While most (including myself) were anticipating a Patriots-Steelers game next week after watching the Texans defeat the Broncos last night, having the Denver Broncos come to town brings its own set of unique storylines. Here are 5 to consider:
1. Can the Patriots avoid another slow start?
When the Patriots played the Broncos back in Week 15, they got completely run over on defense and couldn’t get much going on offense in the first quarter. Denver ran for 167 yards and had a 16-7 lead by the end of that quarter. The Patriots were able to turn it on in the second quarter and ran away with the game. If the Pats start slow again, a trend over the last few games of the regular season, will they be able to come back again?
2. Should the Patriots respect Tim Tebow’s passing ability?
The Achilles heel of the Patriots’ defense for the entire season has been their pass defense. The last time the Patriots played the Broncos, Tebow completed 11 passes for 194 yards. Against the Steelers, Tebow completed 10 passes for 316 yards and 2 touchdowns. Against the Patriots’ pass defense, is there cause for concern that Tebow could go up top?
3. The Patriots defense against the run.
As I mentioned earlier, the Pats gave up 167 yards on the ground in just the first quarter against the Broncos rushing attack. In total, they gave up 252 yards, good for an 8.1 yards per carry average, and 3 touchdowns. Clearly, there’s some cause for concern there, especially if Denver can complete some passes and force the defense to not load the box. Can the Patriots fix the problems in time for Saturday? (Click HERE for some discussion about maintaining gap responsibilities against Denver)
4. Can the Patriots get THEIR running game going?
One of the problems the past few playoff runs has been the Patriots’ inability to get their running game going. When the Pats played Denver earlier in the season, they rushed for 141 yards on 36 carries and 3 touchdowns. Stevan Ridley led the way with 65 yards on 11 carries. If the Pats can put up 141 yards on the ground again, they could be on their way to the AFC Championship game.
5. Josh McDaniels vs. Tim Tebow
This storyline will probably get the most national media attention throughout the week. The Patriots made the hiring of Josh McDaniels as an offensive assistant official earlier today. Recall that in McDaniels’ first (and only) draft as the Denver Broncos’ head coach in 2009, McDaniels moved up in the first round to draft Tim Tebow as his quarterback of the future. As much information as the Patriots have on Tebow from scouting and playing Denver during the season, McDaniels must surely be able to add more to that file.