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Patriots vs. Broncos Q&A: Going Deep with OBF

Posted by Erik Frenz  January 16, 2014 07:00 AM

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Answering some questions headed into Sunday's AFC Championship game, pitting the New England Patriots against the Denver Broncos, with help from our friend and Boston.com sports columnist, Obnoxious Boston Fan (Twitter: @realOBF).

How can the Patriots beat the Broncos?

Erik Frenz: On defense, it's going to take a sound game plan, and near-flawless execution of that game plan. In the passing game, the Patriots had success in the previous meeting by getting physical with the Broncos receivers. Jamming them at the line of scrimmage and disrupting their timing was part of the reason Peyton Manning completed a season-low 52.8 percent of his throws when the two teams met in Week 12. The Patriots secondary is healthier than it’s been in a long time, which is a good thing because the Patriots could need all hands on deck if guys start running out of breath in the thin Denver air. Beyond that, the Patriots will probably spend the entire game in their nickel defense – not only because the Broncos run primarily three-receiver sets, but also because by going light up front, the Patriots will be inviting the run. The more Manning hands it off, as opposed to dropping back to throw, the better off they'll be.

On offense, the Patriots are going to have to keep a balanced approach. The Broncos are 2-3 this year and 3-6 over the past two years when their opponent runs the ball 30 times or more. The Patriots have averaged 29.7 rushing attempts per game over the final six games of the season. That being said, sticking with the ground game won't work if the Broncos are ahead and the Patriots need to put up points. They must be successful running the ball and put together long scoring drives. It's the old formula: the best defense against Manning is a good offense that keeps Manning off the field.

Obnoxious Boston Fan: Defensively, the Patriots’ fate will be determined by how well their defensive front – see the likes of ex-Bronco/Seahawk/49er Sealver Siliga – and defensive backs if they dare to blitz – can pressure Manning. While Manning is always good for a clutch interception, anything the Patriots can do to force him to move from the pocket will disrupt his rhythm. Here’s a tip for Bill Belichick – check out the film of Manning’s 3rd and 17 conversion late in the fourth quarter against the Chargers. It was the most-clutch pass of his career since the waning moments of the 2006 AFC championship game. The 21-yard completion to Julius Thomas split the Chargers’ linebacker and corner coverage and was nearly impossible to defend.

Last week, the mantra for New England was to “run, run and run some more, then pass once in a while.” This week, I suspect the Patriots will change things up and Brady will be unleashed. The Patriots have morphed into a running team to reach the AFC title game, but they’ll have to be more of passing team to reach the Super Bowl.

And if none of that works, there’s always this:

How can the Broncos beat the Patriots?

EF: Put up points and put the pressure on the Patriots to score. The Patriots offense has taken on many different forms this season, but the most recent one features a heavy dose of the running game and a balanced approach. The last time these two teams met, Tom Brady attempted 50 passes, but that was with Rob Gronkowski still in the lineup. The running game remains a threat, but Julian Edelman is the only pass-catcher that has been a consistent threat to defenses in the passing game. They may not have the firepower to hang around in a shootout. The Patriots have only scored more than 30 points in two games where they forced less than three turnovers. The Broncos can take the Patriots out of their comfort zone by taking care of the football and making sure their drives finish with points.

Defensively, there are two keys: the running game and Edelman. The numbers say the Broncos have been very good against the run this year, but they've also been playing from ahead and have abandoned the run. The Patriots are 3-4 this year when rushing for fewer than 115 yards in a game. If they can take away the run, that really only leaves Edelman. Brady has targeted Edelman on 50 of his 129 pass attempts (38.8 percent) over the past four games; that's twice as many as Danny Amendola, who has the second most with 25 targets in the past four games. If the Broncos take away Edelman, they can force Brady to go elsewhere and make life difficult for the Patriots offense.

OBF: Well, there’s this:

A company called Voodoo Doughnut held a grand opening for a new Denver location Wednesday. This Brady doughnut was one of the offerings. It caught the eye of Denver Mayor Michael Hancock:

If those funky doughnuts don’t work, there’s always this:

One thing that scares you most about the Broncos?

