Posted Fri Oct 9th by Monty
The Denver Broncos can beat the New England Patriots.
Champ Bailey received a ton of credit (and a rare AFC honor) for his strong performance in Week Four, but the Broncos’ pass rush really set the tone. From Elvis Dumervil‘s first quarter sack and Robert Ayers‘ repeated pressures up to the final goal line stand, the pass rush was too much for Dallas to handle. As a result, their X-factor, their biggest weapon, tight end Jason Witten, had to stay in to block for much of the game, including the final game-clinching series, neutralizing his superb pass-catching abilities.
This week, the Broncos face another team with an X-factor in slot receiver Wes Welker. If the Patriots use Welker effectively, it will spell doom (pun intended) for the Broncos’ defense.
The reason Welker could have success against the Broncos defense is that he represents the chink in the armor. Teams haven’t been able to run on the Broncos; heading into Week Four, the Cowboys boasted the league’s top rushing attack, and the Broncos shut them down. The deep ball isn’t available, either — the Broncos have six interceptions on the season, each by a different defensive player, and Bailey and Andre Goodman have enjoyed superb safety help all season (presuming Brian Dawkins is healthy). The way the Patriots shake up this defense is right in between the ground game and deep ball — the short passing attack, utilizing Welker in the slot and Laurence Maroney out of the backfield.
This will be a good test for rookie CB Alphonso Smith, who’s the team’s starting nickelback and has returned to practice this week. Can he keep up with Welker on his dangerous out route, where he consistently gets two yards separation from the DB out of his break?
There’s definitely a hole in the middle of that Broncos defense. Carson Palmer exposed it in Week One, hitting Chad Ochocinco for several intermediate gains. And let’s face it, if Tony Romo was more accurate in the second half, he would have had a few decent-sized throws over the middle Sunday.
Tom Brady won’t be rattled the way the Broncos rattled Romo.
If I’m the Patriots, I’m taking advantage of those short throws and adjusting my attack as the Broncos adjust their defense. If I’m the Broncos, I’m counting on my pass rush to get to Brady even on the short throws, which brings me back to the rookie. It is essential that whomever is covering Welker — and I expect it be Smith often — sticks with Welker long enough for Dumervil, Ayers and company to reach #12.
So as pubbed as Randy Moss vs. Champ Bailey matchup has been — and it will be huge of course, an open Randy Moss is the Broncos’ worst nightmare — Welker vs. Smith is the real matchup to watch.
Broncos offense vs. Patriots defense
- Pats safety Brandon Meriweather had a beautiful touchdown-saving breakup on a deep ball last from Joe Flacco last Sunday, which the fellas from NFL Network’s AFC Playbook broke down well here. It emphasizes what the numbers already suggest — the Pats aren’t flashy defensively, but they’re disciplined against the big play.
- Brandon Marshall is prime to explode. After Baltimore’s Derrick Mason caught a touchdown in the first quarter, the Patriots bracketed him off between a corner and safety over the top. He was held to one catch the rest of the game. I think this could also be troublesome for Marshall, but once he makes the catch he has one man to beat and he’s gone. He might not get a lot of catches, but I can see him having a few big plays if the Pats utilize this technique again.
- The Patriots aren’t afraid to all-out blitz, and they did so against Flacco with mixed results. Stunt blitzes up the middle seemed to particularly rattle Flacco. The Broncos should be healthy across their offensive line this Sunday, which will help, and their utilization of the spread offense will minimize the Pats’ ability to blitz.
- Knowshon Moreno needs to keep the linebackers honest, glued to their gaps, and wary of blitzing themselves out of the play. It’s the rookie’s time to shine.
I already broke down the Pats offense at length (it all keys off Welker), but I just want to add that the Broncos can’t ignore their run game simply because Fred Taylor is reportedly out. Laurence Maroney made several Ravens miss last week, and while the Baltimore defense isn’t the same as years past, that’s still no easy task.
Conclusion – All that being said, any NFL team has a shot with a stellar quarterback behind center, and Brady certainly qualifies. Watching Philip Rivers and the Chargers overcome themselves late in their Raiders and Steelers game illustrates this: even when the rest of the team has lost its heart, a quarterback can get you back in the game with one or two plays. Brady is accurate and poised, and the Broncos won’t benefit from slightly-off target passes this week. They need to be up by two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to ensure a win.
They also won’t benefit from opponent’s mistakes. The Patriots are always well coached, and they won’t commit them. The Broncos need to match that brand of mistake-free football, and last week’s plethora of penalties won’t cut it.
If they can’t do that, it won’t be pretty. And I’m not talking about the uniforms.
I see this as a game that could go either way, but think Brady will make the difference in a conservative-passing affair. The Broncos aren’t going to hold every team to 10 points or less, and I see the Patriots breaking out, if only slightly. Prediction: Patriots, 24-20. I changed my mind. Broncos, 20-17, OT.