Coming into this AFC Championship game, the New England Patriots seem to be a run first football team. They have dominated the ground game over the last few weeks, and with the emergence of LeGarrette Blount in the backfield, I don’t think they will stop their assault on the ground. But with that being said, I think the Pats will have some success through the air against the Broncos, especially if they are able to get the running game going early.
Here is a breakdown of the Pats wide receivers, versus the secondary of the Denver Broncos.
Julian Edelman vs. Champ Bailey
With Chris Harris Jr. sidelined, expect quarterback Tom Brady to really attack the depleted Denver secondary. Julian Edelman is his favorite target, and to show how decimated the Pats offense is, he is Brady’s most lethal target as well. Edelman will most likely draw Champ Bailey throughout this game, as the Broncos have been utilizing the aging Bailey in the slot position. Now first off, I have a tremendous amount of respect for Bailey. He is one of, if not the best defensive back of this generation, and at the peak of his career, there was nobody better than him in coverage. But as I mentioned, Bailey is aging. He is 35 years old, and he is coming off a season where he played in a mere five games, due to injury. I feel like this is an area where Edelman can make some noise, especially if he is given one on one coverage, where no safety coming down to take some of his options.
Danny Amendola vs. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
What makes the Patriots offense so hard to defend despite all of their injuries, is they have two slot guys that can hurt you mainly on the inside. Generally speaking, the slot is where most defenses place their weakest cornerbacks, which is why the Pats have had so much success in this area, over the last 10 years. Rodgers-Cromartie is definitely Denver’s best cornerback, now that Chris Harris is out, and I think he will draw Amendola throughout much of this contest. Rodgers-Cromartie plays his best when he is on the outside, but he may have to adjust his game a little bit, in order to defend the quicker Amendola. If this is the case, I once again give the edge to the Patriots. If this battle were taking place outside of the numbers, I think Rodgers-Cromartie would absolutely demolish Amendola. But moving to the inside is not a strength of Rodgers-Cromartie, and I think Amendola will be able to take advantage, with his quick route running, and surprising speed.
Aaron Dobson/Kenbrell Thompkins vs. Quentin Jammer/Kayvon Webster
This is a tricky matchup to dissect, because we really don’t know if either Dobson, or Thompkins will suit up this Sunday. Dobson did return to practice yesterday, which is a good sign, but his foot injury has been nagging him for quite some time, and I don’t know when we will be able to expect him back at 100%. However if he is active this weekend, he opens up a whole new dimension to the New England offense. Dobson is a legit 6’3, and having him on the field, enables Brady to just loft it up there, and more often than not, Dobson can come down with it. Quentin Jammer and Kayvon Webster would be the two guys defending Dobson (although seeing Rogers-Cromartie on him wouldn’t surprise me), and while they are both solid defensive backs, Dobson would have at least four inches on both of them. Because Dobson, and Thompkins are rookies, I don’t think that they would have the advantage that Amendola and Edelman have, but Dobson’s sheer physical attributes, might be enough to generate some offense this Sunday afternoon.
Shane Vereen vs. Denver’s Linebackers
Technically, Vereen isn’t a wide receiver. But the Patriots use him just like one, which is why he is being included in this group. Vereen doesn’t carry the ball too often, but he makes up for his lack of attempts in the passing game. Vereen is one of the best pass catching running backs in the league, and once he secures the football, impressive things will happen. He has terrific speed, great agility and quickness, and he is a surprisingly good route runner. When he goes out for a pass, it doesn’t matter which Denver linebacker is covering him, because he will have the advantage. Whether it is Wesley Woodyard, Danny Trevathan, or even Nate Irving, I think Brady will look to exploit this matchup, as Vereen should be open all game long (and maybe he could catch the damn ball on a wheel route).