Blog Entry

Film Room: Patriots vs Broncos divisional preview

Posted on: January 11, 2012 2:40 pm
Edited on: January 11, 2012 9:40 pm
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Will Gronk get his Gronk on this time around? (Getty Images)
Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit

It was assumed the Patriots would draw a rematch in their divisional round playoff opener. However, most figured that rematch would be of their Week 8 bout with Pittsburgh, not their Week 15 bout with Denver.

Here’s the breakdown of what could turn out to be the highest-rated divisional round Saturday night game of all-time.


1. New England’s plan for Tebow
Something to keep in mind is the Steelers had a sound gameplan last week, playing man coverage and using a tepid pass-rush to ensure that Tim Tebow stayed in the pocket. What the Steelers didn’t count on was Demaryius Thomas being able to get by Ike Taylor and Tebow being able to pull the trigger on downfield throws. Those two young ’10 first-rounders both had career days.

The Patriots might bet that the two youngsters can’t do it again.

On the one hand, that’s a smart bet given that Thomas and Tebow were inconsistent all season (Tebow especially). On the other hand, it’s foolish given that cornerback Kyle Arrington – who would draw the Thomas matchup, as Thomas almost always lines up on the favorable side of the left-handed Tebow – is not half the cover artist Ike Taylor is, and given that logic says if Tebow can win against the man coverage of the league’s best pass defense, he can surely win against the man coverage of the league’s worst pass defense.

In the last meeting, the Patriots played predominant Cover 3 in the first half:

The Broncos had success throwing skinny posts to Tebow’s left against the Patriots Cover 3 defense in the last meeting. Cover 3 is what you’d guess it is: three defensive backs each responsible for a third of the field. Because there is so much field to cover, the outside defensive backs often play man-to-man concepts (as Devin McCourty is doing on the right side). Cover 3 is something defenses play when they blitz or when they want to force a quarterback to throw (it’s the default zone coverage behind an eight-defender box).

In this example, the Patriots were clearly baiting Tebow to throw. Notice there are only five rushers (which is hardly a blitz considering Denver has seven guys in pass protection – the idea was to keep Tebow from scrambling). Also notice how linebacker Dane Fletcher has his back to the quarterback and is running towards the left passing window. (Fletcher was late getting there; Tebow did a good job recognizing the coverage and getting the ball out quickly. The result was a 22-yard completion to Eric Decker.)

The Broncos used great routes for beating this anticipated coverage, but Tebow was unable to connect on some of the throws.

Still, throws against Cover 3 are easier than throws against quality press-man, as long as the pass protection holds up. Denver’s protection was tremendous last week.

If tackles Ryan Clady and Orlando Franklin (who may need some help on the right side) can keep speed-rusher Mark Anderson at bay, the Broncos will be golden. (Keeping a backup like Anderson at bay may not sound difficult, but the former Bear was actually very disruptive in the last meeting.)

2. Stop the run!
The Patriots gave up 167 yards rushing in the first quarter of the Week 15 contest. They wound up winning the game handily, but they were on the fortuitous side of a few fumbles.

Common sense says you can’t bank on having success with such porous run defense. The issue last game was outside linebacker Rob Ninkovich’s inability to set the edge and the defensive line’s inability to prevent the Bronco linemen from contacting inside linebackers. This was a problem both with New England’s 3-4 and 4-3 fronts.

Nose tackle Vince Wilfork must stand out more this time around. The Broncos will be willing at times to block him one-on-one with J.D. Walton. The second-year center has been up-and-down (in a good way) handling tough solo assignments against nose tackles down the stretch this season. He was phenomenal against Antonio Garay of the Chargers in Week 12 but had been just so-so the previous week against Sione Pouha of the Jets. In Week 15 he held his own against Wilfork, but in Week 16 he got schooled by Marcell Dareus.
 
If Walton has a strong game, the Broncos can pound the rock inside. If he struggles, Denver’s at least capable of getting to the perimeter, though they’ll miss the fervid blocking of wideout Eric Decker.

