Broncos vs. Patriots: 5 Keys to a New England Victory in 2011 NFL Playoffs

Erik Frenz@ErikFrenzSenior Writer IJanuary 12, 2012

Broncos vs. Patriots: 5 Keys to a New England Victory in 2011 NFL Playoffs

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    If you ask Denver Post columnist Mike Klis, the key to a New England Patriots victory may lie in the hands of former Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels.

    Truth be told, there's probably very little that McDaniels could contribute to a conversation that the Patriots couldn't find in hours upon hours of film study and scouting.

    Apart from finding the strengths and weaknesses of specific players, there are several things the Patriots can do schematically or otherwise to greatly improve their chances of advancing to their sixth AFC Championship Game in 12 years.

    Here are just a few.

    Erik Frenz is the co-host of the PatsPropaganda and Frenz podcast. Follow Erik on Twitter.

Force Tim Tebow to Throw Outside the Numbers

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    Tim Tebow can do a lot of things: He runs well, he makes some throws, and he doesn't turn it over very much.

    One thing he doesn't do very well, though, is make throws outside the numbers. His passer rating was 112.9 when throwing between the numbers, but just 68.8 when throwing to the perimeter. 

    The Patriots have been vulnerable in the intermediate zone behind the linebackers and in front of the safeties all season, but defending that zone well is key in shutting down Tebow and the Broncos offense.

Neutralize the Pass Rush, Namely Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil

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    Tom Brady had one of his best performances of the 2011 season against the Broncos, in large part thanks to solid protection. The Broncos generated 41 sacks this year, but only got two on Brady.

    Tight end Rob Gronkowski may not have a big game by the numbers, but he could be used primarily as extra protection against the Broncos' pass rushers. Then again, the Patriots could get creative with running back screens, which would also force the Broncos defense to take their foot off the gas.

    And then, of course, there's the obvious: the Patriots' three straight playoff losses have come largely as a result of New England's inability to keep Brady off his back. 

Expose the Broncos Secondary

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    This ties into the Patriots' ability to neutralize the pass rush. If Brady is upright, he has more time to find weaknesses in the Broncos' secondary and any potential mismatches that may present.

    While the Broncos are talented in their front seven, their back end lacks depth. Champ Bailey is an All Pro cornerback even at this stage in his career, but the Broncos simply don't have enough talented cover corners, linebackers and safeties to shut down all of New England's weapons in the passing game.

    Aaron Hernandez had the best game of his career against the Broncos, picking up nine receptions for 129 yards and two touchdowns. That was largely because the Broncos forced Brady to find anyone but Gronkowski and Welker, who were "held" to a combined eight receptions for 94 yards.

Gap Discipline

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    Chalk talk point No. 1 has to be gap discipline. The Patriots struggled with it the first time around, and a lot of Denver's success in the first quarter-and-a-half was due to New England's defensive linemen and linebackers simply getting blown out of their gaps.

    As's Jeff Howe points out in sterling detail, the Patriots were two-gapping to start, meaning the defensemen were responsible for the gaps on either side of them. That didn't work, and the Patriots switched to a one-gap approach, with each player responsible for just one gap. This meant the players could get better penetration.

    Of course, the change in defense came at a period in which the Patriots offense started to get on a roll. Whether that scheme would work with the score 0-0, where the Broncos can still employ a balanced attack, remains to be seen.

    Either way, the Patriots can't afford to lose their gaps and lose containment as they did in the first meeting.

Create Turnovers...and Capitalize on Them

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    The common thread among New England's wins this season was their ability to capitalize on turnovers, generating 34 of them this season for the third-highest total in the league. During their eight-game winning streak, the Patriots turned it over just three times while creating 20 turnovers of their own.

    Conversely, Denver's ability to avoid costly mistakes was what led to them winning many of their games. They turned it over nine times in Tebow's first eight games, and went 7-1 in that span. When they have lost, though, it's been due to their inability to keep control of the ball, and they dropped their final three games by turning it over eight times.

    The Broncos turned it over just once against Pittsburgh, but if the Patriots are able to get even just one turnover, that greatly helps their chances at stopping the clock on Tebow time.