In the grand scheme of things, the Patriots' lopsided 41-23 victory over the Denver Broncos doesn't mean much. When the Patriots and Broncos take the field on Saturday, anything can happen. History, well, it doesn't really matter. The Patriots can remember that better than any team as they lost to the Jets last year in the playoffs after beating them 45-3 just a few weeks prior. That being said, this doesn't mean we can't look back a few weeks ago to the Broncos game and see what the Patriots did right and wrong and infer what that could mean about the Divisional Playoff match-up this Saturday.
Follow the jump for a few game notes that I took while reviewing the Patriots vs. Broncos game earlier today. The notes aren't that specific, but rather relate to general trends that I noticed while watching the game (twice, actually).
- The Broncos have an athletic and physical offensive line. They won at the point of attack against Pittsburgh on Sunday, and did a lot of the same against the Patriots less than a month ago. One play in particular stood out to me: On a 3rd and 9 near end of the 1st quarter, Zane Beadles pulls and seals off a Patriots defender on Tim Tebow quarterback keeper for a first down. The drive results in a field goal and a 16-7 early Denver lead. The Patriots countered a lot of what the Broncos were doing later in the game by switching to the 3-4, directly attacking Tim Tebow with their linebackers, and bringing bigger defensive linemen like Gerard Warren and Ron Brace onto the field.
- Bad tackling, defensive execution, and simply being physically outplayed in the trenches were all factors that led to Patriots' 1st quarter woes against the Broncos in week 15. In fact, the bad tackling continued for both teams throughout much of the game, although the Patriots really cut down their struggles in this area after the first quarter which helped them significantly. Still, it looks like tackling, such a fundamental football concept, is going to be one of the major factors to watch in the Patriots-Broncos playoff rematch this Saturday.
- Denver did a pretty decent job, even in the second half, of disguising their blitzes. On a third down on the Patriots opening drive of third quarter, the Patriots are moving the ball at will. Broncos disguise a safety blitz from Quinton Carter, and he comes in unblocked and takes Tom Brady down for the drive-stalling sack.
- The Patriots formula for stopping Tebow: discipline. In the second half, Rob Ninkovich and Mark Anderson did a great job of keeping Tebow in the pocket. Kyle Love, Vince Wilfork, Brandon Deaderick, Gerard Warren, and Ron Brace all helped produce pressure up the middle, and with Tebow contained in the pocket, he really had nowhere to go. Down the field, Patriots defensive backs stayed disciplined and didn't get fooled by Tebow's antics, and never let their receivers behind them. This really isn't anything out of the ordinary. The Patriots were willing to let the Broncos run and let Tebow throw underneath and across the middle and try for the methodical drive. Tebow has struggles leading those long drives, and in the second half, the Patriots were content giving up a couple of rushing first downs if it meant eventually stopping the Broncos offense.
- Mark Anderson, playing right outside linebacker, simply outmatched Broncos' left tackle Ryan Clady throughout the game. His speed and hand use was simply too much for Clady. This seems like the type of match-up the Patriots will want to exploit again.
- Denver's game plan defensively was to bring consistent and harassing pressure at Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Sometimes, it worked. The Patriots had a drive stalled when the Broncos confused the Patriots line and Elvis Dumervil went untouched a laid out Tom Brady for a big sack. At other times, though, Brady countered by delivering quick, on target throws to open receivers. In the Patriots' game sealing drive in the fourth quarter, they got things going when Denver brought five on a blitz. Brady quickly delivered the ball to an uncovered Rob Gronkowski who took the catch for 38 yards and helped set up the Patriots score.