During the Patriots' first meeting with the Broncos back in November, New England's run defense got torched by C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman. Denver amassed 179 yards on the ground, most of which came after Dont'a Hightower left with an injury.
With Peyton Manning on the decline and Broncos' receivers dropping passes left and right, the Broncos may rely heavily on their running backs to beat the Patriots. New England knows this, and is putting an emphasis on stopping the run this week.
Patriots safety Devin McCourty spoke about the importance of stopping the run:
“It’s kind of a direct correlation for us that we’ve got to make sure we go out there, play well in the run game and I think that will set up the rest of our defense,” McCourty said. “I think we’ve got to try and get them behind and try to play good defense on first down and not let them just pound us and be able to pound the ball.”
An interesting stat from the Boston Herald's Jeff Howe shows that Gary Kubiak-coached teams have had success running the ball against a Bill Belichick-coached team.
In 12 meetings since 2000, Kubiak’s teams have averaged 28.3 carries for 122.4 yards (4.3 yards per carry) with 19 total touchdowns. And after running backs C.J. Anderson (15 carries, 113 yards, two TDs) and Ronnie Hillman (14 carries, 59 yards, one TD) gashed the Patriots in Week 12, the Pats know they’ve got to improve in that area this weekend.
The health of Hightower and Jamie Collins will be crucial in this game. They're already going to be without Jerod Mayo, who was placed on IR earlier this week. If the Patriots can limit the Broncos on the ground, they should be in a very good position to go back to the Super Bowl.
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