Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick makes it clear every week that the current week's game is the most important thing to him and his football team. Outside distractions, the upcoming schedule, injuries and everything else that isn't directly tied to the coming opponent and game becomes a non-issue.
And this week has been no different. While Belichick admitted that playing in Denver on Monday night brings some inherent changes to the normal preparation schedule, he also focused quite vehemently on the fact that even with the injuries the 5-3 Broncos are a more than capable football team with highly skilled players on both sides of the ball as well some of the best coaching in football.
"It will be a real big challenge for us out there," Belichick said. "We know Denver in Denver is about as tough as it gets. This will be a real big challenge for our football team. We haven't done too well against them the last couple of years, once here and once there and we need to find a way to play better than we played the last couple of years.'
Belichick also knows that with Danny Kanell in as the Broncos third quarterback of the season that the Patriots may see a larger dose of running back Clinton Portis and the Denver ground game that has been the heart of the offense over the last decade.
"You have to start with the constants and that is the coaches," Belichick said of Denver's rushing success. "[Mike] Shanahan and [Gary] Kubiak, Alex Gibbs, those guys have done an outstanding job. The players have changed but their production hasn't. Whether you go back to T.D. [Terrell Davis] or [Mike] Anderson or Portis or [Olandis] Gary right down the line. It doesn't matter who has been running, they have all gained a lot of yards and they are all good players too. I am not taking anything away from them and the offensive line, they have had a number of different people in that spot all the way across the board. They keep producing it and I think it is a real credit to their game planning and their coaching skills. They give you a lot of different formations, a lot of different looks and they are a very hard team to prepare for as I have said many times. I think that Mike does as good a job and better job than just about everybody that we face in terms of making it tough on you defensively. He is very good. And they have a lot of good players.
"[Portis] is fast. He is a fast back. He gets a crease and he makes a lot of yards. He has got good run vision. He is not the 235-pound back, but he is fast and he quick. He sees the hole, he hits it, he is through the line and then he chews up yards in the secondary in a hurry. If you don't get him through the line of scrimmage, those five-yarders go to 20-yarders in a hurry. Denver leads the league in 20 yard runs. That is really no surprise because they get through the line a lot. They have a fast back that can do it. All of their stuff comes off of that, the reverses, the play actions and so forth. So everything ties into the running game. When the running game is going, which it always is out there and it is going now, then everything flows right in with it."
And Belichick doesn't think things are any easier defending a Broncos passing attack that features longtime Patriots problem spots Shannon Sharpe and Rod Smith. Once again Smith leads the Broncos in receptions despite the musical chairs game that has been taking place at quarterback.
"Rod Smith looks good," Belichick said. "Yeah, I don't like Rod Smith. He is a good player, and he has killed us before. I can name some other guys that have been part of that too, but he's especially been a problem and continues to be a problem—not just for us but for everybody else too. He is one of the best receivers in the league. He is fast, he has got good quickness, he is a go-to guy, he is a real confident receiver. He knows he is going to be open, he knows he is going to make the play, and I think they know it too and they're not afraid to go to him. They don't get scared off by double coverage either."
"Rod Smith is kind of a sensitive area. Maybe we can talk about him some other week. I mean since it is a game plan thing, and he's right in the middle of the game plan. Absolutely. Rod Smith is a player that defensively you've got to stop. I mean, he'll beat you. He'll definitely go out there and beat you. And they're going to him. It's not like he's some secret weapon that they might use and they might not. They're going to him, he's a big part of the offense, he's right in the plan. A good example is the opening play of the game last year. First play they run a bootleg, we're right in [Brian] Griese's face, he hits Smith on a little three, four yard pattern, 20-yard gain. Could've easily been a sack, could've easily been a big play early in the game, they gain 20 yards on it. And Smith got most of it on his own. I mean Griese made a good play to get the ball off, but that's the kind of problem that Rod Smith brings. He can take nothing and turn it into a good play, and he can take something and turn it into a great play like he did a couple years ago out there. He takes a two-yard crossing pattern and goes 70 yards."
Defensively the Broncos have also been hit hard by injury, losing linebackers Ian Gold and John Mobley in recent weeks. Yet the unit continues to keep the team in games and ranks second in the NFL in total defense.
"They are right at the top of the league in red zone defense," Belichick said. "They are tough in the red zone, tough on short yardage, leading the league on third down and really are doing a good job defensively. I think this is one of the fundamentally best defensive teams that we have seen all year and seen in quite a while. I know they have had a lot of turnover and I am sure that some people might not recognize the names of some of the players but they are very well coached. They are playing well. I think that Mike [Shanahan] and Larry [Coyer] have done a great job with that group. It is really an outstanding unit and they are playing very well in all phases of the game.
