FOXBORO -- After the Patriots and Broncos met earlier this season, much was made about Bill Belichick's defense essentially baiting Peyton Manning into calling more running plays. The Patriots utilized personnel and schemes that Manning deciphered as more suitable to defend the pass, and so he opted to hand the ball off.
"Peyton's a smart quarterback, man," said Patriots corner Aqib Talib after the Patriots won, 34-31. "We knew we were going to come out and show that two-high shell. He sees that two-high shell, he's going to run the ball. That was our plan, to get him to run it more than he throws it.”
It was a strategy that helped the Patriots come back from a 24-point deficit to win in overtime, but the 280 yards they allowed on the ground still don't sit well with them.
"It definitely bothers you, of course," defensive end Rob Ninkovich said. "Anybody on defense, you pride yourself on stopping the run and when they are able to run the ball on you, it's not a good feeling.
"That is one part of playing defense that you can’t have. You can’t have games like that where you’re giving up that many yards on the ground. We’ve got a tough challenge for us. They are a good football team and they do a lot of great things in the run game. Again, it just comes down to watching the tape, seeing the things that they did against us and knowing that they will probably try and repeat some of those runs and then also some things that they haven’t shown to us."
The Patriots run defense has seen some major changes since last squaring off against Denver's rushing attack.
New England lost a significant run-stuffing presence when middle linebacker Brandon Spikes was placed on injured reserve with a knee injury. But the team has added a 6-foot-2, 325-pound lane-clogger in defensive tackle Sealver Siliga, who was on the practice squad until Nov. 27 -- three days after the Broncos game.
"Sealver has done a great job for us," Ninkovich said. "He is a big guy, big body. It's hard to move that guy. So him coming in and stepping up and making plays, that’s awesome. Definitely happy that he has been able to step up for us and be key on the d-line."
If the Patriots want to try to temper what Denver does on the ground -- running back Knowshon Moreno finished with 224 yards on 37 carries for a whopping 6.1 yards per tote -- Siliga ability to take on blocks and eat space could be key.