The New England Patriots and Denver Broncos are set to face off on Sunday, and Kim Constantinesco of Predominantly Orange was kind enough to answer five questions about the game.
You can view my answers to her questions here.
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1. Through four games this season, Kevin Vickerson has suddenly emerged as one of the best run defenders in the league and seems to be turning a corner in a surprisingly dominant fashion. Is there a reason to think that Vickerson’s sudden dominance is legitimate, or is it too early to tell?
Kevin Vickerson put on some extra weight this past off season. When I say ‘extra weight’ I mean an extra four year old child. Vick hired a personal chef and put on 45 pounds of “healthy” weight to clog the middle for the Broncos.
The extra bulk has helped as he’s filled in for Ty Warren and his yet again season-ending injury (triceps tear). Vickerson has 12 tackles through four games which puts him on pace for a career-best 48 tackles on the season. He’s helped the Broncos to a 9th ranked rush defense even though they’ve gone up against Michael Turner, Arian Foster, and Darren McFadden. I wouldn’t say that he’s been dominant. He’s been stable and that’s exactly what the Broncos need right now. Justin Bannan and Mitch Unrein have also been big in stopping the run.
2. How exactly do the Broncos utilize their receivers as far as route-running goes and who usually draws the assignments against the opposition’s top corner? I’m assuming it’s Thomas. If that’s the case, then how will he hold up against Devin McCourty?
Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker typically line up outside with Brandon Stokley as the slot receiver. The receivers have been running a lot of slants, and at least a couple of times per game, Thomas will sit at the line for a catch and run. That’s how he scored his 71-yard touchdown against the Steelers in the first game of the season. Of course when you have Peyton Manning, you’re tight ends are going to be heavily utilized in the receiving game as well.
In the Thomas vs. McCourty matchup, Thomas has 5 inches and 34 pounds on McCourty. Thomas almost plays like a tight end because of his size and strength, but he’s got receiver-like speed. That’s why he’s a difficult matchup and that’s why he’s been Manning’s favorite target. Manning has never played with a receiver as big as Thomas in his career.
McCourty had a big game last week, but I like Thomas in this matchup.
3. Peyton Manning is now the most popular player on the Broncos, but I always think of Champ Bailey when I think of the Broncos today. Has he been up to his usual dominance so far this year and how do you think the Broncos will use him against the Patriots?
Champ Bailey is the Bronco most deserving of a championship ring. He’s stuck with the team through hell and high water when he didn’t have to. He may not grab many headlines, but that’s only because opposing quarterbacks steer away from throwing him the ball. Look for Champ to line up against Brandon Lloyd. The two men are very familiar with each other and they were always fun to watch one-on-one in practices when Lloyd was with Denver. It takes a very confident (or sense of false confidence) QB to attack Bailey, and I think Tom Brady will look his way a few times which is very exciting. If Champ has a chance, he usually makes a big play.
Another interesting matchup will be Wes Welker vs. Tracy Porter.
4. I’ve been hearing a lot of good things about Ronnie Hillman these days. After receiving ten carries against Oakland last week, will the Broncos use him significantly this week and is he now their No. 2 back? I’m asking this since Lance Ball had more touches than him in Hillman’s debut. I love his talent, but what are the concerns pertaining to Hillman? Aside from his pass protection of course.
Ronnie Hillman basically wrote Knowshon Moreno’s ticket out of town (Moreno did some writing himself first, of course). I think Hillman and Ball will split time behind McGahee. Both are great receiving threats out of the backfield, but Hillman’s speed is what separates him from Ball. Ball is the most explosive back you’ll see within 5 yards, but Hillman has the juice to go the distance. A concern with Hillman is of course his lack of experience. Not only is he a rookie, but he only played in two preseason games and then missed the first two regular season games with a tweaked hamstring.
5. I am having a tough time picking a winner in this game, so I really want to hear your side of things. Who wins this game and why?
This isn’t going to be some 35-point win by the Patriots this time. I expect a very high scoring game, but I think the Patriots come out on top by less than a touchdown.
Home field advantage helps here as does Bill Belichick’s familiarity with Peyton Manning. I swear Belichick sits down at his beach house in the off season and watches hours of film on Manning. The Broncos have had a difficult time stopping tight ends and the Patriots have the best in the business. I think that’s where the Pats really wear down the Broncos, particularly on third down which has been the Broncos biggest adversary.
Whichever way this turns out, we’re all in for a treat because this will be football at its finest.
You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.