The Broncos need Chris Harris next week in the worst way. They should play the rookie if he can't play. More speed.— Pete Prisco (@PriscoCBS) January 13, 2014
Earlier this week, it was reported that the Denver Broncos' best defensive back, Chris Harris, would be out for the rest of the year with a torn ACL.
This has to be concerning for Broncos fans, as it drastically changes the look of their secondary, as any key injury would.
In last week's game against the Chargers, the Harris injury stood out like a sore thumb.
"Myself, I made mental errors that led to three big plays," said Quentin Jammer, who came in to replace Harris.
Jammer was torched by Philip Rivers as soon as Harris went down. Keenan Allen had two catches for 65 yards and a touchdown against Jammer, and Eddie Royal had one big 30 yard catch on Jammer.
This is exactly what the Harris injury does. Denver still has capable corners in Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Champ Bailey, but the trickle down effect here is huge.
Chris Harris was a guy that excelled in the slot, a big problem now for Denver who will face the Patriots armada of short slot receivers.
Doug Farrar, SI:
He allowed a 65.6 passer rating on 393 slot snaps, and didn’t give up a single touchdown while registering three interceptions. He also upped his game on the outside, allowing a 64.9 rating overall.
What makes Harris so good in the slot is that he understands quick route concepts, and he can react immediately to receivers who reverse course in short, open spaces.
While at first glance you might say, "if the Broncos have to use DRC and Champ Bailey to defend our slot receivers, that doesn't seem like much of a loss for them".
As our own Ned Brady points out in his game preview (HIGHLY RECOMMEND YOU READ), while Rodgers-Cromartie is the Broncos' best corner now, he is more built to defend the bigger, taller receivers. He'll most likely draw Aaron Dobson or Kenbrell Thompkins much of the time. Champ Bailey now gets moved into the slot, where he'll mostly cover Edelman and then Amendola/Collie get Quentin Jammer or the unproven rookie Kayon Webster or Tony Carter.
Whereas Harris would normally likely blanket Julian Edelman, the Broncos are now forced to play left handed.
The best analogy I can make to Harris going down is one that should be familiar to Patriots fans.
In last year's AFC Championship game, Aqib Talib had to leave the game with a hamstring injury. The defense had been shutting out the Ravens to that point, and Talib had been playing exceptional coverage on Anquan Boldin. Without Talib, the Patriots had to turn to fourth string corner Marquice Cole. The Ravens identified the mismatch, and made sure to exploit it. Cole was constantly targeted, and drew Boldin in coverage much of the time. Boldin ended the game with five catches for 60 yards and two touchdowns.
It's not a perfect analogy, because the Broncos have at least had an entire week to prepare without Harris. Still, the changes might be limited to mostly personnel, as it remains unlikely Denver changes their defensive scheme.
"I don't see it changing too much," said Broncos safety Mike Adams. "I don't think we're going to do things to adjust so we don't get exposed there."
That might be a mistake. Tom Brady is the master of identifying and exposing mismatches. If he gets you once, you can be sure he's going to go there again. The Broncos may still have DRC but Brady will be sure to find the favorable matchups in this one.
What also stings with the Chris Harris injury is now it becomes a bigger gamble for the Broncos to simply dedicate all their resources to stopping the Patriots dangerous running game, as they did last week against San Diego. After seeing New England rush for six touchdowns last weekend, it has to be top of mind for the Broncos to make sure that doesn't happen to them.
Do they stack the box though and let Tom Brady go up against their depleted secondary?
That's one aspect that will make this game so intriguing tomorrow. We've talked an awful lot about Brady vs Manning, but the two don't actually face eachother. What can Jack Del Rio dial up to stop the balanced Patriots offense, all while playing without his best pass rusher and corner? The team has plenty of talent left, so it's not impossible for them to stop an also depleted Patriots offense.
Is it Sunday yet?