDaniels when asked about the challenges of playing in Denver and coaching against other factors like the noise. “That’s an exceptional unit that’s been exceptional for a number of years. We know that that’s who we’re playing against. You play against the opponent, not the crowd or the weather or anything like that. But, like all road stadiums and road games, you have to deal with noise on the road there, and you’ve got to do a good job of handling your snap count and not creating penalties for yourselves and putting yourself in long-yardage situations.”
Despite winning 16-3 last time they played in Denver, the Patriots offense had a forgettable afternoon, particularly on those aforementioned third down plays. They were 5-for-17 on third down in the game, including 0-for-5 on plays of eight or more yards. McDaniels acknowledges that the environment can make things harder for them, but also that executing on offense is the only thing Brady & Co. can control – and the only way they could possibly quiet the Broncos faithful down.
“Obviously, playing well is what matters. If we do a good job of going out there and trying to play well and actually accomplishing that, then you usually have an opportunity to control how bad the noise actually gets,” said McDaniels. “But, the defense is the thing we’re focused on. We’ve got to do a great job of preparing for a really, really tremendous unit from front-to-back, from back-to-front, however you want to look at it.
“They’re really talented, they create a lot of problems for you, and playing in their stadium on the road at night, I’m sure it will be loud and that will add to the challenge. But, we’ve got to have a great week of preparation, go there and try to play the game the right way.”
The Broncos were uncharacteristically poor on defense on Sunday against the Eagles, allowing 51 points and seven touchdowns. They allowed quarterback Carson Wentz to march the Eagles down the field on four different drives of 75 or more yards, letting them in the end zone on all of them.
Entering Monday, the Broncos are allowing the 12th-highest passer rating per game (92.4) in the NFL. They led the league with a 69.7 opposing passer rating in 2016.
However, Denver is still allowing the fewest yards per play (4.4) and passing yards per game (199.6) in the NFL so far, and are 3-1 at home. The Patriots may be huge road favorites with a massive advantage at quarterback, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that going to Denver and overcoming their defense is going to be easy.