With future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning at quarterback for Denver, you might imagine the Patriots want to challenge the Broncos to run the ball Sunday.
"I don't know if we want to challenge Denver to anything," defensive coordinator Matt Patricia scoffed on his Tuesday conference call. "We're trying to stop them as best we can in both the pass and the run."
His derision is well-founded.
The Broncos rushed for 280 yards against New England in their November 24 meeting. Knowshon Moreno lead the way with a career-high 224 yards. Though the Patriots escaped with a 34-31 overtime win, Denver left a strong impression with its ground game.
"They did a great job against us and blocked us very well," Patricia noted. "It's something we need to go out and perform better than we did last time. We want to get back to using our techniques and being strong up front and try to control the line of scrimmage, which is really the goal in the game of football every week. That battle in the trenches is a huge one and something they obviously had success with the last time we played them."
Moreno and Montee Ball combined for 134 yards in last weekend's divisional playoff against San Diego. A significant improvement, considering Denver gained just 18 rushing yards against the Chargers in December.
Patricia takes nothing away from Manning in showing respect for Broncos running backs. No quarterback threw for more yards (5,477) or touchdowns (55) this season. And he's always looking for that long strike.
The point is, proving the rush is a viable option only makes Manning's passing game more dangerous.
"They've done a great job since our game and recently, moving through the rest of the season into the playoffs, of really having a good run game. All the backs, with Moreno and Ball, have been really productive with carrying the ball. It's a huge challenge for us and something we've got to improve on from the last game. Throw on top of it the record-setting passing game that they have . . ." the coordinator paused.
"We're talking about one of the most productive offenses in the history of the NFL."