EF: Manning. It may be cliche to say it at this point, but the man is just so cerebral. If there is a weak link in the Patriots defense, Manning will find it. He's hard to intercept, hard to sack, and generally hard to stop. The Patriots may just have to weather the storm, but hopefully for their sake, they're not down 24 points at halftime again.

OBF: That Manning might be as good as advertised. When the Patriots and Broncos played in November, Belichick’s mind-bending mastery of the Dark Side took Manning out of the game by luring him into trying to run through the Patriots in the cold and wind of Foxborough. Belichick even took the wind over the ball in overtime, double-dog daring Manning to beat the Patriots. Manning flinched and lost. The weather on Sunday is supposed to be sunny and in the mid-50s. Manning the Broncos are filled with regret over their offensive choices in their last meeting with New England. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

One thing that scares you most about the Patriots?

EF: Their aforementioned lack of firepower in the passing game. Take away Edelman and I'm not sure who else Brady fully trusts. Shane Vereen has been nearly a nonfactor lately, with just nine catches in the past four games, and Amendola's 16 receptions aren't even half Edelman's total of 35 catches in that span. The Patriots offense has been barely average in creating explosive passing plays, with just 49 passes of 20 yards or more, tied for 15th in the league. If this turns into a high-scoring affair, the Patriots may have a hard time playing keep-up.

OBF: Turnovers. You still squirm whenever Stevan Ridley carries the ball, even though he hasn’t fumbled since … the last time the Patriots played the Broncos. Belichick said last month "there's no statistic that correlates more to winning than turnovers.” Aside from points scored vs. points allowed, he’s right.

One thing that gives you confidence in the Patriots?

EF: Belichick always comes with a good game plan for Manning and the Broncos, and there's no reason to expect this game to be any different. It may involve doing the same things as last time: inviting the run, jamming the receivers and disguising coverages. It may be completely different. There's no cookie cutter formula to shutting down Manning, and ultimately, it's up to the players to execute, but Belichick has built a reputation for taking away an opponent's best weapon, and he'll have plenty of weapons to account for on Sunday.

OBF: Darth Vader vs. Chewbacca. Edge: Vader (at least this week).

Person to watch not named Tom Brady and Peyton Manning for each team

EF: I went with Jamie Collins the last time around – and boy, did he make me look like a genius. I'll go with Collins again here, because he could be vital to covering Broncos tight end Julius Thomas, who was not in the lineup in the Week 12 meeting between the two teams. Thomas is 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, Collins stands 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds. Belichick described Collins' performance against the Broncos as "active," which holds up when considering he contributed to 10 tackles (6 solo, 4 assist) on 23 snaps. He made a huge impact in a wire-to-wire effort against the Colts last week, and could be asked to work a similar schedule against the Broncos.

For the Broncos, Wes Welker is the obviously player everyone will have their eye on. He made an inauspicious impact on the previous game with a pair of drops, as well as his role in the muffed punt that gave the Patriots their opportunity to win the game in overtime. Patriots fans will be waiting with baited breath for him to drop a pass in a key situation, or he could really "stick it in Bill's face" by making a positive impact on the outcome. Either way, I have a feeling we'll be talking about Welker on our way out of this game.

OBF: Can I change my vote from last week to Collins?

For the Patriots, whomever ends up punting the ball. Ryan Allen injured his shoulder trying to do something with the ball after an errant snap against Indianapolis that eventually became a safety. Allen’s ability to handle a high snap could be hindered by his ailing shoulder. Against Denver, one bad long snap or blocked punt could prove catastrophic.

For the Broncos, it’s the secondary: ex-Patriot Marquice Cole, Champ Bailey, Quentin Jammer, Kayvon Webster and/or Tony Carter. They’ll all likely try to fill the role held by Chris Harris Jr. The team’s top cornerback, Harris tore his left ACL during the third quarter of Sunday’s win over the Chargers. San Diego exploited his absence and rallied back against Denver, scoring 17 points in the fourth quarter. Brady is no doubt eager to test Denver’s frayed corners.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Erik Frenz delivers analysis of the biggest news with the Patriots, including insight into the AFC East and New England's biggest rivals from a Patriots perspective. Erik is an interactive writer who engages his audience in his posts’ comments sections and on Twitter. Readers are encouraged to share their thoughts and ask questions. More »


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