Denver Broncos: 5 Keys to Defeating the Patriots
But in the next two games, the Broncos fell behind early thanks to four turnovers in the first quarter against Atlanta and two big plays given up on defense against the Texans. Peyton Manning and the Broncos managed to rally late, but fell just short in both games, proving that the schedule was indeed as tough as advertised.
To be fair, both losses came to teams that are 4-0, and neither was a blowout.
Fast forward to Sunday's game against the hated Raiders. The first half was a bit sluggish with a few errant mistakes (Demaryius Thomas) or it would not have been that close. The second half turned into a rout and the Broncos once again looked like the contenders they were built to be.
Now they face another daunting task this week against the New England Patriots. This game is a true test on multiple levels.
First, Tom Brady and the Pats shredded the Broncos for 86 points in two games last year, embarrassing Denver and sending them packing in the divisional round of the playoffs.
In addition, Peyton Manning has an extensive and well-documented history against the Patriots, and the Tom Brady versus Peyton Manning arguments ensue every time these two quarterbacks face each other.
In order for the Broncos to overcome the home-field advantage and emerge triumphant in New England, they must follow these five keys.
Disrupt Tom Brady
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At times—like this past weekend against Buffalo—the New England offense looks absolutely unstoppable. When they are clicking on every level, few teams can stop them.
However, if one team has shown a blueprint on how to disrupt the fluidity of the offense, it's been the New York Giants. The Giants harassed Brady all day in Super Bowl XLVI, and while they only got to him twice, they punished him throughout the night, throwing a multitude of blitz packages that confused him and forced the Pats to alter their game plan.
The Broncos must follow suit. With an arsenal of personnel that can rush the quarterback, the Broncos scheme must change the face of the game.
Expect to see numerous looks and blitz packages throughout the afternoon in an attempt to knock Brady and the high-powered offense of kilter. They don't necessarily have to sack Brady 10 times to wreak havoc—although that would be ideal.
They just need to hit him and hit him often, making him more timid in the pocket. This keeps the DBs from chasing their man all over the field and forces quick decisions which can lead to game-changing turnovers.
Control the Clock
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Willis McGahee continues to defy theory that running backs over 30 can't last in the NFL. McGahee has continued to be a formidable force week-in and week-out as he absolutely ran over the Raiders defense.
It's hard to tell if McGahee is benefiting more from Manning or vice versa, but whatever it is, it's working.
Controlling the clock is the best defense for Tom Brady's offense. The longer they are kept off the field, the less time they have to get into rhythm.
Willis McGahee is not the only key to clock control and game management. As Peyton has shown, short passes and spreading the ball can lead to long drives, giving the defense a break and keeping Brady on the bench.
In addition, the slow introduction of Ronnie Hillman into the offense will provide a nice one-two punch with McGahee. Hillman has seemed to improve every week and his ability as a change-of-pace back could prove invaluable, especially in this week's matchup.
Get off to a Fast Start
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In the two losses against the Texans and Falcons, the Broncos won the coin toss and elected to receive, only to falter on offense and fail to put up points. From there, both opponents jumped out to a quick lead, forcing the Broncos to become more desperate and one- dimensional in their game-plan.
While I am a believer in deferring to the second half, the Broncos seem insistent on taking the ball if they win the toss. If that is the case, they must score, especially against the high powered Patriots.
Big plays, like the ones we've seen out of Demaryius Thomas, are a necessity to setting the tone of the game. The Patriots defense isn't as porous as it was last season, but teams have shown that they can put up points against this team.
As the 20th ranked defense and the 24th ranked against the pass, the Broncos need to exploit New England's defense early and often to ensure that they don't have to play catch up, which is exceedingly difficult when Brady and the Pats have the lead.
A quick start to set the tempo of the game can fire up the defense and provide a spark for the rest of the game.
Keep Gronk in Check
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While New England is filled with an arsenal of playmakers, from super slot man Wes Welker to former Bronco and current deep-threat Brandon Lloyd, no weapon can destroy a team quicker than the freakish tight end Rob Gronkowski.
"Gronk," as he is nicknamed, owns the seam route. He is an incredible playmaker for his size and has unmatched speed at the tight end position. If Aaron Hernandez does not go this week that will be a blessing for the Broncos defense, as the combination of the two is definitely a handful.
Even without Hernandez—cross your fingers—Gronkowski needs to be accounted for on every down. Luckily the Broncos have one of the better players in the league to handle these responsibilities in Wesley Woodyard. Look for Woodyard to shadow Gronk throughout most of the game in an attempt to slow him down and force the ball to the Pats receivers, where Champ Bailey and Tracy Porter will be waiting.
Keep Your Composure
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While most of us despise the Patriots for a multitude of reasons (obnoxious fans, evil coach, etc.), none can deny that facing the Patriots is never a good feeling (unless you're the Giants and it's the Super Bowl I guess).
They have a seemingly endless supply of new weapons, such as Stevan Ridley and Brandon Bolden, old faces and of course, Tom Brady. Also, their defense, while never the intimidating force like Baltimore or Pittsburgh, always seems to come up with key turnovers and make just enough plays to pull out the victory.
The key for teams that face the Patriots is not to be intimidated. The Patriots have shown at several times this season that they are vulnerable, and John Fox needs to make sure his team doesn't buy into all the hype.
Even if the Broncos fall behind early it will be up to Fox, Manning and the rest of the coaching staff to buckle down, keep their composure and fight on. The Patriots never fail to present a vicious challenge, but since they are always in the thick of the playoff race, this is a team the Broncos have to figure out before they can take the next step.
It's up to the team to overcome the pregame jitters and realize they can beat this team consistently. Otherwise, what was the whole offseason for?