LAST WEEK’S GAME: Denver (3-3) found themselves only down 13-10 to the San Diego Chargers midway through the third quarter, but they allowed two Charger touchdowns and ended up dropping a disappointing 27-10 loss. The turning point of the game came after runningback Mike Anderson (11-carries for 50 yards Sunday) fumbled away the football and the Chargers found themselves with the football at the Denver 33-yard line. Four plays later San Diego quarterback Doug Flutie threw a 17-yard touchdown strike to Jeff Graham and Broncos quarterback Brian Griese (26-of-41 for 212-yards passing, 1TD and 2 INT’s) was unable to lead his team back in the fourth quarter.
DEFENSE: This unit still has linebackers Bill Romanowski and John Mobley who continue to play well. Romanowski had two sacks in Sunday’s loss to the Chargers and has always had big games against the Patriots. They also have some solid people playing up front in tackles Chester McGlockton and Trevor Price who do a very good job against the run. Price had 1.5 sacks in their previous meeting last season in the Patriots 28-19 win. Denver held both Kevin Faulk and J.R. Redmond to a combined 45-yards rushing the football, and will likely do their best to stop the run and challenge young Tom Brady this Sunday.
OFFENSE: Quarterback Brian Griese is still nursing a sore shoulder and threw only one touchdown compared to two interceptions. Receiver Rod Smith has flourished despite the absence of Ed McCaffrey who broke his leg in a Monday Night Game earlier in the season and is out for the season. Last weekend Smith had 9 receptions for 86 yards, but it was tight end Desmond Clark who caught 6 passes and was the only person for the Broncos to see the end zone.
SPOTLIGHT: NEW ENGLAND
LAST WEEK’S GAME: New England (3-3) is coming off of a series sweep over the Indianapolis Colts after they picked up right where they left off from their first meeting which was a 44-13 win in Foxboro a couple weeks earlier. Wide receiver David Patten had a historic performance and became the first person since Walter Payton did it 22-years to the day to run, throw, and catch a touchdown pass. Quarterback Tom Brady put on another solid performance including a 91-yard touchdown strike to Patten to set a club record for the longest play from scrimmage. The Patriots scored three times on their first play from scrimmage and may try to do so again if the Broncos overplay the running game which totaled 123-yards for New England last weekend.
DEFENSE: The story this week has been the emergence of Ted Johnson who appears to be returning to form after several injury-riddled seasons. Johnson was second on the team in tackles last week with 9 and also forced a fumble. He’s also done well in coverage and has lost weight and appears to be quicker than in recent years. They also continue to see improvement in their secondary which had been sub par up until this year. The defensive attitude also seems to be much more intense and that can likely be attributed to linebacker Bryan Cox who is a proven leader, and Roman Phifer who continues to be a factor on the field.
OFFENSE: Anyone who has followed the Patriots over the past three seasons have to be thrilled with the progress the offensive line has made. Rookie left tackle Matt Light has done a solid job as well as the always steady Damien Woody at center who continues to play well. The running game is beginning to produce and the downfield blocking by this young nucleus has been magnificent. They’re also pass-blocking well and giving quarterback Tom Brady (16-of-20 for 202 yards and 3 touchdowns, 0 INT’s) plenty of time to progress through his reads and deliver the football.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Denver is coming off of a disappointing defeat and they probably haven’t forgotten what happened the last time these two teams played each other. Quarterback Drew Bledsoe threw four touchdowns in their last meeting and the Broncos have more than likely gotten a good look at what Brady did against both San Diego and Indianapolis. Considering the success the Patriots have had running the football recently expect Denver’s defensive front to try and shut that down, with mixed fronts being used by the linebackers along with challenging Light and Robinson-Randall at the tackle positions. However, Denver’s not afraid to use their linebackers in coverage and will probably give Brady different looks to try and confuse him.
As for the Broncos, they struggled running the football last season and like the Patriots are without one of their top receivers, although it’s not yet known if Terry Glenn will play on Sunday. Other than Rod Smith Denver doesn’t have another receiver who warrants the kind of attention that he does, and most likely they’ll try and put pressure on Griese to beat them with his sore arm and hope that he can force him to make a mistake. The past couple weeks New England has forced the opposing team into passing situations to get back into the game after New England took quick leads, and they’ll need to get to Denver early to quiet the crowd and to try and do the same again this weekend.