FOXBORO - When Bill Belichick was asked this week how similar the current Broncos offense is compared to the one the Patriots handled twice in late 2011, the Patriots head coach proclaimed that it's "95-percent" different.
And how much does it look like the Colts offense Peyton Manning ran for all those seasons in Indy? "Its identical," said Belichick. "It looks the same to me."
In that Indy offense, two players are always vital to Manning's success: his tight end and his slot receiver. And in Denver this season, Manning is using two Colts imports to fill those roles.
Tight end Jacob Tamme is the Broncos' version of Dallas Clark. Brandon Stokley is running the same slot stuff he did when he was with Manning in Indy.
Together, they are a daunting part of the Broncos offense even if players like wideouts Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas are the big-play guys.
"Theyve been very productive and certainly Peyton Manning looks for them in critical situations," Belichick said of Stokley and Tamme. "Stokley gets open a lot in the slot and Tamme does a good job on everything, especially play-action passes going down the seam. I think he has a lot of confidence in both guys on conversions or scramble situations like that where they have to improvise and the play gets extended. Those guys do a good job, they have good chemistry."
So far this year, Tamme and Stokley have accounted for 28 catches and 283 yards. Against Houston two weeks ago, the pair was targeted 17 times and Stokley caught all six balls sent his way.
When the Patriots brought Bobby Carpenter and his superior coverage skills at the linebacker position, it seemed in direct response to the presence of those down-the-middle players like Tamme and Stokley.
While Brandon Spikes is doing work in the running game, he is a minor liability in pass coverage. And with the Patriots' safeties coming off a shaky week, Carpenter could be in a position to stabilize and make some plays that Spikes was inconsistent with.
Belichick said Tamme plays a marginally different role in Denver than Clark.
"Id say the formations and all are the same," Belichick said. "At Indianapolis, Dallas Clark was a lot of times in the slot. With Denver, theyve played a lot more two, three receivers with Brandon Stokley in the slot. So, the tight end plays the tight end, the tight end doesnt play the slot, if you will."
And they both play them pretty well.