The Patriots are going to have to stop Denver's running game this Sunday, even if they don't know which running back they have to stop.
Odds are the main guy for the Broncos will be Mike Anderson, who leads the team with 87 carries, 358 yards and two touchdowns. Terrell Davis is listed as questionable and hasn't played since the season opener, missing the last five games. In that first game he had 21 carries for 101 yards. There is a chance he'll be able to go, but Head Coach Bill Belichick doesn't think it matters much which player his team sees.
"Every time they put a new guy in there, one looks better than the next," Belichick said. "I don't know which of those guys is the best, to tell you the truth. They all look pretty good to me, and I'm just glad only one of them can get the ball at a time."
The third guy in the mix is Olandis Gary, who has posted 35 carries for 158 yards and a touchdown. Anderson, Davis and Gary have all had 1,000-yard seasons and have each spent time as the feature back. Knowing there is a full stable of quality backs waiting for them is increasing the pressure on the New England defense this week.
"If they are able to get the running game going, it's going to be a long day for everyone," cornerback Ty Law said. "If they get a 100-yard rusher, that's going to open things up for [wide receiver] Rod Smith, who already has 51 catches to lead the league. This is probably going to be the most balanced attack we've faced all year."
That balanced attack makes the Broncos very tough, especially in the red zone. Belichick pointed out Thursday that Denver is among the best teams in the league as far as red area production goes. Thus far the Broncos have 11 touchdowns in 19 trips, producing touchdowns 57.9 percent of the time. That scoring percentage has them sixth overall.
New England is currently 10th in red zone defense, limiting opponents to nine touchdowns in 22 trips (40.9 percent).
"I don't like seeing teams move the ball down the field on us, but when it comes down to it, we have to stick together and keep working when it gets close," defensive end Bobby Hamilton said. "Last year when teams drove on us, we may have given up instead of buckling down. I'm not saying we are doing much different, but we have improved in that sense and we need to keep improving. They have a strong offensive line, which helps in the red zone, but we have to make sure we win battles at the line of scrimmage."
A sign of weakness
Last week, the Patriots scored touchdowns on a wide receiver reverse and a double-pass play on which David Patten threw to fellow receiver Troy Brown.
With the success of those plays, New England has given Denver a little more to think about this week. However, Broncos linebacker Bill Romanowski feels the reason the Patriots used the trick plays was to mask problems with their offense.
"I am sure we'll practice them, but the trick plays, over the years, to me have shown a sign of weakness," Romanowski said. "But bottom line, they're making them work. They are putting points on the board with them, so it is hard to say anything bad about them. I'm just saying over the years, that is what I've thought."
Bledsoe reacts well to work
The first steps in returning to practice went well for Drew Bledsoe Wednesday. The quarterback threw between 75-100 balls in drills, and he reported no physical problems Thursday.
"He didn't have any negative reactions," Belichick said. "He didn't throw where there was any chance of contact. He just threw a little with the receivers. He didn't throw in any team drills where somebody could inadvertently bump into him. I don't think he's ready for that situation yet."
Bledsoe is still officially listed as doubtful for this Sunday, and there were no changes to the injury report.
Though he is eligible to come off the Physically Unable to Perform list, rookie tight end Arther Love had not yet been activated for practices as of Thursday. If the Patriots do clear him for practice, they will get a three-week waiver period before they have to decide whether to add him to the 53-man roster or place him on injured reserve.
Denver kicker Jason Elam has made an NFL record 327 consecutive extra points. He began the streak back in 1993, and he needs just 10 points to become the 30th player in league history to reach the 1,000 point plateau… The five 100-yard receiving games put up by New England is the highest total in the league. Troy Brown is one of just four receivers in the NFL with three 100-yard games already… New England and Denver will play each other Sunday for the seventh straight season. The Patriots have won two straight, but the Broncos won 12 in a row before that.