Patriots defense on the lookout for Tamme and Stokley

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Patriots defense on the lookout for Tamme and Stokley

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.

Branch on reduced role vs. Saints: "Ask Bill"

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Branch on reduced role vs. Saints: "Ask Bill"

FOXBORO - If Alan Branch is worried about his spot with the Patriots, he isn’t acting that way. A notorious slow starter, Branch played just six snaps in Sunday’s win at New Orleans. And to hear him talk, it’s business as usual.

“It’s not like you can practice 3 technique on a store clerk,” said Branch late Wednesday afternoon. When informed that he probably could if he wanted, Branch smiled and noted “you’d probably get arrested for that.”

All kidding aside, it was stark to see Branch’s ample behind stapled to the bench. He earned a two-year contract this offseason, and his presence on the interior has been critical to the defense’s success. But after getting pushed around a bit too often in that opening night loss to the Chiefs, Branch spent a lot more time watching then playing. Did he know that he wasn’t a big part of the plan?

“That’s another question you gotta ask Bill, man” said Branch. “That’s not something I can talk about.”

Branch has - at times - come off as nonchalant about the game. Wins, losses, big plays, no plays, none of it seems to change his demeanor. Knowing that, I asked him if he was frustrated by his lack of playing time.

“I mean every player wants to be on the field so it is what it is,” he responded. 

Does he think that he’ll be more involved Sunday against the Texans?

“I don’t know what they plan to do with me,” he said. “i just need to go in there and keep my head to the grindstone and work.”

That may be Bill Belichick’s plan: sitting the player to motivate him. It would also seem to be potentially the last resort, and with someone who clearly marches to the beat of his own drum, it’s unclear how he’ll respond.

Patriots-Texans practice report: Gronk sits out; Gilmore limited

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Patriots-Texans practice report: Gronk sits out; Gilmore limited

Wednesday's practice participation/injury report for Sunday's Patriots-Texans game:

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

DID NOT PARTICIPATE
RB Rex Burkhead (ribs)
OT Marcus Cannon (ankle/concussion)
TE Rob Gronkowski (groin)

LIMITED PARTICIPATION
WR Danny Amendola (concussion/knee)
WR Phillip Dorsett (knee)
CB Stephon Gilmore (groin)
LB Dont'a Hightower (knee)
WR Chris Hogan (knee)
LB Elandon Roberts (thumb)
CB Eric Rowe (groin)
WR Matthew Slater (hamstring)
DT Vincent Valentine (knee)

HOUSTON TEXANS

DID NOT PARTICIPATE
G Jeff Allen (ankle)
CB Kevin Johnson (knee)

LIMITED PARTICIPATION
TE Stephen Anderson (concussion)
RB Alfred Blue (ankle)
WR Will Fuller V (shoulder)
CB Jonathan Joseph (shoulder)
G Xavier Su'a-Filo (knee)
DE J.J. Watt (finger)

FULL PARTICIPATION
CB Marcus Burley (knee)
T Chris Clark (wrist)
WR Bruce Ellington (concussion)
TE Ryan Griffin (concussion)