With the bye week behind them the Patriots are back to work as they get set for back-to-back games away from home against Denver and Oakland. The Mile High City hasn't been particularly kind to the Patriots over the years, and listening to Bill Belichick talk about the Broncos it's easy to see why.
Despite experiencing more than their share of struggles during their current four-game losing streak, the Broncos present a lot of challenges. Belichick spent much of his Wednesday press conference discussing those, most of which are centered around Denver's talented defense.
"They're very good defensively, at the top of the league in almost every category, or every category I should say," Belichick said. "They're very good against the run. That's been much improved from last season. They have a strong pass rush. They cover as well as any team in the league. They have great players at all three levels of the defense. They're very disruptive, a tough team to move the ball against, a tough team to score against in the kicking game."
Belichick continued discussing Denver at length before eventually getting to the item that is weighing on the minds of many Patriots fans: the city itself. The Patriots have a long history of struggles in Denver and Belichick believes there are many reasons why the Broncos have had such success at home.
"[They're] a good football team, very good at home, very good in their stadium," he said. "The fans have a lot of energy. It's a great crowd, a great football environment, Sunday night. I'm sure that place will be lit up. I feel like we'll need our best game Sunday night and that's what we're working toward. Hopefully, that's what we'll be able to get."
In addition to the challenges the Broncos will present Sunday night, Belichick spent time discussing a variety of topics during his press conference.
Flowers blooming –Trey Flowers has emerged as one of the most indispensable players on the Patriots defense, manning his end spot as a key figure of a front seven that has grown thin due to injury during the course of the season.
Belichick was asked about Flowers' diverse role on the defense this season and the coach explained how some of things he's been asked to do aren't necessarily the best for his skill set.
"This year we've had some different situations at the defensive end position at various points in time," Belichick said. "Trey has a lot of experience or the most experience of our defensive linemen. He's also athletic and can handle a degree of versatility in our responsibilities. I'm not sure that's always the best thing for him, but sometimes he's the best we have at it. He does a good job and works hard at it and does what's best for the team, which is one of the things you love about Trey, is how committed he is to the team and how willing he is to do whatever it takes, whatever we need him to do and he does a pretty good job of it."
Special attention – Brandon Bolden is a running back by trade but sees very little time in the backfield. Instead, most of his work comes in the kicking game, where he's emerged as a leader for the team.
"Brandon brings a lot from a leadership perspective," Belichick said. "Brandon, like a lot of players on our team, understands his role, knows what it is and works very hard to excel at it and does excel at it. There are times when his role could expand and he's ready for that if that were to happen or if we needed that to happen.
"I think everybody has 100 percent confidence in him that he would be ready to do whatever it is we need him to do. But, the things that he knows he's going to do that are his important roles that we know are going to be there for this game or for each game, he prepares hard for those, he does a good job of them, he's very dependable, and if we need him to do more, then he would do his best to give us more.
"And that's, I think, the most leadership any player can give you is to do his job and to be ready to do whatever else you need him to do, and that's on a daily basis, not just on Sunday. We get that from him six days a week."
Belichick was then asked if finding such self-less players is difficult, and he made an interesting comparison in his explanation.
"Every player is different. Each player has his own skillset, personality and so forth, so each player has to chart his own course on that. But, look at a player like Kevin Faulk. You know, here's a guy that's in the Patriots Hall of Fame. Since the time I got here I couldn't even tell you how many games he started. I'm sure you could probably put them all on one hand. How important was he to the team? How good was he at his role? How dependable was he? How good of a teammate was he? The best.
"So, I think players that understand their role, understand how they can help the team, want to help the team, that's how you have a good team. You want to go out and play an individual sport – swimming, golf, track – great. You sign up for football, you sign up for a team and if everybody does what's best for the team and you have enough talent and players have a chance and coaching doesn't screw it up, then hopefully you can go out there and compete."
Help on the way – The Patriots signed veteran defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois on Tuesday and Belichick was asked about how the newcomer might fit in. The coach didn't elaborate much but did indicate that Jean Francois' experience should help.
"We just tried to add a little depth to the defensive line. He's played this year, has some experience," he said. "We'll see. He's been on several different teams, played in different systems, played 3-4 end, played inside on the guard. We'll see how it goes.
"I think experience can be a good thing."