The Patriots will down the Broncos for the third time in 11 months this afternoon at Gillette Stadium if they can execute these five keys:
- Pound it: The Broncos’ run defense will be helped by middle linebacker Joe Mays coming back from suspension, but they’re still very weak in the middle of the field at defensive tackle after Broderick Bunkley signed with the Saints, and Ty Warren was lost for the year. The Patriots should be able to use a similar inside scheme that worked so well against the Bills. That will make the Broncos bring a safety down into the box and then….
- Take your shots: We’ve seen the Patriots just miss on a few shot plays between Tom Brady and Brandon Lloyd earlier this season, but today is the day for them to hit one. The Broncos have really struggled on deep play-action shots so far this season when the receiver is matched up on right cornerback Tracy Porter and Mike Adams is the deep safety. The Texans hit on two of them against the Broncos. Same tight trips formation to one side, receiver isolated on the other.
- Flip the script?: One thing I expect the Patriots to do is to go through center Dan Koppen to make Peyton Manning nervous with pressure up the middle of the field. Would not be surprised if we see more of the 3-4 look with Kyle Love or Vince Wilfork right over top of Koppen. Maybe even put Jermaine Cunningham over Koppen in subpackages. In the secondary, I’ll be interested to see how the Patriots handle things with safety Steve Gregory out. That would push rookie Tavon Wilson into a starting role. However, the Patriots know they must disguise a lot against Manning. Can Wilson handle that? I’m not so sure. One option would be to throw something new at the Broncos by going back to Devin McCourty at free safety in some packages, like he did last year. Not for performance, but because McCourty could handle the disguises better in the back end. You would hope Kyle Arrington, Sterling Moore and Ras-I Dowling could do the job disguising at cornerback.
- Watch your drops: Manning and the Broncos are doing a terrific job of peppering the middle of the field in all three zones – short, middle and deep. The Patriots’ linebackers are going to have to really be sharp with their drops into coverage or Manning will pick them apart.
- Go fast: The Broncos feel they stand a much better chance at beating Brady with Jack Del Rio as defensive coordinator with his multiple fronts and different pressure packages. But they’ve only played four games doing it. The Patriots should test the Broncos to see just how far they’ve come with communication in the new scheme by going fast with the no huddle. Let’s see Del Rio pressure with a bunch of guys standing up and walking around when Brady is running the no huddle. Don’t think it will happen.
In a matchup of these two quarterbacks, it’s going to come down to which team is able to pressure and cover the best. Obviously both go hand in hand. If the Patriots go fast, I think there’s a good chance the Broncos look disorganized on the defensive side of the ball. On the other side, I’m not so sure the Patriots should be able to use their knowledge of Koppen’s weak spots to make Manning feel uncomfortable just enough to cough up the ball a few times. That will be the difference in the game.
Patriots 35, Broncos 27