For all the talk about Tom Brady versus Peyton Manning, one would think they are actually going one-on-one against each other on the field.
The real matchup this Sunday will be on the sidelines between head coaches John Fox and Bill Belichick.
Both coaches enter Championship Weekend with intriguing questions as to how they will game-plan for each other.
For Fox, his banged up secondary has to be a large concern.
Broncos CB Chris Harris has torn ACL and is out for season. Harris tied for team lead with 3 Int this season. (via ESPN & media reports)— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 13, 2014
Cornerback Chris Harris tore the ACL in his left knee in the Divisional Round against the San Diego Chargers, forcing the Denver Broncos to turn to Quentin Jammer and Champ Bailey.
Nick O’Malley of MassLive.com noted that Jammer and Bailey each struggled against the Chargers.
Against the Chargers, Bailey played 23 snaps, all in the slot, with Rivers going a perfect 3-for-3 when going in his direction.
The Broncos ended up sticking with Jammer on the outside for much of the game after the injury—and had little success there. Rivers was 3-for-5 for 97 yards and a touchdown against him, with rookie Keenan Allen burning him outright on a couple occasions.
The good news for the Broncos is that Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie escaped last week unscathed, and a week of preparation for Jammer and Bailey should aid immensely.
Also, the New England Patriots will be without tight end Rob Gronkowski this time around, meaning the Broncos can set their focus on the Patriots’ wideouts and running game.
This is a huge game for Coach Fox. You know he wants to get Belichick back after the Broncos’ Week 12 meltdown loss and, of course, Super Bowl XXXVIII.
For Belichick, one of the big questions is how the Patriots will attack offensively.
The Patriots deployed a run-heavy attack against the Indianapolis Colts in the divisional round, rushing the ball 46 times for 234 yards and all six touchdowns.
While it was odd to see Brady throw for 198 yards and no touchdowns, the approach was justified considering the Colts ranked just 26th against the run, allowing 125.1 yards per game.
Whether or not the Patriots will stick with the run has been one of the great debates this week.
Against the Broncos, a run-heavy philosophy might not be their best bet. Unlike the Colts, the Broncos ranked seventh in rush defense, allowing 101.6 yards per game.
CBSSports.com’s Pete Prisco noted that the Patriots’ rushing attack struggles with penetration.
The Patriots ran a lot of power runs last week against the Colts out of different sets. Those runs call for the guards to pull and lead, but that's tough to do if there is penetration. The Broncos have a key penetrator against the run game in defensive tackle Terrance Knighton. In the first meeting, Patriots center Ryan Wendell and right guard Dan Connolly had problems with Knighton.
What the Patriots have going for them this time around is that the Broncos will be without both linebacker Von Miller (torn ACL) and defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson (hip), so the penetration that caused issues the first time around might not be as prevalent.
It will be very interesting to see how Belichick’s game plan unfolds, considering no one will really know until game day.
Belichick was his typical non-committal self in a press conference earlier this week, saying:
We like to win. So, whatever we need to do to win really is good with me. Win running, win throwing, win shutting them out, win outscoring them, win in the kicking game—whatever it takes. We just have to find a way to do it this time of year.
So there's that. Belichick likes to win, and it does not really matter how as long as he does.
He might stay conservative with the run and he might take chances (4th-and-2); we'll find out soon enough.