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CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- Their season teetering, their schedule daunting, the Broncos trudge toward Sunday night with multiple concerns against the NFL's best team. Can the defense play in a dominant fashion against New England, conjuring images of the 2016 stretch run? It's feasible, though not probable. More salient? Will the offense shake its first half malaise, which has cratered the Broncos' chances in two of the past three games?
The numbers reveal a sobering reality. Over the past three games, the Broncos have averaged three points and gone 3-for-20 on third downs in the first halves. It has left Denver trailing two of the past three games, and compromised an overworked defense.
Now come the Patriots. Maybe you've heard of them.
They have fallen out of bed for the 16 years and won 12 games per year. They own the league's top record this season, and their quarterback Tom Brady continues his middle-finger salute redemption tour. Despite missing four games, Brady remains firmly in the MVP conversation. The glimmer of hope? Brady struggles in Denver and against the Broncos. He's 2-7 in the Mile High City, and 6-9 against the Broncos, his only losing record against an opponent.
Will it matter if the Broncos' offense lacks balance, and scores only in the second half?
"Every team in the NFL is concerned that's fighting for a roster spot," receiver Emmanuel Sanders said. "You guys do a good job of breaking down the numbers. That's your job. If we want to make the tournament we've got to get our mind right."
An argument can be made that the right path against New England is abandoning the run. The Broncos ran for 18 yards against Tennessee, and Justin Forsett, who was released by Baltimore and Detroit over concerns about his lack of speed, fumbled on his first carry.
New England stops the run effectively, ranking sixth at 90.2 yards per game. Beyond special teams, where they can keep opponents in games with fumbles, the Patriots are vulnerable against the pass. They have 28 sacks and eight interceptions. The Broncos' best offensive players are Sanders and Demaryius Thomas. They both eclipsed 100 yards last week, though they were only targeted seven times in the first half. Again, based on strengths, it could behoove the Broncos to throw early and throw often, and hopefully keep Siemian upright.
"It’s definitely what we did in the second half. The biggest thing is snaps. (Last Sunday) in the first half, we had (24) snaps as an offensive football team. They had the ball and we didn’t do anything with it when we had it. You have to get snaps in order to have things happen," Head Coach Gary Kubiak said. "We went and found snaps in the second half and made plays and moved the ball."
Linebacker Brandon Marshall (hamstring) did not attend practice, and there's no guarantee his left hamstring will be healed enough to avoid missing his second straight game.
Linebacker Todd Davis (left oblique) was limited, watching practice.
Center Matt Paradis and left tackle Russell Okung attended practice, but as spectators. Kubiak has provided rest to both to try and get them through the season healthy.