Safety Jim Leonhard has spent six of his eight years in the AFC East, where he played the New England Patriots at least twice a year.
While he admits he hasn’t had much success against them, Leonhard has enough experience against the Pats to know the keys to defeating them.
“I always say, to beat Tom Brady, you have to hit him and you have to get there with four (defenders),” Leonhard said. “That’s easy to say but it’s not very easy to do. I think we have the guys up front that we can get it done and get him off his spot and get him moving a little bit. That’s what you have to do to have success against him.”
Pressuring Brady with just four – not five, six or seven – is important because of Brady’s ability to recognize a blitz and capitalize on the matchups that are created in the secondary when additional players rush the passer.
“He’s extremely intelligent, so it’s hard to fool him with coverage,” he said. “It’s hard to get to him with pressure because he sees it, he knows how to get the ball out, and he trusts his guys to win their one-on-one matchups.”
But regardless of the gameplan and defensive execution, the eighth-year safety said it’s almost inevitable that Brady eventually finds someone for a big play. When that does happen, defensive backs must maintain their focus.
“You have to limit that frustration on defense, because they’re going to hit some plays,” he said. They’re going to get some first downs. You just have to stay locked in and make your plays when you’re there.”
The first-year Bronco has tried to do everything he can to clue in his new team on the Patriots’ tendencies, but there’s a limit to how much he can help. Even if Denver knows what New England is planning on doing, stopping them is still a challenge.
“They stick to their gameplan,” Leonhard said of the Patriots. “They do what they do. They just execute really well. It’s not like you’re coming up with something they don’t see. They run their stuff and they make you beat them. They make you stop them.”
Most importantly, the offense must put points on the board. In his experience against New England, Leonhard said that “scoring with them was the issue a lot of the times.”
The Broncos’ offense is coming off a 37-point outburst in Week 4, which could be why Leonhard likes Denver’s chances this weekend.
“I think we’re in a great spot this week,” he said. “I think we have good balance, offense, defense and special teams here and I think it’s going to be a great matchup.”