FOXBORO -- When it comes to offensive philosophy and approach to quarterbacking, you couldn’t find two teams more dissimilar than the Patriots and Broncos.
Led by Tom Brady, New England is a pass-heavy team that is second in the league in passing offense (319.3 yards per game) and total offense (424.4 yards per game) and averages more than 30 points per game. Meanwhile, the Denver offense, led by quarterback Tim Tebow, is a run-heavy unit that averages just over 20 points per game and rarely throws the ball.
While the two quarterbacks operate differently, on Wednesday, both offered appreciation of the others’ skills.
“I appreciate good quarterback play,” Brady said on Wednesday before practice. “I’m always watching around the league, whether it’s Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees having phenomenal years. Obviously, Tim is having a great year. You watch guys and the way that they perform under pressure and it says a lot about who they are and the way their teammates feel about them.”
“Tom Brady is definitely a guy that I have watched for a long time and respected,” Tebow said. “He’s going to go down as one of the best quarterbacks to ever play. I consider it a huge honor to have the opportunity to play against him. It’s something that’s very exciting for me.
“I’ve watched him play for a long time. I’ve watched a lot of his cut-ups. I’ve tried to learn from him and he’s someone that handles himself very well – just handles his offense extremely well. He just does so many things so well as a quarterback. He’s a great guy to try to watch and learn from. He’s been one of the best in the league for a long time. I think that’s someone great for me to look at and try to learn from.”
When it comes to slowing them down, Tebow didn’t need to spend time with Bill Belichick to know what’s in store for him this weekend. Tebow, who broke bread with the Patriots coach before the 2010 draft as part of a predraft visit (and also had a workout for Belichick in Florida in that same stretch as well), said Wednesday he knows he’ll probably see some sort of defensive permutation he hasn’t confronted at this point of his relatively brief NFL career.
“They can provide a lot of different looks,” Tebow told reports on a conference call on Wednesday afternoon. “They’re very well-coached. I think a big thing for us is just being able to adjust to whatever they bring and whatever they show us. [Offensive coordinator Mike] McCoy and [quarterbacks coach Adam] Gase will have a good game plan, but it will definitely be key to see how they come out and play us and [how we] adjust to it.”
To be kind, New England has struggled against the pass this season, but that shouldn’t be a major issue for the Patriots this weekend, as Tebow and the Broncos are a run-based offense -- the quarterback has attempted just 188 passes in the last eight games, an average of 23 pass attempts per game. (By way of comparison, through that same eight-game stretch, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has attempted 300 passes, an average of 37.5 per game.)
Last weekend’s performance against Washington’s Roy Helu aside, the Patriots are one of the better teams in the league when it comes to stopping the run (13th in the league, allowing an average of 107.3 yards per game on the ground). At the same time, the Broncos do not employ what you might call a garden variety running game. With the quarterback as a running option, the Broncos average 156.2 yards per game (the best average in the league), thanks to Willis McGahee (199 carries, 920 yards, 4.6 yards per carry), Tebow (94 carries, 517 yards, 5.5 yards per carry) and Lance Ball (72 carries, 302 yards, 4.2 yards per carry average).
Belichick said for the second time this week that Denver’s approach to the running game has some elements of the Wildcat offense, in that the quarterback has a heavy involvement in the running game.
“[Tebow] adds an element to the passing game that some of those running backs that are back there playing quarterback in that offense don’t, so that’s a problem,” Belichick said. “Guys like [Michael] Vick who have a different style of play but [cause] some similar problems, running, passing, that kind of thing, defensively.”
It sounds like the Broncos plan to do a lot of running on Sunday for several reasons, not the least of which is that it would likely provide them with better ball security than if they decided to throw: Tebow and Denver coach John Fox both said Wednesday that one of the biggest things that stands out about the Patriots’ defense is the fact they are +9 in takeaways, a total that includes 18 interceptions.
“They have a lot of playmakers, they create a lot of turnovers, they get to the quarterback a lot,” Tebow said. “(They) just find a way to make big plays and keep teams from getting in the end zone. (They) might give up some yardage here and there, but they always stand stout in the red area and find a way to come up with some big plays.”
Running the ball would also be an excellent complementary way for the Broncos to give their offense a breather, as the Patriots would love a wide-open matchup that ended with them scoring at least 30 points. New England knows that the success of the Denver defense starts with its pass rush, namely Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil.
“Von Miller, he’s a phenomenal player; watching him play is pretty awesome. And then with Elvis [Dumervil] on the other side – they’ve really got two guys that can rush the passer,” Brady said. “They really get after the quarterback.
“They blitz well. They blitz a lot. It’s a matter of making sure we’re protecting and getting the ball out on time and getting the ball to our guys so they can do something with it.”
One thing that the Patriots offense has done several times in the past to combat a blitz-heavy team is rely on screen passes in an attempt to try and use their opponents’ aggressive against them. And while the New England tackles have done a good job the last three weeks keeping Brady upright against some excellent pass rushing ends and linebackers, look for shorter, quicker routes over the middle to receivers like Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski, both of whom have proven to be matchup nightmares for opposing defenses.
Regardless of what happens, Fox said Denver is ready for pretty much anything with Brady under center.
“Having been in this league for awhile, they are definitely in the top three or four in the league, and have been forever,” said Fox. “When you’ve got [Tom Brady] operating it, you’re going to be pretty successful. That’s no different this year than in years past.”