In Sunday’s win against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the offensive line took pride in its performance.
Tim Tebow wasn’t sacked, the offense picked up 131 yards on the ground and the unit did it without one of its leaders.
“We miss Kup (Chris Kuper) terribly,” said Russ Hochstein, who took over Kuper’s right guard spot. “He was a phenomenal leader here and we miss him a lot. We wish (the injury) wouldn’t have happened, but I just have tried to step in and play the role that I’m supposed to and that’s to help out in situations like this. I’m just trying to play the best I can, trying to play mistake-free and help the guys out on both sides of me.”
Head Coach John Fox said Hochstein did “a great job” doing just that, and Willis McGahee agreed.
“Russ did an awesome job filling in for Kuper,” McGahee said Monday. “I don’t think there was really a dropoff even though Kuper is a big part of our offense.”
Part of that can be attributed to Hochstein’s experience.
The 11-year veteran has now started 42 games at five different positions during his NFL career, all of which have come in Denver and New England, though he started his career in Tampa Bay.
He was part of New England’s back-to-back Super Bowl-champion teams in 2003 and 2004, and played in all 16 games during the Patriots’ 16-0 season that led to a Super Bowl XLII berth.
That gives him a unique perspective on the Broncos’ opponent in the Divisional round of the AFC playoffs this Saturday.
“It will always be a great memory for me, no doubt,” Hochstein said of playing for the Patriots. “I was part of some great runs and great memories and I still have a few friends that play there. I have great memories and that will never go away – you can never take that away from me. But we’re here now and we’re trying to make them here.”
Hochstein described New England as a “very well-coached, disciplined team,” and pointed to the AFC East champion’s 13-3 record this season as proof.
While Hochstein didn’t want to compare the two teams, particularly New England quarterback Tom Brady and Broncos signal caller Tim Tebow — “apples and oranges,” he said — he did mention a few similarities.
“They are both good players and good leaders and both will find a way to win no matter what they can do,” he said. “(Brady) always has charge (of the huddle) and Tim always has charge. Never be too high and never be too low. Good quarterbacks have that.”
This week, Hochstein — like the rest of the team — is looking to bounce back from the team’s Week 15 loss to the Patriots.
“First and foremost, we got beat,” he said. “We have things we need to correct and fix and we’re currently working on those. We’ll do our best to run the ball efficiently, pass when need be and do what we have to do.”
While Hochstein covered the offense, Quinton Carter talked about what the Broncos need to do on the defensive side of the ball to come away with a win this Saturday.
“If you watch film, there were a lot of big catches and guys wide open with nobody defending them,” Carter said of the Week 15 loss. “We have to play smart and can’t make mistakes. That’s the biggest thing. We can’t make mistakes against that team because they capitalize.”
Carter said a “busted coverage” and some missed tackles helped New England tight end Aaron Hernandez rack up 129 yards and a touchdown in the previous meeting, and wide receiver Chad Ochocinco found the end zone for New England’s first points with no Broncos defender in sight.
Those are things the rookie safety said the defense is working on extensively this week.
“We’re emphasizing that,” Carter said of sure tackling. “That’s something that needs to be played to the fullest. In the game, we have to really concentrate on that. So we’re focused on that at practice.”
As far as blown coverages, Carter said that Brady has a propensity to lead safeties astray with his eyes. While the secondary can occasionally follow his eyes to “go take a risk here and there (and) make a play,” the defensive backs can’t go outside the scheme.
“You just have to be disciplined in coverage,” he said. “Just don’t try to make the play if it’s in the area of the field that you’re not covering. Just be disciplined.”
Linebacker Wesley Woodyard echoed that sentiment.
“Brady, he’s a really smart quarterback and the thing he does is check audibles at the line,” he said. “You can’t be prepared for it, you just have to do your best to make sure you are down the field and make sure you’re in the right places and doing your job.”
TEST VS. AFC’S BEST
The New England Patriots are the No. 1 seed in the AFC for a reason, as the Broncos can personally attest.
But that doesn’t mean the Broncos are doubting themselves in advance of their opportunity Saturday in Foxborough, Mass.
“We’re confident, but not basically because of that (Week 15) game but because of the way our season has gone and where we’re at,” Head Coach John Fox said. “It’s a huge test, no doubt, to go up there against a very experienced team, a team that’s been playoff-tested. That’s why there are only eight of us left.”
Denver’s experience against New England earlier in the season has left them with plenty of things to fix for the rematch, along with plenty of knowledge of their opponent they can use to their advantage.
“This is an opponent that we’ve played about a month ago,” Fox said. “There is familiarity on both sides. It’s kind of like the second game in a division rivalry, so that’s kind of what it is. Whoever executes the best is going to win.”
The Broncos know they’ll enter Saturday’s matchup as the underdog, but that doesn’t faze them.
“Maybe for some people it is (motivation),” Tim Tebow said. “Just playing the Patriots is enough motivation for us. Going to Foxborough and playing Tom Brady, playing Bill Belichick, that’s enough motivation. Let alone, it’s a huge playoff game, so all those things add up. I’m sure there will be a lot of motivation.
“The one thing that I’ll be most proud of is our team will definitely go out there and play hard, play with a lot of passion, and emotion, and enthusiasm, which is all you can ask for.”
Below are photos from Tuesday’s practice.