WHEN NEW ENGLAND HAS THE BALL:
The Patriots offense has broken out in the past few weeks with the return of weapons like tight end Rob Gronkowski, wide receiver Danny Amendola, and receiving running back Shane Vereen. With these healthy veterans to go with rookie wide receivers Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins and young veteran Julian Edelman, the team finally has the pieces in place to control the game with an effective short passing game and making big plays when needed.
Despite the leg whip (which he was fortunate did not result in a fifteen yard penalty as it deserved) last week, young offensive lineman Marcus Cannon has acquitted himself well filling it for Sebastian Vollmer at right tackle. He and fellow tackle Nate Solder have a tough task with Denver’s pass rush by linebacker Von Miller and defensive end Shaun Phillips.
If Denver has a weakness on defense, it has been defending the passing game. Fortunately for the Broncos, they often have a lead thanks to their offense and do not have to worry much and are covered by having the game in hand and keep the opposition in front of them on the field. Cornerbacks Chris Harris and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie have been solid in pass coverage and veteran Champ Bailey may return Sunday night as well.
The Patriots may be able to go hurry-up on offense and attack the Denver defense. With so many weapons available to him at last, quarterback Tom Brady may be able to stretch the field and get favorable match-ups for his receivers. Of course, the risk of the hurry-up on offense is giving the ball right back to the Denver offense if they do not convert on third down. Last year, whenever linebacker Von Miller was on the sideline for a breather, the Patriots went to the no-huddle to keep him there for as long as possible.
Expect the Patriots to try to get running back Shane Vereen and tight end Rob Gronkowski favorable match-ups against the Denver safeties and linebackers. With Denver safety Rahim Moore out after emergency leg surgery and recently signed Michael Huff needing time to get up to speed, expect New England’s offense to try to take advantage of this loss. As the best potential match-up on Gronkowski, replacing Moore with Mike Adams or David Bruton is a big step backwards.
Of course, New England will have running backs Stevan Ridley (backed up by the second-half hammer, LeGarrette Blount) and Shane Vereen to attack the Denver defense with the running game. Last week, the Broncos defense had some issues containing Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles in the running game. Kansas City had problems passing and that was due to their offense more than the defense of the Broncos.
Carolina had a top defense and New England went into Charlotte, NC last Monday night and the offense was only stopped by themselves. Only one drive was less than nine plays, and that drive was eight plays and ended in the end zone with a touchdown. The first three drives netted three points but easily could have been twenty-one due to a dumb penalty, a fumble, and a blown offensive blocking call. Even the fourth quarter drive that was only a field goal was due to some questionable play calling by New England.
This mix of passing and running the ball and extended drives that New England displayed on Monday night against Carolina is exactly what they need to do Sunday night against Denver. Long, extended drives are great, but the Patriots need to finish the drives with touchdowns. Scoring early, mixing pass and run, and playing with a lead are the keys to success on offense. It will not be easy to defeat Denver, but there is a plan to follow on both sides of the ball.