The next playoff game for the Denver Broncos is a rematch game from Week 15 against the New England Patriots. While one costly quarter filled with fumbles essentially cost the Broncos the game, the Broncos coaching staff can take a lot of positives away from that game and develop a winning game plan to pull off the latest big upset in as many weeks.
Despite the chatter from analysts and pundits, this game is not out of the Broncos reach and they have a chance to bring home a victory with a shot at the AFC Championship if they can execute these eight keys to the game.
The New England Patriots led the AFC in the turnover margin forcing 34 turnovers by opponents, while only surrendering the football 17 times. In the final eight games of the season, the Patriots went undefeated and in that stretch they had five games including the one against the Denver Broncos in Week 15 in which they did not turn the ball over.
In those eight games they turned the ball over a measly three times. In those games they held onto the ball against quality defenses including: New York Jets, Kansas City, Philadelphia, Washington, Denver, and Miami among others.
In those same eight games, the Pats had 20 takeaways.
The Broncos will have to force turnovers by the Patriots either coming up with interceptions or being opportunistic on defense to strip the ball from the running backs in order to win. The hardest part about the loss in Week 15 was that those turnovers set up the Patriots with short fields or they were at crucial times at the end of drives right before the Broncos were about to put up points. The Broncos need to turn the tables and get some key takeaways to have a chance.
Effective running is a key element to an effective pass. The Broncos have run the ball well all season. This past success had the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau blindly focusing on stopping the Broncos rushing attack last week and it was what set up the eleven second overtime victory play off the play-action.
Tebow has shown he can make some quality downfield passes against the best pass defense in the NFL, so teams like the New England Patriots who have a vulnerable pass defense should take note. That is why the Broncos should still make a concerted effort to stick with the run all game, instead of leaving it if the Patriots get a few scores.
Utilizing the run effectively will make the Patriots have to protect against the run as well as protect against the passing of Tim Tebow, which has been most effective on deep passes. The deep passing threat is one of the hardest things to defend in the NFL if the receiver gets behind you. You can throw the ball deep and beat the coverage by having the receiver run under it.
In the first meeting with the Patriots, the Broncos ran for 252 yards on 31 attempts, averaging 8.1 yards per carry. All three of their touchdowns came on the run. Willis McGahee will lead the rushing attack and should gash the Patriots for huge gains if the Pats play soft to prevent deep passes.
One of the Broncos biggest advantages on defense has been their pass rush. However, in the Week 15 match-up with the Patriots, Brady passed out of the shotgun in hopes of wearing out the defense.
To some extent it worked as the Broncos recorded only two sacks on Brady, allowing him to pass for 320 yards and two touchdowns.
The Steelers had a similar game plan to protect Ben Roethlisberger and his banged up ankle for hitting the turf too many times. However, the Broncos had kept up a consistent, ferocious pass rush and picked up five sacks.
The pass rush was a huge factor forcing overtime on the final play where the defense reached down and put up a big stop. Their success from last week must continue and Brady needs to go down. They need to come from the edges with Elvis Dumervil, Robert Ayers, and Von Miller. Pressure up the middle from Brodrick Bunkley and Marcus Thomas will also go a long way to stopping Brady.
The Denver Broncos need to take a page out of Bill Belichick’s book this week against the Patriots. The Patriots are famous for running up the score against opponents and one of the trends to end the season has been big comebacks after starting slow.
The Patriots were down last week against the Buffalo Bills 21-0 in the first quarter, but then came back to score 49 unanswered points.
If the Broncos manage to get an early lead, they can’t let up. They need to continue to press for touchdowns and not just field goals. They will probably need to put up at least 30 points to overcome Brady and Co. to pull out a victory, even with their improved offense. While the Broncos scored 23 points in the regular season match-up against the Pats, it wasn’t enough after a horrible second quarter evaporated their lead as they went down by a final score of 41-23.
The Patriots, like many of the pass-happy teams in the NFL, have a great offense and suspect defense. The Broncos need to take advantage of the Pats soft defense and light up the scoreboard to even have a shot late in the 4th quarter.
Ever since John Elway spoke about Tim Tebow’s struggles and seemingly shaken confidence, the phrase “Pull the trigger” has become my new favorite.
Against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Tim Tebow did just that. He opened up the field and found open guys to fire the ball to. And it worked wonders. The Broncos need Tim Tebow to remain free passing the football, instead of bottling him up with conservative play-calling. Mike McCoy opened up the playbook and took some calculated risks in the passing game that paid dividends this past weekend. It has to continue against the Patriots and their weak secondary.
Not only does Tebow have to pull the trigger, but the receivers must stop dropping passes. Dropped passes can be attributed to some of Tebow’s struggles in the passing game. Even Sunday’s hero, Demaryius Thomas, had a ball hit him straight in the numbers and bounce off his chest last week.
Pulling the trigger and making the catches will sustain drives and keep the Broncos in this game.
The Patriots trio of spectacular receivers/tight ends is one of the best groups of inside receivers in the league. That being said, Tom Brady is going to look for whichever one is open. You can’t let one guy beat you because they will do it all day. The Broncos defensive secondary is improving, but at times have allowed big plays on key downs to really hurt them.
Aaron Hernandez carved up the Broncos secondary in the regular season meeting earlier this year, and Chad Ochocinco had his only touchdown catch all year after Andre Goodman blew his coverage. Mistakes in the secondary like that will be very detrimental for the Broncos this week.
Everybody needs to step up.
Just as important as it is for the Broncos to force turnovers from the Patriots, it is equally as important that they do not turn the ball over themselves. If it weren’t for a late game fumble by Willis McGahee, the Broncos may not have even needed overtime to oust the Pittsburgh Steelers last week.
As previously mentioned, the Broncos fell apart in the last match-up with the Pats when three straight fumbles gave the Patriots points, while taking the points off the board for the Broncos.
The team to win the turnover margin will win this game.
The Broncos have thrived in close games. They have made last minute comebacks week after week. They are now 4-0 in overtime games, including the playoffs. Most of the Broncos wins this season have been in games decided by less than seven points.
The Broncos have to match the Patriots score for score if they get down. The Patriots love to squash opponents when they are ahead with score after score as they wear down their opponent's confidence and hope. The Broncos cannot lose hope in themselves or each other, but must continue to fight for all 60 minutes to win this game.
One thing that the Broncos have been reluctant to do in the secondary all season has been to play bump and run on defense.
Much of the time they line up against teams with four or five yards cushion. This tactic works to prevent the big play in the passing game. It keeps speedy receivers from getting behind them and beating them over the top. Against the Pittsburgh Steelers and some of the speedy receivers such as Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, and Jerricho Cotchery, that is a wise defensive scheme.
However, against the large, bruising receivers for the Patriots and Welker, who lacks great breakaway speed, the Broncos have the advantage of slowing down the passing game to allow the defense to get to Tom Brady and to disrupt the timing between his receivers. You can still have a deep safety in case, a great pass lands on the money and a receiver gets free, but it should neutralize the Patriots dynamic offense enough to give the Broncos the edge.