New Englanders are still buzzing over the controversial call that ended the Patriots' comeback hopes against the Carolina Panthers on Monday night.
Unfortunately for the Patriots, they don't have that long before they have to turn the page on that loss. The Denver Broncos are right ahead on the schedule, and the Patriots will have to be better prepared -- and a lot healthier -- if they want to slow down Peyton Manning and that high-powered offense.
Here's an early look at the Broncos.
How they got here: The Broncos started out 6-0 before they finally met their match against the Indianapolis Colts. They had a thrilling showdown with the Dallas Cowboys, but other than that, most of their games have not been left in doubt too long. They won by 16 points or more in four of those wins. The Broncos first eight wins came against teams that were a combined 31-50, and until beating the Chiefs, not a single victory had come against a team with a winning record.
Key cog, offense -- Demaryius Thomas, WR: Manning has done a fantastic job of spreading the ball to his receivers, but Thomas remains the biggest threat of the three. The Patriots know all about his talent; the 6-foot-3, 230-pound receiver was drafted in the first round of the 2010 draft by former Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels. Manning knows how to use his combination of size and speed in various ways, and he has greatly improved his route-running ability. When defenders come up, he goes over the top. When they give him space, he lives underneath. Peyton will throw him at least two quick screens a game to take advantage of his open-field speed.
Key cog, defense -- Von Miller, LB: Few linebackers have been compared to Lawrence Taylor and Derrick Thomas as frequently as Miller, but the 6-foot-3, 250-pound outside linebacker deserves the praise. His combination of speed and strength is rare and allows him to beat offensive tackles a variety of ways. The Broncos primarily use him as a pass-rusher, but his athleticism allows him to be used a variety of ways, including in coverage on tight ends and running backs.
X factor -- Trindon Holliday, KR/PR: The small guy has a big impact for his ability to take kicks and punts to the house. At 5-foot-5 and 170 pounds, Holliday is by far the smallest player in the NFL, but he is an explosive return specialist who knows how to set up blocks and burst through. Holliday ranks third in the league in yards per kickoff return (31.9) and is the only player in the NFL with a touchdown on both a kickoff return and a punt return this year. Partly due to Holliday's ability on returns, the Broncos rank a respectable 11th in average starting field position.
Stats and notes:
- Notable injuries: The Broncos have already lost tackle Ryan Clady and center Dan Koppen for the season, but Sunday's win over the Chiefs was a costly one for the Broncos. Safety Rahim Moore is out indefinitely after having surgery to repair lateral compartment syndrome in his left leg. Wide receiver Wes Welker went down with a concussion, and although there are some questions as to whether proper procedure was followed in allowing him to return to action, he is expected to play on Sunday. The same goes for tight end Julius Thomas, who is listed as questionable with a knee injury and was described by interim coach Jack Del Rio as "day-to-day." Other notable injuries include cornerback Champ Bailey (foot) and tight end Joel Dreessen (knee).
- Speaking of Del Rio, it's worth noting that Brady is 137-of-185 for 1,430 yards (7.7 YPA), 14 touchdowns and a 121.2 passer rating against Jack Del Rio's defenses -- granted, those numbers largely came against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
- The Broncos have run 461 plays on offense when leading, over 100 plays more than the second-place Panthers.
- The Broncos have only trailed in five of their 10 games this year, and only once by more than 14 points. The Broncos defense has only had 80 plays run against them in which they were trailing, with a balance of 47 passes to 33 runs. Opponents still feel inclined to lean a bit more heavily on the pass, even when ahead against Manning.
- A whopping 37 percent of their drives have ended in a touchdown. That's around nine percent better than the Saints, whose 28 percent conversion rate is second-best. Denver's offense is the best in the league in many categories, but most notably in the red zone; they convert 79.1 percent of their red zone drives into touchdowns, more than 12 percent better than the second-best Cowboys.
A new section where we relay some interesting articles from the opposing view.
- John Meyer of The Denver Post thinks America will be pulling for the Broncos over the "whining New England Patriots" on Sunday -- although I honestly have heard no one in the Patriots organization whine; fans, sure, but actual Patriots, no.
- Jeff Legwold of ESPN goes to the tape to find out why the Chiefs rookie cornerback Marcus Cooper was in man-to-man coverage on Demaryius Thomas so often.
- According to David Krause of 9 News Colorado, the Broncos are hopeful that a new indoor practice facility could help attract free agents in the future.
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