NFL Week Five: Broncos @ Patriots
After a 45 point second half last Sunday against the Bills, Patriot nation took a collective sigh. An enraged Tom Brady motivated teammates to carry a chip on their shoulder with pride — scoring six touchdowns in a row and silencing Orchard Park. Was there doubt New England may breakdown this year and barely sneak into the playoffs? Sure.
On the contrary, the win against Buffalo illustrated a common theme for the Patriots in 2012. Can New England make enough impact plays to secure a victory?
The defense forced six turnovers Sunday, while uncharacteristic fumbles from Gronkowski and Welker gave Buffalo hope early. This is a young and fiery defensive squad New England has put together. Spikes is a monster inside causing 3 FF and Rookie Tavon Wilson has scooped up 2 FR and 2 INT. Chandler Jones is the real deal, recording 3 SACK and 2 FF. The Patriots lead the AFC in turnover ratio, going +8 through four games.
Now that the Patriots are back and tied for 1st with the Jets & Bills, New England welcomes old rival Peyton Manning and the (2-2) Denver Broncos to Gillette Stadium for a nationally televised 4:15 autumn showdown. Denver beat Pittsburgh (31-9) and Oakland (37-6) at home with losses in Atlanta (27-21) and Houston (31-25) at home. In order for New England to climb back over .500, these three keys to victory need to be executed:
1) Account for Von Miller: The vaunted LB/DE has 3 SACK on the season and doesn’t plan on slowing down any time soon. Paired with Elvis Dumervil (2.5 SACK), those two are the only elite weapons Denver possess in the front seven. The offensive line kept Brady upright for the majority of the contest in Buffalo as Mario Williams and crew recorded just 1 SACK.
New defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio lead the Denver defense to limit Darren McFadden to 34 YDS on 13 CAR last week in the 37-6 route. Oakland had 16 rushes as a team, while New England rushed 40 times for a combined 247 yards against Buffalo. The balanced Patriot attack has made the abandonment of the shotgun confusing for defenses. Arizona claimed New England was tipping their offensive play selections strictly by formation earlier in the season. Now what? Brady drops 82 points against two above average defenses in Baltimore and Buffalo. If the offensive line can limit Von Miller’s production in the run/pass game, watch Brady throw for another 325.
2) Execute on special teams: Gostowski has been a hot topic this season after missing the game winning field goal against Arizona. Shanking another two last week brought his season total to 10/13, leaving a sour taste in the mouths of coaches and fans alike. If it wasn’t for Ryan Fitzpatrick being Ryan Fitzpatrick, Brady doesn’t get as many chances in the 2nd half and it is a different ball game.
The Patriots cannot afford to let an experienced QB like Peyton Manning start with great field position on Sunday. A key mistake against Arizona was the blocked punt that ultimately turned the game around for the Cardinals. Aside from his 3 INT night in Atlanta, Peyton has proven he still “has it”, chucking 8 total TD in four games. Brady has thrown for 7 TD and 1 INT on the season, doing a great job of protecting the ball. What should be a close game can easily be decided by impact plays on special teams.
3) Bother Peyton Manning, make Willis McGahee beat the Patriots: One can guarantee Peyton is still haunted by his prior experiences at Gillette Stadium. This matchup will be the thirteenth installment of the Brady vs. Manning QB duel and it will not disappoint. Peyton has won four out of the last six matchups against Brady, while the Patriots have defeated Manning eight of twelve times. Both offenses have displayed that they can move the ball down the field with ease in 2012 and this should be a game to remember.
Willis McGahee has been a consistent force in the run game, netting 325 yards and 3 TD on 69 carries (4.7 YPC). With Demaryius Thomas and Erick Decker already racking up over 300 yards a piece on the young season, look for the Patriots to limit the duo come Sunday. Similar to the Broncos, the linebacking core of Mayo, Spikes and Hightower have limited opposing running backs to 85.3 ypg, earning 8th overall in the NFL. The Broncos come in at 87.5 ypg, sitting at 9th overall in the NFL, right behind the Patriots. Safety Steven Gregory has been limited in practice all week and was just recently ruled out, opening up the door for the aforementioned rookie Tavon Wilson to earn his first start and a major role in a crucial game.
It’s not a matter of if, but when and how many times will the Patriots confuse Peyton Manning and intercept his wobbly passes? Belichick has been quoted saying the Denver offense looks quite similar to the well-oiled machine in Indianapolis. New England has and will make Peyton uncomfortable in the pocket. Thus stated, our rush defense should be able to limit the reinvigorated McGahee, keeping the game at arm’s reach. Expect another close Baltimore caliber matchup Sunday afternoon, I like the Patriots to win 34-30.