Going into Tom Brady and the Patriots' third straight AFC Championship, they meet familiar foes in the Broncos led by fellow legend Peyton Manning. Both of these QB's have led their team to a first round bye and a win in the divisional round. But the Bronco's offense has been more fluid this year, rarely changing the formula of spreading the defense and winning with their four-headed attack of elite pass catchers. The Patriots on the other hand have had periods where they were similar to the attack last year and are currently in a three game period where a run heavy attack has worked wonders. But is that the best approach against the Broncos? There seem to be 3 distinct options.
1. Run the ball
Pros: Legarrette Blount is the second coming of Corey Dillon. He had two carries in their regular season meeting. Steven Ridley is finally back to top form. Week 12 was the low-point of his season. Add Shane Vereen to the mix and the Patriots running attack has never been better this season. The Patriots control the clock and keep Manning off the field. If it ain't broke don't fix it.
Successes: The last 3 weeks
Cons: The Broncos are tough to run against. They were 8th overall in the league against the run and second against runs in between the tackles, which is where the Patriots have had most of their success. In addition, if the Pats fall behind early they might not be able to sustain their plan. The Broncos weak link is their secondary anyway: to play ground and pound would play into their strong points, something that a gameplan oriented coach like Belichick would be hesitant to do.
2. Air it out
Pros: See second half of their first matchup. The injury to Chris Harris is huge. Jammer and Bailey are well past their prime and Kayvon Webster is a rookie coming off recent surgery. Both safeties are banged up. They had to sign Marquice Cole as a CORNERBACK. Think about that. In addition, the loss of Von Miller has left them with no pass rush. Brady could easily put up 4tds and 400 passing yards at the end of the day.
Successes: Atlanta, Pittsburg, Denver
Cons: Personel. Thompkins and Dobson are banged up. If they don't play, the Patriots are left with three slot receivers, none taller than 6 feet. The tight ends are nonexistent in the passing game. Phillip Rivers and his accomplished receivers couldn't execute for 3 quarters.
3. Balanced attack and dink and dunk
Pros: If the Pats play a balanced attack, they keep the defense guessing. Establishing the run with Blount and Ridley leads to huge play action opportunities. Playing a heavy dose of high percentage short passes and screen passes also helps in controlling the clock.
Successes: Tampa Bay, Houston, New Orleans
Cons: They have been using this method for most of the games without Gronk with varied success. The dink and dunk was a failure in away games against Cincinnati, Miami, and Carolina. In addition, it may be too conservative an approach. If the Denver offense comes to play, this type of offense may struggle to keep up in a shootout.
Personally I think the Patriots should go with approach number 2. But in the end Belichick's gameplans are rarely predicted correctly. What do you guys think?