New England Patriots on paper: Mother Nature calls for old-school approach
This is the New England Patriots game to win or lose.
Denver Broncos bring their high wire act to Gillette Stadium on Sunday
night and while much has been made of Peyton Manning and the Broncos'
offense and also of the Patriots' injury woes in the secondary, Mother
Nature doesn't want to hear any of it.
Ridley and the Patriots' running game will carry the mail on Sunday night
No, the margarine eating floozy that controls the
life cycles of trees and such will, on occasion, cause the weather to be
so inclimate that it renders passing attacks void and puts a premium on
execution and fundamentals - in other words, she levels the playing
On Sunday night in Foxborough, she will do just that.
temperatures forecasted to be in the teens and steady winds topping out
at 35 miles per hour - for a wind chill factor close to zero - both the
Patriots and Broncos passing games will be affected, perhaps Manning's
more than Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady's simply due to the velocity
on their footballs...
...where Manning throws a fluttering duck, Brady throws a tight spiral, the aerodynamics involved should be obvious.
Even so, throw conventional wisdom out the window.
passer will be able to go down the field with any level of confidence,
and even throws to the sidelines will be an adventure - so anything
gained by the passing games will be in the form of screens to the backs,
middle of the field stuff to the slot guys and maybe intermediate
routes to the possession type receivers.
But while both
teams' passing attacks do those things well, the weather forces the
Broncos to sacrifice more of their offense than it does New England -
which levels the playing field to the point that the afore mentioned
execution and fundamentals will dictate the outcome of this game.
instance, part of the Patriots defensive game plan was to stop the run
and limit the yards after the catch in Manning's short, quick-read
attack, forcing the Broncos into time-consuming drives in order to score
their points which, in effect, would also limit the number of
possessions that Manning has to work his magic - and the same now has to
be true for the Broncos' defense against Brady.
features a lightning quick front seven that ranks 5th in the NFL in
yards allowed per rushing attempt, anchored by tackles Terrance Knighton
and Kevin Vickerson up the middle, supported on the second level with
underrated middle linebacker Wesley Woodyard and young weak side
tackling machine Danny Trevathan...
...with pass rush
demons for defensive ends, starters Shaun Phillips and Derek Wolfe
combining with back ups Robert Ayers and Malik Jackson to account for 22
of the Broncos 29 sacks on the season - and with strong side linebacker
Von Miller back in the swing after serving a league mandated
suspension, pressure from the edges is Denver's game.
does get some penetration up the middle, but for the most part any
pressure coming at Brady will be from his blindside - which works
decidedly in the Patriots' favor with their running game established to
set up the play action, so long as they follow the pattern that has
worked for them all season, which is running right up the middle and to
the left of center.
Why? The play action will
naturally draw the ends up and around the edge, opening running lanes
for running backs Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and LeGarrette Blount off
guard and off tackle - and all three should have a major impact on this
game - with Vereen and possibly receiver Josh Boyce working the
jailbreak screen to the left.
The impact of the pass
catchers is going to have to be more in line with how Denver plays it,
with short, quick-read throws put in a spot where the receivers can
catch the ball on the run to allow for maximum after the catch yardage.
problem is that Woodyard and Trevathan are excellent in pass coverage
underneath, particularly the hyper-tense Trevathan who has eight passes
defended and three interceptions to his credit. He has also forced two
fumbles and leads the Broncos in tackles with 79 - so this front seven
is incredibly adept at dictating terms to the opposing offense.
counter, of course, is getting the running game going - even if it is
three yards and a cloud of exhaled mist. Ridley is one of the most
explosive running backs in the league and is the Patriots' version of
the bell cow who will wear down a front seven with his 20 carries, then
turn things over to Blount to step on their throats...
Vereen is the x-factor for this game. Other than tight end Rob
Gronkowski, no one player affects a game like Vereen can. He will run
between the tackles, curl into the pattern from the backfield, line up
in the slot, line up out wide, step inside for the screen - he is an
H-back without the size, but has speed to burn and will probably draw
the attention of one of Denver's safeties.
As for the
Patriots' passing game, this is a contest where the veteran presence
will be counted on to make the majority of the plays. Rookie speedsters
Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce will be counted on to take corners
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Champ Bailey (if he plays) outside the
numbers while rookie possession receiver Kenbrell Thompkins is an
intermediate threat that could see a throw or two up the middle...
Brady will be looking at slot presence Danny Amendola and Julian
Edelman and, of course, Gronkowski. The issue is that Amendola and
Edelman are rarely open in space like Welker is for the Broncos, so
their yards after the catch are virtually non-existent - which leaves
Gronkowski in the flat and up the seam.
this does not bode well for the Patriots' offense, but if Ridley and
company can get the running game established and the Broncos are forced
to focus on that more than they normally would, everything else will
open up for Brady...
...and should Vereen and
Gronkowski start getting loose in space, the Denver defense could be in
for a long, painfully cold evening.