New England Patriots v. Denver Broncos NFL Playoffs Breakdown
Posted on Thursday, January 12, 2012 at 09:52 AM
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As the world is enveloped in Tebowmania, after the Broncos eased past the Steelers in the wildcard round, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are fully focused on reversing their recent playoff fortunes.
Not since the 2008 AFC Championship, have the Patriots beaten a team in the playoffs.
Of their last three playoff losses, against the Giants in the Super Bowl in the same year, the Ravens in the wild-card round in 2010 and the Jets in the divisional round last year last year, the most recent defeat is the most noteworthy.
The Broncos have a few similarities to the Jets' team of last year, both are defensive teams relying on young quarterbacks and strong running games to lead their offenses.
However, the most important similarity between the two teams is that they were both beaten heavily by the Patriots in the regular season. The Jets returned to Foxboro last season with the perfect gameplan to subdue the Patriots' offense and win the game.
While they did have the perfect gameplan, there was undoubtedly some level of the Patriots taking the Jets for granted and overlooking them. Undoubtedly Belichick, Brady and Vince Wilfork, the team's biggest leaders, will be reminding their teammates of last year's failures.
The Broncos will bring strong coaching to Foxboro with a head coach who is undoubtedly a coach of the year candidate. After beginning the season with Kyle Orton under center and Brandon Lloyd on the outside, the Broncos have completely revamped their offense to get the best out of Tim Tebow.
Offensive coordinator Mike McCoy's playcalling was particularly pleasing last week for the Broncos. McCoy will be looking to lull the Patriots' secondary to sleep by repeatedly running the ball before exposing them with play-action.
Last week against the Steelers, McCoy ran on every single first down before using play-action to set up DeMaryius Thomas' game winning 80-yard touchdown reception in overtime. The playcalling was vital in that situation because safety Ryan Mundy was drawn to the run, had he not been, Thomas would never have come free because he caught the ball in the zone Mundy was responsible for.
Defensive discipline will be the Patriots' biggest emphasis in practice this week.
One seemingly small mistake on the field is what the Broncos' offense is built around. Unlike Brady or Peyton Manning, Tebow won't pick apart a defense with short or intermediate gains. The Broncos will look to pound Willis McGahee inside to stay ahead of the down and distance before breaking big gains with Tebow's legs or his arm.
Shutting Tebow down in the running game is the responsibility of the Patriots' defensive ends. Andre Carter, Mark Anderson and Shaun Ellis may prefer to be chasing the quarterback in the passing game rather than setting the edge in the running game, but sacking Tebow can't be their number one priority in this game.
For all his talent and experience, James Harrison's lack of discipline rendered him ineffective last week.
Harrison was at fault on multiple occasions allowing Tebow to rush for 50 yards on 10 carries. In the option offense, the quarterback is the defensive ends' responsibility. If said defensive end allows the quarterback the edge, then there are going to be big gains made.
The problem for the Patriots in this instance is that Tebow has proven to be very effective throwing out of the same formation. DeMaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, should he play, are major mismatches for Kyle Arrington and Devin McCourty on the outside.
McCourty's chances of covering Thomas one-on-one are about as good as a basket of kittens' surviving a nuclear bomb.
The Patriots will be desperate to have Patrick Chung and Brandon Spikes healthy so they don't have to commit as many bodies to the running game. Thomas exposed the Pittsburgh Steelers last week when they tried to leave their corners on an island with their respective receivers. The Steelers' corners are much better at covering in space than the Patriots'.
On the other side of the field, there are two players who the Patriots will be more worried about than any other for the Broncos' defense.
Von Miller may be a rookie, and also carrying an injured right hand, but he closer to a return to his early season form with a good performance against the Steelers last week.
Generally pass rushers who play well against the Steelers don't really deserve much credit, as the Steelers' line is poor, but Miller managed to get the better of Marcus Gilbert who is an impressive rookie right tackle for the Steelers.
Miller, along with Elvis Dumervil, will have to be shut down if the Patriots are going to be at their explosive best.
Pressuring Brady will be the Broncos best way to beat the Patriots. Brady will expect the Broncos to move Dumervil and Miller around in order to pressure the middle of the Patriots' pass protection. Brady is most susceptible to a strong interior pass rush as he is unable to extend plays or throw off his backfoot on a consistent basis.
The Patriots will try to offset the Broncos' pass rushers by running their trio of running backs BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Stevan Ridley and Danny Woodhead.
While the team's running game is a solid complementary piece, it won't likely be enough to win this game going against Broderick Bunkley and Joe Mays in the spine of the Broncos' defense. Even without Brian Dawkins, who is a long shot to feature, the Patriots need to win this game on Brady's arm.
As with most games, the Patriots' tight ends will be vital to victory. Von Miller's versatility will allow him to contain either Aaron Hernandez or Rob Gronkowski while the Broncos will likely double team the other.
Expect Champ Bailey to follow Wes Welker, even when Welker goes inside.
This leaves the Patriots' best matchups on the oustide with Deion Branch and Chad Ochocinco. The timing would be perfect for Ochocinco to have a breakout game in Boston. Andre Goodman will likely track Branch, leaving rookie Chris Harris on the former Bengal.
Ochocinco has a few advantages over Harris. His veteran nous and impeccable route running will give him an advantage over the inexperienced Harris, while physically Ochocinco is taller with a greater wingspan than Harris.
Ochocinco has every opportunity to redeem himself in the playoffs after a disappointing regular season.
Tim Tebow's train to the Super Bowl should be derailed in New England as the Patriots will learn from their recent failures in the playoffs.
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