Broncos vs. Patriots: New England's Balance and Blinding Tempo Tramples Denver
I hope you didn't blink.
If you did, you may have missed a handful of plays by the New England Patriots' high-tempo offense, which ran 89 plays on Sunday, marking the highest total for the team since at least 2008, according to ProFootballFocus.com.
"We practiced well," said Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker, "and I think it shows up on the game field when you practice the way we need to and the way we want to have the tempo in the game."
To say it showed up on the game field would be an understatement. The Patriots picked up a franchise-record 35 first downs against the Broncos, and converted 11-of-17 third downs.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick pointed to one of the benefits of playing at such a high tempo, namely in limiting an opponent's defensive substitutions as well as their options from specific packages.
I think we tried to uptempo it a little bit to keep them from substituting, and they were able to substitute in at times, but I think at other times they couldn't get them in. It looked like they had to hold them. When they weren't substituting, we had a little bit better idea of what they were going to do with the group that was in there.
He added, "We felt like the tempo helped us control the game a little bit."
The balance in conjunction has made this offense even more difficult to defend. The Patriots offense, which was among the most pass-happy units in 2011, has become one of the most balanced in the league in the span of a single offseason.
They finished with 54 rushing plays to 34 passing plays; part of that may be skewed by an early surge that resulted in a 31-7 third quarter lead. Of their 35 first-downs, 16 came through the air and 18 came on the ground (one more via penalty).
Both the balance and the tempo have been present all season long; the offense has broken the 80-play plateau in three of the past four games, and now boasts a run-pass balance of 191 to 185 in favor of the ground game.
Belichick pointed out that both teams get an equal number of possessions, but both teams do not always get an equal number of plays, and that is where the Patriots tempo and efficiency shines through. This season, the Patriots have run 388 plays, while their opponents have run just 322.
After another full-throttle, high-scoring performance, a Patriots offense that looked out-of-sync just a few weeks ago against the Cardinals once again has the look of the league's best unit.
But there's little time to bask in the glory. With the Patriots offense and the Seahawks defense both coming into next week's game riding hot performances in Week 5, New England will face yet another big challenge next week.
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained firsthand.
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