Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan has 112 wins to along with two Super Bowl titles in his 11 seasons with Denver. Shanahan has a reputation as being an offensive mastermind and you won't get any arguments from Bill Belichick.
"I have had the privilege of coaching against a lot of great people and I would have to put Mike up there at the top of the list," Belichick said. "I don't think there is anybody any better at game-planning and creating problems for the defense. He always knows how to exploit your weaknesses and hit you where it hurts."
Shanahan trails only Bill Cowher in Pittsburgh (14 seasons) and Jeff Fisher in Tennessee (12 seasons) for the longest tenure by an active coach with the same team. There were some question marks surrounding the Broncos after an opening week loss to the Miami Dolphins but since then, Denver has reeled off four consecutive wins.
Quarterback Jake Plummer leads the Broncos offense. The talented, but often mistake-prone, Plummer has bounced back after an awful performance against the Dolphins. The Broncos haven't turned the ball over once in their last three victories and for the season Plummer is completing 57 percent of his passes.
"Jake is good at managing the game," Belichick said. "He can hurt you throwing, especially out of the pocket, as well as running. He has a lot of weapons to chose from."
One of those weapons is 11-year veteran receiver Rod Smith. Superman has kryptonite and the Patriots have Smith. Smith kills the Patriots every time he plays them, something not lost on Belichick. "I'm sure when he goes into the Hall of Fame, he will thank us," Belichick joked. "He kills us every single time we play them." Smith has 24 receptions and 449 yards receiving in his last three games with the Patriots.
Smith leads the Broncos this season with 28 receptions for 308 yards and a touchdown. He is a player who appears to be well respected by the Patriots.
According to Patriots linebacker and special teams ace Don Davis, "Rod Smith is a great receiver. To be an undrafted guy and to produce some of the best numbers in the league, he is going to be tough for us to contend with. We are a little banged up in the secondary but we are just going to have to step up and get it done"
Another area of concern for the Patriots defense is the Broncos rushing attack. One week after facing the top rushing offense in the NFL, the Patriots now face the AFC's top running game. Although current Falcons, and former Broncos, offensive line coach Alex Gibbs helped construct both running games, Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel says the difference is the Broncos have used the same scheme forever.
"They are similar to Atlanta but having done it for so long, the Broncos are in a group by themselves," Vrabel said. "They have guys that understand the system and what they are trying to get done."
As usual, the Broncos have a bevy of running backs to choose from. Mike Anderson leads the team with 301 yards rushing but second-year back Tatum Bell, fresh off his 127-yard performance against the Redskins, is right behind him with 281 yards. Former Giant Ron Dayne is also in the mix.
When asked about the Broncos running backs, Davis joked, "You are like wow, how in the world can these guys have so many running backs? This guy comes in and he rushes for 1,000 yards. The next guy comes in and he rushes for 1,000 yards. Man, they just keep coming."
Belichick broke it down in a very simple way, "They have good backs. They have good players. They have a good scheme. You have to worry about the receivers. You have to worry about the tight ends. All of them block. They're all part of the running game too. The runners are good. They're all good. It's a good offensive football team. The biggest thing Mike has to do is he has so many options, try to figure out which ones he wants to take advantage of the most"
It's been said to win in the NFL, you have to run the ball and stop the run. If that's the case, the Broncos are in good shape because they do both very well. Denver ranks first in the AFC in rushing offense and second in defending the run. It will be important for the Patriots to win the battle at both lines of scrimmage if they want to leave Mile High feeling sky high.
Patriots make roster moves
The Patriots signed free agent defensive back Arturo Freeman and re-signed linebacker Wesly Mallard on Wednesday. The team also placed cornerback Chad Scott on injured reserve with a shoulder injury and re-signed linebacker Eric Alexander to the practice squad.
Freeman is in his sixth NFL season. Playing his first five years in Miami, Freeman appeared in 72 games, starting 29. In his career, Freeman has recorded 199 tackles, 3.5 sacks and five interceptions. Last season with the Dolphins, the 6-0, 200-pound Freeman started nine games at safety and tied for the team lead with four interceptions. Freeman will provide depth to the Patriots depleted secondary. He can play both strong and free safety, as well as contributing on special teams.
NotesThe Broncos have won their last five games against teams who appeared in the Super Bowl the previous season. The streak dates back to September, 2002…Since 1996, Broncos place kicker Jason Elam ranks first in the NFL in scoring (1,107 pts.) followed by Adam Vinatieri (1,092 pts.)..The Patriots announced the newly acquired Freeman will wear number 25, Mallard number 96 and linebacker Tully Banta-Cain will now wear number 95…The following players are listed as probable on the Patriots Wednesday injury report: Banta-Cain, Tom Brady, Troy Brown, Matt Chatham, Corey Dillon, Randall Gay, Jarvis Green, Marquise Hill, Larry Izzo, Willie McGinest, Tyrone Poole, James Sanders,Guss Scott, Richard Seymour and Duane Starks.