Coming off their best showing of the season, New England's special teams units need to come up big again this weekend.
The Patriots are riding high after blocking two field goals and holding the Colts to 20.5 yards per return on six kickoffs. New England was able to win the field position battle in Indianapolis, but doing so this weekend will take another superb effort.
Every aspect of Denver's kicking game is strong. The Broncos have the leading kick and punt returners in the AFC, as well as the top punter and the fourth-best kicker. Their second-leading kick returner has the fourth highest average in the conference.
New England knows how good punt returner Deltha O'Neal can be. Last year he returned a free kick for a touchdown against the Patriots. This season he leads the AFC with his 16.3 yards per return average on 12 returns. He also has one return for a touchdown.
On kickoffs, rookie Kevin Kasper was averaging nearly 30 yards per return before he was dinged up with an ankle injury. Chris Cole has taken the duties over in Kasper's absence and there has barely been a drop off. On 14 returns Cole is averaging 25.9 yards.
"I think this is the best special teams group we have played all year," Head Coach Bill Belichick said. "Their specialists are excellent. They have good kickers, good returners and a lot of good core guys who cover and block well. They've made a lot of big plays in the kicking game this year, and they had one against us last year. It's an area we need to continue to work hard in."
Kicker Jason Elam is a big weapon in the thin Denver air. He is one spot behind New England's Adam Vinatieri in the AFC scoring race with 41 points, and he needs just 10 points to become the 30th player in league history to reach 1,000 points for his career. Elam is 9-of-11 on field goals, with his misses coming on a 65-yard try in the season opener and a 42-yarder last weekend.
Things don't get easier for the punt return group, which will be trying to establish field position on Tom Rouen's boomers. Rouen leads the conference with his 48.1 yards punting average. He has pinned nine of his 29 punts inside the 20 and has just three touchbacks.
Glenn doubtful, Klemm out for Sunday
There were plenty of changes and updates for the Patriots injury report Friday, the most notable being that wide receiver Terry Glenn most likely will not make the trip to Denver. He was changed from questionable to doubtful Friday with a hamstring injury that has somehow worsened despite the fact that he hasn't worked on it all week.
Glenn ran just prior to the Indianapolis game last Sunday and was close to being able to suit up. Since being among the inactive players for the game, he has yet to practice.
"I think it's actually getting worse," Belichick said. "When I talked to Terry, he has done less and feels like he can do less than he could a week ago. Even though he hasn't done anything except get treatment in the last week, he's telling me that it is worse and that he can do less than he could when we went to Indianapolis That's why he is downgraded."
Belichick had no reason for how the injury could get worse when Glenn was not participating. There isn't a way for the team to test the strength of Glenn's leg.
"I'm a little confused by it, but that's what it is," Belichick said. "It's not my leg. I can't speak for him. I'm just telling you what has been expressed to me. I don't think there is a way you could scientifically make a judgement on this one.
"We went out and he ran before the Indianapolis game. It looked like there was a good to reasonable chance that he would play in that game. On Sunday he didn't feel like he was able to. Now we're at Friday of the following week, and it sounds like it is a lot worse than it was last Saturday."
Second-year tackle Adrian Klemm is out for this Sunday's game at Denver after injuring his leg in practice Thursday. Klemm's leg tightened up on him, and while it isn't a serious injury, there isn't enough time left before the team leaves tomorrow for Denver for it to heal enough for Klemm to play.
Though he hadn't played in a game yet, Klemm had worked his way onto the 45-man game day roster each of the last two weeks. An elbow injury suffered late in training camp set him back earlier this year, and he missed most of his rookie season with a knee injury.
Belichick said Richard Seymour was able to practice some on Thursday, but he wasn't sure about a decision on whether the rookie would make the trip. Tight end Rod Rutledge has been questionable with an ankle problem, but Belichick was more hopeful on his return.
Though the tight ends have not been a major factor in most of the receiving game, not having Rutledge would leave the team with just one healthy guy at the position, Jermaine Wiggins.
"Rod has been limited in practice, but hopefully he'll turn the corner this weekend," Belichick said. "Until he actually turns it, I think I have to keep him as questionable. Since he is getting better and has shown improvement on a daily basis, I would expect it to continue to improve."
Belichick said there was "a pretty good chance" the Patriots would have Rutledge, but if Rutledge can't play and the Patriots have just Wiggins available, double-end sets obviously would be out. In goal line situations, the team would either have to use an extra lineman or a multi-receiver set.