W2W4 in the AFC Championship Game: New England Patriots vs Denver Broncos

Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports /
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When the Broncos Run the Ball:

New England Patriots
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Head coach Gary Kubiak took the head coaching job in Denver this offseason with the idea of building an offense that does more than depend on quarterback Peyton Manning to throw for 300 yards and three touchdowns. Kubiak’s West Coast offense is run by offensive coordinator Rick Dennison and focuses on using the running game to set-up the passing game off play action.

Kubiak’s offense is well-known to head coach Bill Belichick from defending it when Kubiak was the offensive coordinator in Denver (1995 through 2005), head coach in Houston (2006 through 2013), and offensive coordinator in Baltimore (last season).

The Broncos are going to be trying to run the ball on Sunday even with Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler making his second career start. The Broncos have struggled at times to run the ball and had to gut out some close games with their defense early in the year.. The Broncos run and win or struggle to run and struggle on offense.

New England Patriots
New England Patriots /

New England Patriots

Denver’s two-headed rushing attack features last season’s breakout star C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman. Anderson struggled mightily at the beginning of 2015 before breaking out again against the Patriots in week 12 and reclaiming the lead back role. He is strong, low-to-the-ground, and a one-cut-and-go rusher expected to be a power back.

Hillman was the lead back in Denver early in the season as the 2012 third round draft pick was a  better fit to the Kubiak/Manning hybrid that Denver tried to run early in the season. Before quarterback Brock Osweiler stepped in, the offense struggled with a compromise featuring Manning in the pistol alignment. Hillman had a career high 863 yards rushing in 2015.

New England has turned their run defense from a perceived liability early in 2015 to a strength when the linebackers are healthy. With Manning’s limitations on offense in the passing game, the Denver offense is built off zone blocking in the running game and play-action and bootleg action from the quarterback coming off those stretch plays and run fakes. Not being able to establish the run is a big impediment to the Broncos with every loss featuring under 105 yards rushing.

New England Patriots
Mandatory Credit: Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports /

The Patriots preach containment on defense and they will be tested Sunday afternoon. Defensive ends Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich and Jabaal Sheard will need to be aware of the running backs on stretch plays and keep them from gaining the edge. The trio has done this well for the most part funneling the running backs back inside where defensive linemen and linebackers are waiting for them. Denver exploited the Patriots for big plays with these stretch runs getting to the edge twice in the previous matchup for game-changing plays.

New England has strong depth at defensive tackle with massive veteran Alan Branch occupying blockers and being difficult to move. Akiem Hicks has become a breakout performer occupying space in the interior and getting into the backfield. Sealver Siliga is big and tough to run on.  Rookie Malcolm Brown has been solid in the running game each week.

With Jamie Collins hopefully able to play after leaving the Kansas City game early, the Patriots have a chance to shut down the Denver rushing attack. He and Dont’a Hightower will be expected to fill cutback lanes and get off blocks to make plays to contain Denver’s rushing attack.

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  • The Patriots need a coordinated defensive effort with the defensive ends setting the edge, funnelling the running backs inside where the tackles should be keeping the offensive linemen from getting to the second level. There, the linebackers (and safety, if necessary) need to be making the tackles and keeping the Broncos from picking up consistent chunks of yardage and opening up play action opportunities.

    New England slowed the running attack without Jamie Collins in the first game versus Denver until Hightower left injured. It may be a strong running game that they face, but the Patriots should continue their strong defensive play in the running game they displayed at times this season.


    Next: When the Broncos Pass the Ball?