3 key matchups for the Patriots Week 16 matchup with the Broncos

New England Patriots v Pittsburgh Steelers
New England Patriots v Pittsburgh Steelers / Cooper Neill/GettyImages
2 of 3

Courtland Sutton vs. Jalen Mills

Courtland Sutton is an excellent place to start regarding important matchups. 2023 has been his best season in terms of catch percentage. His 68.2% success rate is 9% higher than any of his other five seasons in the league! 

He’s also caught a third of the touchdowns the Broncos offense has scored. The Broncos have only won one game when Sutton hasn’t caught a TD. That seems like the sort of thing opponents should pay attention to. 

How the Patriots go about defending him is the question. If Christian Gonzalez were healthy, it’d be simple: just put the best pass defender on their best pass catcher. The tall, rangy Gonzalez up against the 6 feet 4 Sutton would have been great to watch. 

Sutton has caught passes on 11% of his routes against zone and 17% against man. So, zone is probably the way to go there. The Patriots tend to use man coverage more than zone, although they like mixing up schemes. And with all the injuries, including J.C Jackson’s mental health issues, it could be a patchwork pass defense this week.  

If the Patriots do decide to defend Sutton with man coverage and play zone elsewhere on the field, it would make sense to put Jalen Mills in man coverage. He hasn’t conceded a passing touchdown in 2023. And while he might not be as tall as Sutton, “it’s the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog,” as someone once wrote on a t-shirt.

Mills has only allowed 15 passes thrown his way to be completed this season. That ranks him third on this Patriots’ defense behind Alex Austin and J.C Jackson (but Austin has only made one start, and Jackson is unavailable).