Bailey might not work at full speed during practice all week. He participated during practice on Wednesday but at less than full speed because he is still nursing a hamstring injury. Broncos coach Mike Shanahan made it clear that he wouldn't risk Bailey making the hamstring worse by bringing him back too soon.
If Bailey doesn't play, the Broncos will once again use rookie cornerbacks Domonique Foxworth and Darrent Williams in the starting lineup. That's not comforting, considering New England quarterback Tom Brady is averaging more than 300 yards per game this season and the Patriots have a knack for finding favorable matchups.
"What they do is not by accident," Broncos defensive coordinator Larry Coyer said. "They don't just have a big play. They've gotten the thought who they can match up and how they work. They're brilliant at doing that."
The good news for the Broncos is Williams and Foxworth have not given them any reason to panic.
Williams started against Kansas City in Week 3, Foxworth started against Jacksonville in Week 4 and they both started against Washington last week. The Jaguars had only one big play on offense in that game and Washington couldn't beat the Broncos' cornerbacks deep for most of the game. The Redskins had 322 passing yards but attempted 53 passes and didn't have many long receptions.
Foxworth has been solid since the first days of training camp. He rarely makes typical rookie mistakes.
Williams has some breakdowns but his big play ability and makeup speed is a reason he has been ahead of Foxworth on the depth chart. Williams would have started opposite Champ Bailey last week had Bailey been able to play.
"I don't think we're just weak links to the defense," Williams said. "They see that we can go out and make plays and we got pretty good skills out there on the corner, even though we're rookies."
Foxworth and Williams each said they expect to be tested by Brady and New England's receivers. Williams said he doesn't blame teams for targeting the rookies.
"I would, if I looked over there and saw some rookies I'd try to go at them considering we don't have a lot of experience," Williams said. "Teams, I think, come out early at us and we make a couple of plays and then they go back to their regular game plan."
SERIES HISTORY -- 38th meeting. The Denver Broncos lead the series over the New England Patriots 22-15 and have the only postseason win, in a 1986 AFC divisional playoff game. The Patriots did win the last meeting, a last-minute 30-26 victory on a Monday night at Invesco Field at Mile High in 2003.
--Broncos WR David Terrell was released by New England at the end of training camp. He dealt with a staph infection in his leg that kept him out for two preseason games and hindered him in the two preseason games he played.
Terrell, who hasn't been active for the Broncos since he signed with them before the season opener, said he is not upset with the Patriots for cutting him.
"Not at all," Terrell said. "I don't hold anything against them. They did what they felt they needed to do."
--Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer, who had 92 yards last week and is on pace for less than 3,000 yards this season, said this might be the week he hits some long passes. Denver has attempted plenty of deep passes but hasn't hit one longer than 31 yards.
New England gave up a lot of yards to Atlanta's backup quarterback Matt Schaub last week and has plenty of injuries in the secondary.
"There's going to be some opportunities," Plummer said. "Hopefully we can create that in many ways, whether it's off the boot game or play-action game or just man-to-man and catching some blitzes knowing they're going to be in man and going downfield."
-- This week the Broncos have been very respectful of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, often calling him the best quarterback in football.
"Brady at this moment, as far as being a field general, is probably the best in the game," Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer said. "He just runs that offense so well."
"He's very productive, very poised," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said. "He's very competitive and plays big in big games. It's kind of like everything you look for in a quarterback."
BY THE NUMBERS: The Broncos are averaging 175.8 yards passing per game this year, a steep drop from 255.6 passing yards per game last year.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "They've won three Super Bowls in four years. That's not too bad." -- Broncos coach Mike Shanahan on New England.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Broncos are winning without much help from their passing game. Quarterback Jake Plummer's passing numbers are way down from last year. He passed for only 92 yards last week against Washington, although rainy and windy conditions played a part in that.
The Broncos have been conservative, not making mistakes and letting the defense and their rushing attack dominate the game. The Broncos rank 26th in the National Football League in passing offense.
PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES
--DE George Gause was signed to the Broncos practice squad. Gause
was among the Buffalo Bills' final cuts before the regular season.
--TE Wesley Duke was released from the Broncos' active roster to make room for CB Curome Cox, but he was re-signed to the practice squad. Duke, who played basketball and not football in college, has great athletic skills and is an intriguing project.
--WR David Terrell is becoming more comfortable with Denver's offense. He hasn't played for the Broncos yet but there's a chance he could make an impact by the end of the season.
--FB Kyle Johnson is an underrated part of Denver's successful passing game. He has done a good job as a lead blocker for Tatum Bell and Mike Anderson and is also a reliable pass catcher.
--DE Ebenezer Ekuban isn't a starter since Courtney Brown returned, but he plays a lot and has given the Broncos a very good pass rusher off the bench. Ekuban could also play either strong-side or weak-side end if either of Denver's starters got hurt.
GAME PLAN: The Broncos eventually need to find a passing game. They passed for 92 yards against Washington and won, but it'll be much harder to beat the Patriots with a one-dimensional offense. Denver will need to mix it up and maybe hit a long passing play or two.
Defensively, Denver has to get pressure on Tom Brady. If Brady is allowed too much time in the pocket, he will take advantage of the inexperience in Denver's secondary.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
Broncos running backs Tatum Bell and Mike Anderson vs. Patriots defensive front seven: The Broncos will run the same offensive plays for Anderson and Bell, but the two backs' styles are much different. Bell has breakaway speed and Anderson is a powerful downhill runner. The Patriots will have to be ready for the change of pace Bell brings when he comes in the game.
Broncos DEs Courtney Brown and Trevor Pryce vs. Patriots OT Nick Kaczur: Kaczur, a rookie from Toledo, took over when Matt Light got hurt.
Pryce, who plays on the weak side, and Brown have each been playing
well. They need to get some pressure on Tom Brady against Kaczur.
Broncos P Todd Sauerbrun against Patriots KR Bethel Johnson and PR Tim Dwight. Sauerbrun, who is also Denver's kickoff specialist, is coming off a fantastic game against Washington. He'll need to be on top of his game against New England's fast returners.
CB Champ Bailey practiced Wednesday but not at full speed. He needs to make improvement to be ready to play this week.
CB Roc Alexander returned to practice after missing two weeks with a hamstring injury. He might be available this week, which would help Denver's depth in the secondary.
LB Louis Green was back at practice. He has missed two games with a hamstring injury. He is a key special teams player.
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