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Published on 01/12/2012 at Thu Jan 12 17:00.
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Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots celebrates with teammate Rob Gronkowski #87 of the New England Patriots after a touchdown against the Buffalo Bills in the second half at Gillette Stadium on January 1, 2012 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots celebrates with teammate Rob Gronkowski #87 of the New England Patriots after a touchdown against the Buffalo Bills in the second half at Gillette Stadium on January 1, 2012 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

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)

Sterling Moore #29 of the New England Patriots celebrates his touchdown, which followed his interception, against the Buffalo Bills in the second half at Gillette Stadium on January 1, 2012 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Sterling Moore #29 of the New England Patriots celebrates his touchdown, which followed his interception, against the Buffalo Bills in the second half at Gillette Stadium on January 1, 2012 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

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.

Conclusion

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).

  • Anonymous

    Never say never but we’re going to have to slow them down, force some turnovers, maybe some big ST plays and score atleast 30 to win.

  • Anonymous

    Never say never but we’re going to have to slow them down, force some turnovers, maybe some big ST plays and score atleast 30 to win.

  • Joshsmall7777

    i highly doubt that will happen brady is playing pissed off football and this game will end up being a nightmere 4 the broncos

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_SLK4DTKKWEXGSFO2IX6G222J4M King

    Brady being pissed is a good thing for us. 

  • anthony33

    If the Broncs beat NE on Saturday, would it be considered the greatest victory in the history of the franchise???

    While the 1977 AFC Championship game, the DRIVE and of course Super Bowl 32 stick out, those teams were all very good.  SB 32 featured four hall of fame (counting Davis) players on offense alone.  The others were teams that started out well and the playoffs were a given.  Not taking anything at all away from those games.

    However, given where this team ended the past two years, the McD fiasco, the terrible start to this year, all the changes, the development of a rookie QB (pretty much) and given absolutely no shot whatsoever to beat the Steelers… I think you have to consider it at least in the top three if not the greatest.  For me I don’t think anything will ever top SB32, which I had the privilege to attend, but man, this would be spectacular.  Of course they have to pull it off which seems almost impossible, but I have a feeling….

  • Anonymous

    Great points!

  • Isaacchavarria17

    I still think denver should draft Kellen Moore in the draft if u think his not good u should watch this video on Aroon rodgers.
    http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=7155671

  • Anonymous

    Agreed. I think that Brady, for however great he is, isn’t a very good “play mad” or “we’re down by 7+ late, we need you to throw a TD” guy.

    Before you all mention the 3 super bowls he won by last second FGs, remember, they were FGs, not TDs, so what I just said doesn’t apply. I’ve seen time and time again Brady throw INTs when he needed to throw a TD late to either tie or win. Sure, he’s had success, but I’ve seen more failure than success in those situations.

    What the Broncos need is to get pressure up the middle while not blitzing. If we blitz, we’re dead. Plain and simple. Brady will carve us to death if we blitz him. If we can get front 4 pressure on Brady without blitzing, history has proven that Brady will get rattled and make mistakes, or at least be inaccurate.

    We also need to not turn the ball over! For the love of God, please don’t turn the ball over! We had 3 fumbles in the last 8 minutes of the half. They weren’t fumbles while we were driving, they were fumbles that were all inside our own 20 yard line!!! What was the outcome? 17 points from those turnovers. What amount did we lose the game by? 18 points. I challenge anyone to tell me that if we don’t gift wrap 17 points to the Pats, that being down by only 1 point in the 4th quarter doesn’t change how we played and how Tebow played. We win that game if we don’t have those turnovers, or at least don’t have those turnovers inside our own 20.

    Will we need to score points to win? Of course. Nobody has ever advanced in the playoffs without scoring points. Will we have to score 30+ or 40+? Man, I hope not, but that all depends on our defense. I think we can score in the 30′s if we have to, but I really really hope it doesn’t come to that, because if it does, that means that we aren’t pressuring Brady and aren’t being effective in our pass coverage. If that’s the case, then we’ll have a hard time winning this game, because the Patriots have a much more potent offense than us, and are far more capable of scoring than we are, so when it gets into a higher scoring game, the Patriots will absolutely have the advantage, because if we fail to score even once, that might be 1 time too many.

    My prediction for the game? I think the Broncos will win 31-28. I also think that the Patriots *should* win this game, but because Belichick is so arrogant, he’ll pass up on at least 1 FG attempt to try to convert, and it’ll bite him.

  • Anonymous

    I think there’s plenty of time to talk about who we should draft, and the direction of this team IN THE OFFSEASON. We’re in the Playoffs. It’s time to talk about the playoffs and be excited. Once this season is over, then, and only then, should we all start talking about offseason stuff.

  • Anonymous

    Top ten, maybe.  The biggest wins for a franchise are the ones that give you SB titles or get you into the SB.  This isn’t even the biggest win against Pitt in franchise history.   

  • Meh

    I think this is the most positive thing you’ve ever said about the Broncos…

  • Chiefhatersincebirth

    Kellen Moore has all the intangibles except he didn’t grow to 6’2″ and his arm is like a .22 compared to Rodger’s semi auto 12 guage. Moore definitely can read a defense and lead a team, but he is not anything like the athlete Rodger’s is. Moore is more like a Montana will be picked in the 3rd round or so…

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