By: Steve Balestrieri
Here we go again, Manning and Brady will face off the 16th time on Sunday in Foxboro. (USA TODAY Images)
The New England Patriots and Denver Broncos will face each other for the third time in less than a year on Sunday afternoon in Foxboro. As it always seems to be, this is a big game for both teams in both divisional and conference standings.
Denver presents some great challenges for New England; their offense has plenty of weapons to bring to bear and it all starts with QB Peyton Manning. Manning shows little signs of slowing down at age 38 and has 22 touchdown passes and just 3 interceptions on the season.
Having DeMaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Julius Thomas, Wes Welker and Ronnie Hillman gives Manning plenty of options to utilize offensively. DeMaryius Thomas is the most talented and has the ability to beat opponents in the short, intermediate and deep passing games. Sanders has seamlessly transitioned into the Broncos passing attack, and Julius Thomas remains a matchup problem for defenses.
The Broncos defense is #1 in the NFL at stopping the run, allowing only 74.3 yards per game and they’ve upgraded their pass defense by signing CB Aqib Talib, Safety T.J. Ward and DE DeMarcus Ware.
How Does The Defense Stop Manning: So with their work cut out for them, how do the Patriots defeat the Broncos? First they’ll need to get an excellent game from their secondary with no mistakes made. Darrelle Revis will probably draw DeMaryius Thomas, Brandon Browner will probably draw Julius Thomas, that’s what they were brought here for. Julius Thomas missed the first game in Foxboro last year and was missed. But he was a big factor in the AFCCG in Denver. The corners will have to play tight, press man coverage and disrupt the timing of Manning and his receivers.
That would put Kyle Arrington on Wes Welker in the slot and the difficult job of covering Sanders? That un-enviable task will fall to either Alfonzo Dennard or Logan Ryan. That matchup on Sanders more than any other will bear close watching.
New England did well last November, and challenged Manning to throw deep, the elements, which should be similar on Sunday, didn’t loan themselves to being accurate throwing down the field. QB pressure will be key, and no Chandler Jones isn’t a good thing for the NE defense. Manning like Tom Brady, destroys defenses when they blitz, he’ll recognize it quickly and make you pay.
Stopping the Bread and Butter:Here are a few examples that Denver has shown using the NFL’s All-22 film. This is how they attack opposing defenses; they’ve been very successful using these plays multiple times.
Throwing crossing routes, Peyton Manning has a perfect QB rating 158.3 in 2014 according to Pro Football Focus (PFF), the Broncos operate it to perfection and it is a staple of their offense.
On this play versus Arizona, the Broncos line up with Trips (3WR) left and Sanders wide right. Manning is in the shotgun and the Cards defense is showing blitz with the LBs sneaking up to the line of scrimmage.
At the snap Sanders cut across the formation just beyond the line of scrimmage. Welker in the slot crosses with Andre Caldwell who runs across the formation to the right, crosses over Sanders and rubs (knocks) Peterson who is trailing Sanders off the route. The result is a 16 yard gain.
In the red-zone the Broncos, Julius Thomas has been very successful this year scoring nine touchdowns in just seven games. The Broncos have isolated him in single coverage on a safety and it is an easy mismatch for them to exploit.
Against the Jets they aligned in the Trips right (3WR) with Thomas split wide right singled up on a safety, who was playing off, about 5 yards deep allowing a free release.
At the snap, the three wide receivers stay on the left side of the field; Manning glanced at Welker running a corner route, drawing the deep safety to that side of the field. Thomas runs a slant and easily beats the defender to the end zone for the touchdown.
They ran a similar play against the Colts on the 2-yard line with Thomas beating LaRon Landry on a slant where Landry was shading to the outside after having already been beaten there for a touchdown in the same game. This time he cuts inside and Manning hits him for an easy six.
NE Offense This Week Must Attack The Middle Again: If there is a weakness to the Denver defense, it is defending the middle of the field, especially against the tight ends. Rob Gronkowski torched the Bears defense last week doing the same thing but this week’s matchup all-around will be much tougher.
I would expect to see more of the 2-TE sets this week with Gronkowski and Tim Wright as the Patriots will attempt to attack the middle of the field. Wright has been gradually getting more in sync with Brady and the offense and should see more snaps this week.
Against the 49ers Vernon Davis had success attacking the seams of the Broncos defense. On this particular play at the Niners 35 yard line, Davis runs a deep hook about 15 yards downfield and has good separation between the LBs and safety.
Colin Kaepernick delivers it for a big gain out to midfield and also had Brandon Lloyd also at the numbers on the left side. The Niners ran this same play again later in the game but Davis dropped the ball for an incompletion.
Gates just runs a straight post down the seam and beats the single deep safety easily for a gain of 31 to set the Chargers up at the 3-yard line for a first and goal. Philip Rivers delivered it perfectly and Gates hauled it in and nearly scores on the play.
The Patriots will have to do much of the same things to beat the defense and the keys to stopping Manning are nothing new. This has been the blueprint for the past decade. But executing it and getting it done is another thing. If they are to be successful, they’ll need a big effort on both sides of the ball to defeat a more talented Broncos team on Sunday.
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