FOXBORO -- New England is a team that can play several defensive packages. That fact in itself does not make the Patriots unique; other NFL clubs do it. But at the same time, being multiple is not something to undervalue. This Sunday night, against the Denver Broncos, it will be a survival tool.
Bill Belichick has a clear opinion on whether a defense can get set for Peyton Manning before the snap.
"You can do that, it's just a question of whether you can hold up in it or not. But I'd say the odds of that aren't great, honestly," he remarked. "Usually, when he sees what it is he gets to the play he wants to get to. I'd say they've made a lot of big plays on plays like that.
"You can be in whatever you want to be in, but if they have a play to beat it, and it's well-executed -- which it frequently is with Denver -- you're just playing right into their hands. They've been waiting all day to run a play against that situation. If you tell them, 'Here we are; we're going to be in a cover-2 zone. Go ahead and run your best play,' well, they will."
Manning and the Broncos are crushing the rest of the league in most offensive categories.
*Points per game: 39.8
*Yards per game: 455.5
*Passing yards: 3504
*Passing touchdowns: 34
*First downs: 271
*Fourth-down conversion percentage: 100.0
Behind those numbers it's not surprising to see Denver is 9-1 and perched atop the AFC.
"I don't think anybody's had a lot of success playing them [undisguised]," Belichick noted. "They've scored more points than anybody in football. It's hard to do. Somewhere along the line they've got a good matchup if they know exactly what you're in. I don't think anybody has played them that way very effectively. If you tell them what you're in, I think you're probably not going to like the way it's going to end up."
According to Football Outsiders, New England has one of the better defenses the Broncos will have seen this season. The Patriots are ranked 16th in weighted defense; Denver's offense has so far seen only three teams in the top 10 (Baltimore, the NFC's New York, Kansas City). Every other opponent has been ranked 20th (Oakland) and lower (Indy, Washington, Dallas, Philadelphia, Jacksonville, San Diego).
New England will have to mix up the defense to succeed where all but the Colts have failed. The team's best bet is to keep moving, confuse manning, and not let him settle into the pocket.
The Patriots used different looks against Matt Ryan in Week 4 and were able to throw Atlanta's quarterback off his game and get the win. No easy task.
Belichick explained how execution must nearly be flawless.
"It's got to be coordinated as a team. You can't have one guy disguise one thing and somebody else disguising something else. A good quarterback would probably be able to try to figure out basically what you're trying to do, and see that one guy is way out of position. You have to be very well coordinated on that because what they do with the cadence is make it hard for you to do that.
"Sometimes they run and snap the ball real quickly so it forces you to get lined up. Other times they get up there and delay, and check the play, get into a formation that kind of makes you declare so they can see what you're in, then get to the play they want to get to and go at a very slow pace. It's hard to over-disguise because if they go quick, you could be way out of position."
It's just hard to put one over on Peyton Manning.
"He does a real good job of that," said Belichick, "of changing the tempo to force the defense to show what they're in so he can get to it. Then obviously the plays they go quick on they don't care what the defense is in because they're kind of all-purpose plays that, no matter what they're in, they kind of have an answer on the play somehow."
Let the games begin.