FOXBORO — One thing is for sure – these are not the Broncos of Tim Tebow.
Gone is the uncertainty and unpredictability of Tebow Time. It’s been replaced with the certain future hall of fame quarterback Peyton Manning and his predictable brilliance of managing of the game at the line of scrimmage. Just how different are the Broncos now?
“It’s, I’d say, 95 percent different,” Bill Belichick said Wednesday. “Some of the same players, some of the same matchups, but those players are doing different things. They’re not running the dive option, it’s just different types of plays.”
What the Broncos ARE running looks a lot like what Manning ran for 13 years in Indianapolis. And, as WEEI.com’s Chris Price explains, Belichick and his staff won’t just be watching Broncos film this week to get ready.
Over the years, how many hours of Peyton Manning footage has he seen?
“Quite a few. Back in the division it seems like,” Belichick said.
This is the 13th time Tom Brady has faced Manning. The Patriots and Brady have won eight of the 12 previous meetings. Belichick has faced him 14 times and is 9-5. What has Belichick grown to admire about him?
“Everything,” Belichick said. “I think he’s got no weaknesses in his game. He does everything well.”
Belichick said – despite his multiple neck procedures – Manning is playing at the level that he was when he was playing with the Colts.
“He’s playing at a high level, yeah,” Belichick said. “He looks pretty good to me. Everything is good. His mechanics are good, decision making is good, handles the team well, all the little things – footwork and ball handling, throwing mechanics. He’s pretty good.”
And the offense Manning is running in Denver?
“It’s identical. It looks the same to me,” Belichick said.
Indeed tight end Jacob Tamme and wide receiver Brandon Stokley are on the Broncos roster, a couple of receivers that Manning frequently targeted in Indianapolis.
In four games, Tamme has 19 catches for 177 yards and a touchdown while Stokley has 13 catches for 158 yards and a touchdown.
“I think they’re both, they’ve been very productive and certainly Peyton looks for them in critical situations,” Belichick said. “Stokley gets open a lot in the slot and Tamme does a good job on everything, especially play-action passes going down the seam. I think he has a lot of confidence in both guys on conversions or scramble situations like that where they have to improvise and the play gets extended. Those guys do a good job, they have good chemistry.
“I’d say the formations and all are the same. At Indianapolis, Dallas Clark was a lot of times in the slot. With Denver, they’ve played a lot more two, three receivers with [Brandon] Stokley in the slot. So, the tight end plays the tight end, the tight end doesn’t play the slot, if you will.”
Here is the remainder of the Belichick Q and A from Wednesday.
BB: On to Denver here. It’s really been, even though we played them twice last season, it’s kind of a different look, certainly offensively, a lot of changes there in their style of play, obviously quarterback but even defensively adding players like [Mike] Adams and [Tracy] Porter, Derek Wolfe up front. It looks like they’re more active upfront with their defensive scheme, at least they have been in some of their earlier games. They give you a lot of different looks. [They’ve added Jim] Leonhard in the secondary as well, in some of their dime stuff. It’s a little different look than what we saw last year. Good team, they’ve played very well. Played two good teams, lost two tough games to Houston and Atlanta but were dominant last week against Oakland and really played well against Pittsburgh in the opener. Well coached, I have a lot of respect for John [Elway] and John [Fox] and the job they’ve done. They obviously have a good football team and they’re playing well. This will be a big challenge for us this week, both in getting ready for the players and the team but also the schemes that they employ and the way they run their team, they give you a lot to get ready for. It will be a challenge for us here.
Q: You did a good job against the pressure last week but the challenge doesn’t get any easier this week with Denver, does it?
BB: No, Denver has a good, very disruptive front, especially the ends with [Elvis] Dumervil and Von Miller. Von Miller is really good. They have good players inside too, [Justin] Bannan and [Derek] Wolfe, again has been a good addition for them. They blitz quite a bit. They have a much higher percentage of blitzing, I mean we’ll see what actually happens on Sunday but just going into the game, they’ve had a higher percentage of blitzing than Buffalo did. They like to bring some DBs, safeties, sometimes a corner but usually safeties and their nickel back as well as their linebackers. They’ve been productive as well. It’s not just those two guys, it’s everybody by scheme and those two in particular, individual pass rushers, but you can’t fall asleep on the rest of them either. It’s a good, active defense.
Q: How difficult is it for a player to switch teams after such a long time with one franchise?