3. Defending the Patriots tight ends
Greg Cosell, executive producer of the NFL Matchup Show, did an excellent job breaking down the Week 15 film back in December. Cosell wrote that the Broncos focused their coverages on Rob Gronkowski, successfully disrupting his timing by hitting him at the line of scrimmage.

However, that left fourth-round rookie safety Quinton Carter on Aaron Hernandez. Carter, like the rest of Denver’s safeties, is not great in man coverage, which Hernandez proved by posting what were at the time his career highs in catches (nine) and yards (129).

Though still a little green as a route runner (particularly against zone), Hernandez has the movement skills of a wide receiver. The Broncos may choose to defend him with rising rookie nickel back Chris Harris. That would leave safeties and linebackers to cover Gronkowski.

Defensive coordinator Dennis Allen may figure he can get away with that as long as coverage linebackers Wesley Woodyard and D.J. Williams are once again physical with the second-year superstar.

The Patriots’ counter to this would be splitting Gronkowski into a slot receiver position (likely in a spread 2 x 2 or 3 x 2 set), where he could line up a few yards off the line and operate against an overwhelmed defender in space. Even if the Broncos decided to sacrifice their run defense by going with dime personnel against the two tight ends, they still would be overmatched.

After all, just because Jonathan Wilhite is a corner doesn’t mean he can cover Gronkowski. This is the problem New England’s offense poses, this is why the Patriots are the No. 1 seed.

4. If lightning strikes twice ...
As the tight end analysis just suggested, the Broncos are faced with a very serious matchup problem that can only be solved by their players rising up and doing things no one thought they could do. It’s improbable, but as Denver’s offense showed last week, not impossible.

So let’s say for the sake of extra analysis that the Broncos can stop Gronkowski and Hernandez with their inside pass defenders. That leaves outside corners Champ Bailey and Andre Goodman on Wes Welker and Deion Branch (who did not play in the last matchup).

If the Broncos want to avoid the matchup problems that New England’s flexible formations create (such as Welker working against a linebacker in the slot), they’ll have to play man-to-man, with Bailey assigned on Welker and Goodman on Branch. Those aren’t bad matchups for either side – it would come down to who executes better (general rule of thumb, over the course of 60 minutes, put your money on the offense).

What we’re not considering is New England’s ability to run the ball. They’re not known for that, but against nickel or dime defense, they’re capable of controlling the game the old fashioned way.

Danny Woodhead has great lateral agility. BenJarvus Green-Ellis is a steady, highly professional runner. Of course, he may lose snaps to the more dynamic Stevan Ridley, a third-round rookie who has come on as of late. The Patriots have an excellent run-blocking front five with LG Logan Mankins being a premier puller, RG Brian Waters a shrewd playside anchor, LT Matt Light a crafty angles-creator (including at the second level) and RT Nate Solder a ridiculous athlete out in front.

5. Broncos pass-rush slowing down?
Pass-rush pressure is always a prerequisite for beating Tom Brady. Lately, the Patriots have nullified it with an increased emphasis on three-and five-step drops. Brady is especially sharp at this when working out of an empty backfield.

The Broncos have not had the most fervid pass-rush the last month anyway. They sacked Brady just twice in Week 15. They got Ryan Fitzpatrick just once the next week and Kyle Orton once in the season finale. They got to Ben Roethlisberger in the wild card round but that’s a product of Roethlisberger’s style of play. Denver’s pass-rush did not control the flow of last Saturday’s game. Von Miller has had just one sack since his first game back from a thumb injury (December 11 at Minnesota) and has been less explosive playing with a cast.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all divisional-round games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
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Comments

Since: Aug 22, 2008
Posted on: January 13, 2012 1:40 pm
 

Film Room: Patriots vs Broncos divisional preview

Broncos defense is the key to beating the pats. We have to figure out how to stop their TE'S, branch & Brady. I know last time the linebackers dropped into coverage often, trying to keep plays in front of them & avoid chasing a guy downfield. I believe this will be a good game. Remember that the most dangerous teams are the ones that are told they can't win.



