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Six keys: Broncos at Patriots

Posted by Greg A. Bedard  January 14, 2012 06:02 PM

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FOXBOROUGH – Enough talk. Enough writing. Let’s cut to the chase.

Here are the things the Patriots have to do tonight to beat the Broncos and advance to the AFC Championship game:


  • Win the turnover battle: This the most important thing. Don’t give the Broncos any life by giving them the ball.

  • Protect Tom Brady: We all know the protection hasn’t been stellar for Brady in the playoff defeats – although some of it has been on his own indecisiveness – so the guys up front must be better. The Patriots’ biggest weakness is stunts. The guards and centers must have their heads on a swivel and be aware of lurking dangers that haven’t yet presented themselves.

  • Tackle: The Patriots have the benefit of knowing the challenge that tackling Tim Tebow presents. He’s an underrated runner and is tough to bring down. But besides Tebow, the Patriots need to tackle everyone well. No extra yards. Tackling has been average for most of the season. When the Patriots tackle, the defense plays reasonably well.

  • No big plays: No team gave up more plays over 20 yards. That can’t go on in the playoffs. The Broncos will get their yards, but make them get them in small chunks. Patriots want to force 10-, 12-, 15-play drives.

  • Do your job: Playing this offense requires more mental and physical discipline than any other. The Patriots need to stay in their gaps and don’t overcommit. If you get overaggressive and sellout the teammate behind you, you better make that play. Don’t take a shot and whiff.

  • Stiffen in the red zone: Patriots have done this reasonably well most of this season. As long as the Patriots don’t give up touchdowns every time the Broncos get into the red zone, they should be fine.

THE PICK

I pretty much laid out my feeling about this game in the paper this morning. Basically, without a ton of Patriots turnovers, the Broncos’ offense can’t keep pace with Brady -- unless the Broncos’ defense totally confounds him with pressure and coverages. Denver didn’t show anything the first time around that makes me believe it can do it for an entire game. The linebackers and safeties aren’t good enough. The Broncos’ offense will move the ball, but Brady and his weapons will be better.

Patriots 36, Broncos 19.

News, analysis and commentary from Boston.com's staff writers and contributors, including Zuri Berry and Erik Frenz.

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