"We know what kind of speed they have at linebacker and they have got kind of a unique combination at corners. A couple of big physical safeties and a defensive front that is very good. Of course, it starts with [Trevor] Pryce, now they have got [Daryl] Gardener back and [Bertrand] Berry and [Darius] Holland and they rotate those guys through there. They have a lot of speed at linebacker, very physical and dominating defensive line, hard hitting safeties and a couple of corners that are playing very well [Kelly] Herndon and [Lenny] Walls. They are different style corners. One guy is 6'4 and the other guy is 5'10 but they both play well and they play well within that scheme."
So despite the fact that some fans and media members see the Broncos as a bit of a wounded beast, Belichick isn't falling into that trap. As far as New England is concerned the Broncos are as dangerous as they have ever been and that means the Patriots need to bring the type of effort that has carried the team in recent weeks to the turf of Invesco Field this Monday night in Denver.
Game numbers and notes
The Patriots are one of just three NFL teams (Giants, Dolphins) who have yet to allow a 100-yard rusher this season. … Conversely, Denver's Clinton Portis ranks tied for fourth in the NFL with four 100-yard performances this season. … New England enters Monday night's game with the longest active winning streak (21 games) when entering the fourth quarter with a lead, including five of the team's six wins this season. The Tennessee Titans have the second longest active win streak when leading after three quarters with 15 consecutive wins. … The Patriots are 6-2 for the sixth time in team history, one of just six NFL teams to have recorded six or more wins this season. … The Patriots finished 4-0 for the month of October, the team's first undefeated month since December of 2001. … The Broncos hold a 23-14 advantage in the all-time series between the two teams, including 1-0 in the postseason. … The Patriots are 7-15 all time in Denver. … Bill Belichick has a 1-6 record against the Broncos, including a 1-2 mark with New England. … Mike Shanahan is 6-2 versus the Patriots. … The Patriots and Broncos have met for nine-consecutive seasons, the longest consecutive streak for non-divisional opponents in the NFL. … The Patriots enter Monday night's game with the 20th ranked offense, 14th ranked defense, scoring 19.3 points per game and a plus-eight turnover ratio. Denver has the NFL's 15th ranked offense, number two defense, scores 23.0 points a game and has a minus-five turnover ratio. … Kevin Faulk set career highs last week against the Browns with 23 rushes for 96 yards. … New England has scored in the first quarter for seven straight weeks and has not allowed an opponent to score a touchdown in the first quarter over the same span. … Troy Brown has caught at least one pass in the last 62 games in which he has played. … Tom Brady hasn't thrown an interception in his last 132 pass attempts. Brady set an NFL record when he started his career with 162 pass attempts before being intercepted, a streak that was snapped in a Patriots loss at Denver in 2001. … The Patriots lead the NFL with four defensive touchdowns in 2003, three coming via the interception and one via fumble. … Eugene Wilson leads all NFL rookies with three interceptions and is the only AFC rookie with multiple picks. … Belichick has the best record in the NFL since Week Four of the 2001 season at 28-11. … The Patriots are 6-0 this season when the have a positive turnover ratio and 0-2 in games with a negative turnover ration. … The Patriots rank second in the AFC and fourth in the NFL in third-down defense allowing their opponents just 37 conversions in 108 third-down opportunities for a 34.3-percent mark. … The Patriots and Broncos have met three times on Monday Night Football, with the Broncos winning tow of the games. … The Patriots are 9-19 all time on MNF. … Through eight games this season Brady continues to spread the wealth to his receivers, averaging completed passes to 7.1 receivers per game. … Rodney Harrison leads the Patriots with 75 tackles. … Faulk leads the Patriots with 99 rushing attempts for 397 yards. … The Patriots have given up just three touchdown passes this season, the fewest in the NFL. … New England is second in the AFC and fourth in the NFL with 12 interceptions. … The Patriots are on pace to rush for 1,726 yards in 2003 if they keep up their current pace of 108 yards per game. … The Boston Patriots were the first team the Broncos ever played and defeated in the regular season. … Broncos center Tom Nalen is a native of Foxboro, Mass., and attended Boston College. … Shannon Sharpe leads NFL tight ends with 31 receptions. … The Broncos have outscored their opponents 112-62 in the first half this season for a plus-50 differential. … Denver's defense has 21 sacks this season, tied with the Patriots and Chiefs for fourth in the NFL. … Broncos cornerback and former Boston College defender Lenny Walls leads Denver with 14 passes defensed and is the tallest cornerback in the NFL. … The Broncos have the best home record in the NFL since 1974 with a 170-57-1 mark. … Shanahan ranks first among active coaches since 1995 with an 86-50 record. … Rod Smith leads the Broncos with 35 receptions for 429 yards. … Al Wilson tops the Denver defense with 83 tackles.