Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick knows all of the different challenges that Peyton Manning will pose to his defense on Sunday.
One of those challenges is the way Manning utilizes the run, knowing exactly when and where to hand the ball off.
“I think Peyton has always used the running game well,” Belichick said in a conference call Wednesday. “He certainly understands how to attack defenses and where defenses are light, whether it’s in the running game, or the outside passing game, or play action or down the field or misdirection plays — whatever it happens to be — Peyton does a really good job of anticipating them, seeing them and getting his team in place to attack them. Certainly the run game is a part of it. I think he’s always used that as a good weapon against the defense, and it has complemented the passing game.”
The Broncos have run the ball 113 times this year, an average of nearly 30 times per game. Willis McGahee has led the way with a pair of 100-yard performances and a trio of rushing touchdowns.
The 10th-year veteran has spent his entire career in the AFC — including his first five years in the AFC East with the Buffalo Bills — so Belichick is very familiar with him.
“You see him running over people and breaking tackles,” Belichick said. “He has good run vision, and can find the holes. He has good patience, and knows how to use his blocking when he gets in the open field or when guys start to tackle him, he does a good job of breaking tackles, getting his head down, running with power, and he’s elusive in the secondary. He continues to perform well, and I have a lot of respect for Willis.”
But it’s not just McGahee that concerns Belichick.
“All of the backs are talented — they’ve all made plays I’ve been impressed with,” he said. (Ronnie) Hillman has made some big plays — he’s been impressive. (He’s) an elusive guy. Lance Ball, they’ve got a good group of backs. McGahee is good, though. Whichever one of them is in there could be a problem. So we have to be ready for all of them.”
In the center of the offensive line, trying to provide holes for McGahee and company, will be another player Belichick is very familiar with. Center Dan Koppen will start for the first time as a Bronco against the team he spent the previous nine years with.
“He was a part of a lot of our wins and a lot of our seasons and championships, so it will be a little bit different looking at him on the other side of the field,” Belichick said. “As much as he’s gone against our defense and our players, he’s pretty familiar with them, as we are with him. (I’m) not sure if there’s an advantage there or not.”
Check back to DenverBroncos.com later this afternoon to see what Patriots quarterback Tom Brady had to say in his conference call.