Going into Saturday night’s Divisional Round playoff game with the Denver Broncos, it was assumed that the Patriots offense would have no problem scoring as they are one of the best in the league, scoring 30+ points seemingly every time they take the field. The biggest question was how the Patriots defense would play. The unit played one of, if not their best game of the season in the Patriots 45-10 win over the Broncos and will now face the Baltimore Ravens in Sunday’s AFC Championship game at Gillette Stadium.
Instead of playing their custom approach of playing back to protect against the big play, the Patriots went with a more aggressive approach and stacked the box to stop Tim Tebow and the Broncos running attack. The plan worked as the Patriots defense was all over the field, and had one of their best tackling games of the season. After allowing close to 250 yards rushing in the teams’ meeting in December the defense allowed 252 total yards Saturday night.
The defense was led by linebackers Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes. Mayo finished the night with nine tackles, while Spikes added six tackles, 1 sack and two tackles for a loss. The two were vital in containing the Broncos rushing attack and not allowing Tebow to escape the pocket and run for big gains. Mayo has been consistent all season long, while it was only Spikes’ second game back after missing close to two months with an MCL injury. The Broncos predominantly rushing attack fit Spikes’ style of play perfectly as his strength is stopping the run.
Devin McCourty rotated between playing cornerback and safety. When he moved back to safety, rookie Sterling Moore took his place at corner. The Patriots started doing that in the regular season finale and used it again in Saturday’s game. With the struggles of McCourty this season at cornerback, the new position of safety might help him get a fresh start and improve his overall play.
It will be interesting to see the Patriots defensive approach against the Ravens next Sunday. They too are a run-first offense, so will the Patriots load the box again instead of their typical, don’t get beat over the top approach. With quarterback Joe Flacco failing to show that he can throw the ball downfield in yesterday’s game against the Texans, this might be the Patriots best approach. The Ravens have Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice, who torched them in the Ravens playoff win two seasons ago. He will surely be the main focus of the defense.
Once again the defense will need to come up big for the Patriots to advance, and their approach to the game will have a major impact on how successful the unit will be.