Since: Aug 23, 2010
Posted on: January 13, 2012 8:43 am
 

Film Room: Patriots vs Broncos divisional preview

When Brady goes to the no huddle what are the Broncos going to do?  What about 5 wr sets?  These are formations that will but the Broncos at a disadvantage.  Brady will be able to read the defense and pick it apart.  Like is said before the way you beat the Broncos is get a 2 or 3 score lead and watch them self disstruct.  I know they ran for 167 yards in the first quarter against the Pats but one thing the Pats do very well is make in game adjustments something the Steelers didn't do.  Because of the adjustment from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense forced 3 turnovers and thus a blowout was the outcome.  The key to the game is whether or not the Broncos can stop the Pats from scoring.Cool



Since: May 27, 2011
Posted on: January 12, 2012 6:35 pm
 

Film Room: Patriots vs Broncos divisional preview

hey, we expect everyone to say ADVANTAGE PATRIOTS...big surprise, that's why you PLAY THE GAMES!  GO TEBOW!  GO BRONCOS!



Since: Jun 19, 2011
Posted on: January 12, 2012 5:11 pm
 

Film Room: Patriots vs Broncos divisional preview

Also do you note he didn't even talk about Chad Ocho yea he has been sort of  abust for the Patriots but he still is causing teams to double tema him one of the reason why the TE have done so well this year is because Branch and Ocho have been getting the double teams. I could see The Hoodie putting in a few new O wrinkles plays just for Ocho. This is first real big Post Season Game and i'm sure he would love to show that he can still bring it. Even if he only get 2 or 3 deep pass thrown to him that will force the broncos to make adjustment to their D.

As for last week yea I do recall a few sacks on Ben I'm pretty sure he will tell you he got sacked 5 time also you got tolove these CBS writers.



Since: Jan 11, 2012
Posted on: January 12, 2012 5:04 pm
 

Film Room: Patriots vs Broncos divisional preview

No you didn'n mis read it, Benoit has updated it from when he first posted it. Below is what he originally said.


5. Broncos pass-rush slowing down?
Pass-rush pressure is always a prerequisite for beating . Lately, the Patriots have nullified it with an increased emphasis on three-and five-step drops. Brady is especially sharp at this when working out of an empty backfield. 

The Broncos have not had a fervid pass-rush the last month anyway. They sacked Brady just twice in Week 15. They got  just once the next week,  once in the season finale and  not at all in the wild card round. 

 has not had a sack since his first game back from a thumb injury (December 11 at Minnesota) and has been less explosive playing with a cast. 
 



Since: Sep 9, 2008
Posted on: January 12, 2012 2:51 pm
 

Film Room: Patriots vs Broncos divisional preview

did I miss read this? He said they got to Ben.

They got to in the wild card round but that’s a product of Roethlisberger’s style of play. Denver’s pass-rush did not control the flow of last Saturday’s game. has had just one sack since his first game back from a thumb injury (December 11 at Minnesota) and has been less explosive playing with a cast.




Since: Dec 15, 2011
Posted on: January 11, 2012 6:25 pm
 

Film Room: Patriots vs Broncos divisional preview

How bizarre, he writes subject matter based on a game he obviously never watched.  How else can you say that there were zero sacks against Big Ben. 




Since: Jan 11, 2012
Posted on: January 11, 2012 4:23 pm
 

Film Room: Patriots vs Broncos divisional preview

Give him a break there's not much difference between 0 and 5 and even less between 0 and 1 (sarcasm off)



Since: Mar 21, 2008
Posted on: January 11, 2012 3:39 pm
 

Film Room: Patriots vs Broncos divisional preview

I could have sworn the Broncos sacked Big Ben 5 times on Sunday. And Von Miller had one of them. Way to pay attention, Andy Benoit.


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