FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Week after week, the New England Patriots have kept strong pass rushers away from Tom Brady. Now here come the Denver Broncos.
If Von Miller doesn’t get the sack, chances are Elvis Dumervil will.
“Von Miller, he’s a phenomenal player,” Brady said Wednesday. “And then with Elvis on the other side, they’ve really got two guys that can rush the passer. I know I stand up here every week and talk about how good of a pass rush we’re going to face and we seem to continue to face them.”
Four weeks ago, it was Tamba Hali of the Kansas City Chiefs. Then came Jason Babin of the Philadelphia Eagles. And in their last two games, the Patriots had to keep Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis of the Indianapolis Colts and Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo of the Washington Redskins off Brady.
His protection was superb. Hali had the only sack in that group and Brady was sacked just six times in those four games. And the Patriots have allowed just 22 sacks all season, tied for fifth fewest in the NFL.
Left tackle Matt Light gets another chance in Denver on Sunday to protect his quarterback’s blind side. He’s been doing it since 2001 so he’s used to facing dangerous pass rushers in most games.
“From my point of view,” Light said, “it’s been that way for roughly 11 seasons.”
But he’s never blocked Miller. Many have tried and failed.
The Broncos took Miller with the second pick of this year’s draft from Texas A&M and he has sacks in 10 of the 12 games he’s played. His 11 1-2 sacks lead all NFL rookies, a total that’s second overall in the AFC.
Miller is an outside linebacker but he sometimes rushes from other spots.
“Occasionally, they line him up inside and he really presents a problem for the centers and guards in there because of his quickness. Normally, he’s on the outside,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “He can run the edge. He can come inside. He’s very quick and athletic but he’s got good power and he’s a really strong player, too.
“You just can’t sit back and wait for him to make some kind of athletic move. He’ll run them over. He’s very good in pursuit. He makes a lot of plays downfield after the ball is thrown. He’ll chase a guy down, for (a) five, six, seven-yard gain and try to strip the ball as he’s tackling him. He’s not out of a lot of plays.”
Then there’s Dumervil.
He has 7 1-2 sacks and, like Miller, had at least a half sack in each of the four games they played in November. Dumervil has been a danger to passers longer, leading the NFL with 17 sacks in 2009 before missing all last season with a torn pectoral muscle.
This season, the Broncos are fifth in the league in sacks per pass play.
“We kind of changed defenses from a 3-4 to a 4-3 which is fairly drastic with no offseason,” Denver coach John Fox said. “Our guys are understanding what we’re doing better and they’re not thinking, so they’re playing faster.”
Facing linemen with a knack for getting sacks is nothing new to the Patriots.
“It seems like every team has good pass rushers,” Belichick said. “If you have a good pass rusher, you do things to try to make it hard for the offense to do things to slow them down — different fronts or different combinations or blitzes or something that takes the guy away who might be able to help him. Now he has to block a blitzer or they move the front around.
“They don’t make it easy for you.”
And, Brady said, the Broncos like to blitz.
“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,” he said.
That’s where Light and his fellow linemen come in.
“I’m healthy. I’m happy about that,” he said.
He’s started every game since 2006, except for five in 2009 when an injury sidelined him.
“Matt has played very well,” Belichick said. “He missed a little bit of that first week of training camp but after that, he’s done everything that everybody else has done. (He’s a) real experienced player that’s seen a lot of football, seen a lot of good guys out there, competed well.
“He’s a very good competitor, smart guy, has good technique, has a lot of experience out there. We’ll need it this week.”