Posted Thu Jan 12th by Monty
Breaking down the Denver Broncos‘ second playoff opponent in six years from the Football Outsiders‘ perspective: the New England Patriots.
Recall that lower (negative) percentages are good on defense, bad on offense and special teams. DVOA Primer
Overall DVOA: 22.5% (4th)
Again the Denver Broncos are facing a juggernaut of statistical efficiency, this time against the New England Patriots. Last week they knocked off the AFC’s top-ranked team in terms of DVOA; this week they face the conference’s second-best in Bill Belichick‘s Patriots. The main difference between the Patriots and the Pittsburgh Steelers is that, unlike Pittsburgh, New England isn’t an intimidating force in all facets of play. Just most of them. Let’s break it down.
Overall Offense: 36.8% (3rd)
Pass Offense: 60.7% (2nd)
Run Offense: 17.1% (4th)
The Patriots’ offense is built on the strength of their dynamic tight end duo of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, who have posed a match-up nightmare for every defense they’ve faced. To no one’s surprise, Gronkowski is the league’s top-rated tight end in terms of DYAR, while Hernandez is a mightily impressive seventh. The Broncos did a remarkable job covering Gronkowski in Week 15 — it was the All-Pro’s lowest yardage total of the season when Hernandez was on the field as well (53 yards). The problem is that the Broncos sold the farm covering Gronk and left Hernandez to tally a then-career high 129 yards. The Broncos will need to find more balance in their defense this time around, likely by employing Chris Harris more judiciously to that end.
The Patriots are more than a passing team, as their fourth-ranked rushing efficiency illustrates, so the Broncos can’t really devote every linebacker to pressing Gronk at the line again, especially with Deion Branch back this time around. There are just too many weapons in New England for the Broncos to feel confident in limiting the Patriots to a low score. They’ll need to score points to match. Luckily…..
Overall Defense: 17.9% (30th)
Pass Defense: 24.1% (28th)
Run Defense: 8.8% (28th)
The defense of the Patriots is suspect — worse than the Broncos’ in all three main categories, and even the most basic numbers support this weakness. The Patriots held their opponent to less than 16 points only once all season, and that was against the Kansas City Chiefs under Tyler Palko in his first start.
But still, the Patriots pride themselves in not giving up the big play, something on which the Broncos clearly relied to win against Pittsburgh. The defense may have issues on all levels, but it’ll be hard to get the type of big plays the Broncos enjoyed against the Steelers if the Patriots remain in their Cover-3 look.
That’s why you can expect the Broncos to give the Patriots a healthy dose of running the football again this week. But just like in the regular season, it’ll all be for naught if the Broncos surrender turnovers. And if Willis McGahee goes down again.
Special Teams: 3.7% (5th)
Typical well-coached output from Bill Belichick. The Patriots are consistently one of the league’s bests in special teams, but their kicker and punter each have strong legs to support the Patriots’ fine coverage.
Don’t be fooled by the Patriots’ low-ranked defense and think this is a should-win game. The defense may be surrendering 21.4 points per game, but the team is forcing 32.1 points on average against its opponents. The Broncos only put up more than that total twice all season.
It will take a combination of defensive turnovers and offensive aggression to beat the Patriots this Saturday, things we haven’t seen a lot of this season with the Broncos. But we just saw Tim Tebow transform into an NFL playoffs record-breaking quarterback with his arm last week. The pressure is on Brady on company; it’s time for the Broncos to wing it. Anything is possible.
Speaking of, tomorrow we’ll break down how the Broncos rank in FO’s eyes. (Maybe. We said the same thing last week, didn’t quite get to it).