Of course, that the Patriots are underdogs at all in the friendly confines of Gillette Stadium is a huge sign of respect to the dominant, consistent Peyton Manning-led Broncos.
The Patriots’ chances of beating the Broncos exponentially increased after they throttled the Chicago Bears last week. Make no mistake, the Bears aren’t good, but a 51-23 win over anyone, especially a team highly regarded entering the season, shows the Patriots’ offense has returned to dominance, thanks in large part to a healthy Rob Gronkowski.
The Patriots’ offense will need a strong showing for the second consecutive week if they’re going to beat the Broncos. Here are three things New England must do to take down Denver in the Game of the Week, sponsored by Chevrolet Silverado:
1. DISRUPT MANNING’S TIMING
The Patriots won’t fool Manning with zone coverage, as they did against the Bears last week, so cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner will need to be physical at the line of scrimmage.
The Patriots’ weakened pass rush should have a greater opportunity to pressure Manning if his receivers need time to get off the line. Chandler Jones is expected to be out for the second consecutive week, so it will be up to Rob Ninkovich and a collection of linebackers and edge rushers to put heat on Manning and force mistakes.
2. START FAST AND ESTABLISH A RUNNING GAME
The Patriots, per usual, likely will defer if they win the coin toss. That puts a ton of pressure on the Patriots’ defense to halt Manning and the Broncos’ potent offense.
If the Patriots’ defense does its job, the offense needs to take an early lead and get running backs Jonas Gray and Shane Vereen going early. The Patriots excelled last week by using play-action passing to beat the Bears’ zone coverage and work over a wide-open middle of the field because Gray immediately presented a threat by ripping off a 19-yard run.
The Broncos, like New England, know they can’t beat Tom Brady with zone, so the Patriots quarterback should attack the middle and deep half of the field by keeping Denver’s linebackers and safeties on their toes with play-action.
3. DON’T ALLOW VON MILLER AND DEMARCUS WARE TO TAKE OVER THE GAME
Brady must trust his receivers, as he did last week, to come open quickly. The Patriots’ offensive line nearly was flawless last week, but that’s because Brady got rid of the football exceptionally fast.
The Bears keyed in on Julian Edelman last week, which left Gronkowski to dominate. The Broncos are more likely to try to take out Gronk, which could leave Edelman or Brandon LaFell open for a big game. If there’s a potential weak spot in the Broncos’ secondary, it’s rookie slot cornerback Bradley Roby. The Patriots might try to gain some advantageous matchups by positioning Edelman or LaFell, rather than Danny Amendola, in the slot.
In the interest of balance, here are three things the Broncos must do if they want to beat the Patriots:
1. RUN STRAIGHT AT THE PATRIOTS
The Patriots’ dirty little secret is that they can’t stop the run — at all. The Jets trampled the Patriots’ front seven for 218 yards and 5.1 yards per carry two weeks ago, and the Bears also had success, rushing 26 times for 153 yards.
Neither team was able to beat the Patriots, however, because New England got out to a hot start. If the Broncos can grab the lead early, then use Ronnie Hillman and Juwan Thompson to run the ball down the Patriots’ throats, it could be a long day for New England’s defense.
2. TAKE OUT GRONK
Apparently the Bears didn’t know Gronkowski had fully recovered from his knee injury, because they treated him like Michael Hoomanwanui, not the best tight end in the NFL. Gronk responded with nine catches for 149 yards with three touchdowns in just over two quarters of play.
If the Broncos can double Gronkowski and get physical with the big tight end at the line, then cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Chris Harris might be good enough to handle LaFell and Edelman on the outside.
3. HOLD ONTO THE FOOTBALL
The Patriots dared the Broncos to run in Week 12 last year, when the weather was similar (cold with heavy winds) to what’s expected Sunday night. Turnovers killed Denver in the second half, however, when Manning threw an interception and running back Montee Ball lost a fumble.
The Broncos must do a better job of holding onto the ball despite the adverse weather conditions if they hope to win. The Patriots have a way of making opposing teams pay for their mistakes, as they did against the Broncos last season. The Patriots responded to the Broncos’ two second-half turnovers with touchdowns.
What’s your @ChevyTrucks prediction for this big game: Patriots or Broncos?
Photo via Elise Amendola/The Associated Press
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