The New England Patriots and Denver Broncos are gearing up for what is possibly the most hyped up game of the year. These two teams have a combined record of 16-4, as they both look to secure a top two seed for this years’ playoffs. Of course, the biggest part about this matchup, is the two quarterbacks that will be leading their respective teams into battle. Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are two of the greatest players to ever step foot on a football field, and this Sunday will mark the 14th time that they have gone head to head (Brady leads 9-4 by the way). Stopping the offenses that Brady and Manning direct is no easy job, particularly when your defense is missing just about half of its starters. This is what lies ahead for a depleted Patriots defense, and if they want to come out with a victory this week, they will have to slow down the Broncos number one passing offense. The key to doing this does not come from the defensive backfield, as many would think. One similarity that you can draw from teams beating Peyton, is getting pressure in his face, without having to bring the blitz.
Everybody that follows the game of football knows that blitzing guys like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning is literally the stupidest thing that you could do. Throughout their careers, they have lived off of getting blitzed, and if you want to beat them, you must realize this. According to Michael Giardi of csnne.com, Manning has been blitzed 87 times this year, throwing only one pick, and getting sacked zero times. He also has completed nearly 68% of his passes against the blitz, throwing for 718 yards and 12 touchdowns. I guarantee that the game-plan being developed by Bill Belichick and company, does not include sending extra rushers at Manning. It will be the exact opposite, especially with the injuries that New England is currently dealing with in the secondary. Guys like Kyle Arrington and Marquise Cole are not going to be able to keep up with Wes Welker and Demaryius Thomas one on one, no matter how hard they try. By sending extra pressure, you allow Denver to have isolated matchups with no safety help, and when you do that against a team with this many weapons, no good can come from it.
This places a lot of pressure on the front four of New England, because if they don’t get to Manning, he will eat the Patriots secondary up all night long. Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich lead this defensive front, although they have gotten solid contributions from rookie Chris Jones in the passing game. These three have combined for 19.5 sacks, and while they may not have that “game-changing” pass rushing talent, they certainly are productive, which is all that matters when it is all said and done. We may see the Pats slide Chandler Jones to the inside at times, where he can use his excellent athleticism to beat the slower offensive guards. Like Brady, there is nothing that bothers Peyton more than pressure right up the middle, as it disrupts his rhythm and forces him to move to the outside of the pocket, where he is less comfortable. I have am confident that these guys, specifically Chandler Jones, will have a big impact on this game, possibly forcing Manning into some bad decisions, which could result in a few big turnovers.
A big part of why I feel that the Pats will have some success in pressuring Peyton, is because of Ryan Clady’s season ending injury, earlier in the year. Clady was the starting left tackle for Denver, and he was a damn good one too. Now I am not saying that their current left tackle, Chris Clark, is a bad player. In fact, he has played very well in Clady’s absence. But he certainly is no Clady, and in my opinion Chandler Jones versus Chris Clark is a big win for New England.
The magic number will be four and two for the Pats in this one. If they are able to sack Manning four times, and force two turnovers, then that will result in a New England win. With Brady finally getting the Patriots offense back on track, there is no doubt in my mind that this game will be a shootout, meaning that the New England defense doesn’t have to shut down Denver. Their main job will be to take the ball away, pressure Manning, and maybe hold the Broncos to a few field goals when they get down in the red area.