When the Patriots (3-1) visit the Broncos (4-0) this Sunday it will represent more than a meeting between student and teacher. It will represent the toughest test the new look Broncos will have faced in this young NFL season.
The Patriots have yet to live up to their advance billing and some might say that the Broncos have surprised, but is it really that tough of a matchup?
I have conducted extensive research on both teams breaking each down to five squads and pinned them against their onfield opponent. Throughout this article I will point out each squad's weakness and point out who has the advantage.
Patriots pass O vs. Broncos pass D
The Patriots boast the 5th best passing attack in the NFL averaging 43.5 apg with 6.5 yards per attempt on average. When looking at this numbers two things jump out. One is the lack of a running game. Secondly, contrary to popular belief Randy Moss is not their biggest weapon.
I know some people might be flabbergasted right now and with reason. Moss still is an elite receiver and a great weapon but not the Pats biggest one. That honor goes to Wes Welker.
The Patriots use the short passing game as a substitute for their lack luster running game and they are excellent at it. Brady will put defenses to sleep with the short passes to Welker and then when they least expect it go over the top for a large gain with Moss. Couple that with their screen game and you got yourself an excellent ball control offense.
Meanwhile the Broncos pass D isn't anything to scuff at, with veterans such as Bailey and Dawkins in the defensive backfield. Ranked third in the league, the Broncos must contain Welker and the screens the Pats use. They must force them to take more chances down the field if they want to win this part of the game.
The Pats have not done well against aggressive blitzing schemes. Their OL has been vulnerable to the blitz, allowing Brady to get hit often in my eyes. This is an area of concern specially with the Broncos bringing Elvis Dummervile who leads the NFL with 8 sacks.
The entire defense is ranked 2nd in the league in that category and it could pose serious problems for the Patriots. All that said I believe that this in an area the Patriots excel at and with their spread offense should be able win this battle.
Patriots run O vs Broncos run D
This is the area where the Broncos should dominate with the 4th ranked run defense against the the Patriots' unimpressive 17th ranked rushing attack. During the offseason the Pats bolstered up this area of their team but have yet to show consistency. Fred Taylor, Maroney, Morris and Green-Ellis have not lived up to expectations so far and the Pats have struggled some to run the ball.
As previously stated, the Pats use screens and the short passing game to supplement their running game which even the most synical Patriots fan should agree that is seriously lacking.
One thing that the Patriot RBs do well is catch the ball which could pose a problem due to the inexperience of the Broncos OLB in coverage but with veterans like D.J. Williams and Andra Davis along with an underappreciated DL the Broncos should dominate this faze of the game.
Patriots run D vs Broncos run O
The Patriots have been performing admirably in this area
That's not to say the Broncos will dominate. On the contrary, with Buckhalter and Hillis in the proverbial dog house the Broncos will start Moreno with Jordan to back him up. This to say the least bothers me and presents a problem. I did however hear a rumor that the Broncos might bring Darius Walker up from the practice squad. If they do he is an upgrade over the fat, slow and soft Lamont Jordan.
Patriots pass D vs Broncos pass O
This is where things get a little dicey. The Patriots are ranked 7th in this category but are tied for 15th in sacks while the Broncos are ranked 18th in passing. The Pats have not been able to put the desired pressure on opposing QBs but have made the best of it.
Corners Bodden and Springs are both good on man coverage but have struggled in the past with zone coverage which is what the Pats like to run. Aside from Buffalo (yes Buffalo) the Broncos will bring the best receiving core the Pats have faced and with the Pats yet to find a consistent pass rush I think this will be the interesting match up to watch.
The Broncos passing game has been average to say the least but with each passing week the team has made strides in that area. Take for instance the Cowboy game, not only did the Broncos passing game look better than in previous weeks but they also took more chances downfield. I believe that as time passes the chemistry between Orton and the receivers gets better as well as their understanding of Mcdaniels' complicated passing offense.
Like I said before I believe this is the best matchup of the game and is where, if we make some strides, the Broncos can ultimatly win the game.
Advantage: Patriots (slightly)
This is a toss up to me. Both teams have shown nothing special in terms of the return game and when it comes to the kickers. Prater has the stronger leg. Gostkowski has the more accurate leg. The punters? Same deal. The only advantage I see is that the Broncos have a better OSP (opponent starting position) average on kick and punt returns that the Pats other than that is a tossup.