BB: You’d have to ask him. That would be a hard question for me to answer, I don’t know.
Q: From your perspective, when you have had players come in who have been in that situation.
BB: I think every situation varies from player to player. I don’t think there’s any book on it. Each player is different, each player’s situation is different. When I was with the Giants, Everson Walls played his whole career at Dallas, came to the Giants, totally different system, adapted to it fine, had a great year, went to the Super Bowl, made a lot of big plays for us and helped us get to and win the Super Bowl that year. I don’t think it’s anything that can’t be done. Some guys, it might be a more difficult adjustment than others, I don’t know. You’d have to ask Peyton [Manning] that question. I don’t know the answer.
Q: How has balancing the run and pass affected your use of the shotgun?
BB: We’ve been in it less.
Q: Significantly less?
BB: Again, it varies a little bit from game to game. There were games last year when we were in it probably 80 percent of the time. Then there were other games it was less, so it varies from game to game, which sometimes is reflective of the score. Like the Pittsburgh game, we were hardly under center in that game. But part of that was we were playing from behind all game too. Regardless of whether you’re under center or not under center, you still have to have balance and do multiple things. I don’t think you can just do one thing in this league very long, from anything.
Q: When you were scouting Tavon Wilson, did you have an idea that he would be around the ball so much?
BB: I think Tavon was an instinctive player at Illinois, absolutely.
Q: Are ball skills something that a guy just has naturally or can he improve as time goes on?
BB: I think you can improve them. Absolutely, I think you can improve your ball skills. That being said, I think some players naturally just have better hand-eye coordination, timing, ball skills, whatever you want to call it, than others. But I think you can definitely improve them and I see those improving. It’s a cumulative thing. I don’t think it happens in two days – we’ll go out there and work on ball skills and that’s it. It’s a cumulative thing. Sometimes it’s weeks, it’s months, it’s years over the course of a career. I definitely think you can improve if you work at it. Absolutely, I definitely think you can improve it.
Q: Was Asante Samuel one of those guys? When he was here early in his career, you saw balls go through his hands and then when he was finishing up here, he was catching everything.
BB: I thought he had pretty good hands coming out of college. He was a punt returner. He handled the ball pretty well in college. Everybody has dropped them, every great receiver, every defensive back. I would just say, watching a guy day after day, week after week, year after year, you have an appreciation for what their level of skill is and I think when you see a guy who has really good hands, really soft hands, that handles the ball very well, those guys still have drops but they’re concentration drops, they’re not because they don’t have good hands, it’s because it’s a lack of concentration and watching the ball into their hands and seeing the end of the catch. Then there are guys who maybe have lesser hands, if you will, lesser skill in their hands and hand-eye coordination but maybe their concentration is exceptional. A player like Wayne Chrebet, I wouldn’t put his hands in the all-time great category, they were good but he had great concentration and he had great finish on the ball. He didn’t drop many balls for that reason. There were other guys with better hands that dropped more balls than he did, as an example.
Q: You mentioned all the changes on offense. Has John Fox changed the defensive scheme much since last year?
BB: Similar, but different. They change things every week. This is a team that will do something against Oakland that they hadn’t done the week before against Houston or the week before against Atlanta or Pittsburgh. They’re adaptable to what they’re facing and that’s something that John has traditionally done. They don’t just line up there and run the same thing every time. I don’t know how much of that is new, how much is game plan for a particular team. I’m not sure exactly on that. They definitely keep it moving, they don’t just sit there on one thing.
Q: The defensive personnel is pretty stable from last year to this year?
BB: [Tracy] Porter is new at corner, [Mike] Adams is new at safety. They started [Rahim] Moore at safety but he went out during the year and they replaced him with [Tony] Carter and then Moore came back at the end of the year and he was in and out but he’s back in there now. They picked up [Jim] Leonhard so Leonhard has been their dime safety when Adams moves down to play as a linebacker in dime, which is what [David] Bruton was doing at the end of the year last year. So there’s quite a few changes right there. Derek Wolfe is definitely new. I wouldn’t say it’s all the same guys, particularly in the secondary. Champ Bailey is the same, no doubt about that and Moore played plenty last year and they started the season with a couple different combinations at their nickel back but [Chris] Harris kind of took that over and he, for the most part, has done that this year although earlier in the year they had Porter in there some playing the nickel position instead of Harris but now it looks like it’s Harris back there doing it. There have been some moving parts there, particularly in the secondary.