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2nd Round Patriots vs Broncos: Defending the Big Play

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The Patriots must get to Tebow early.
The Patriots must get to Tebow early.

Like Greg, I've spent a fair amount of my time reviewing the Week 15 game between the Patriots and Broncos. If you follow me on Twitter, you've probably already seen/ignored this information.

The Broncos managed to torch the Steelers for massive yardage on big plays down the field. The performance of the Steelers defense immediately made me look towards the Week 15 game to watch all of the big plays allowed by the Patriots defense. If you can recall the first quarter, you'll remember that the Patriots defense did not perform at a high level. The defense gave up 17 plays of 10 or more yards, which is atrocious. The scarier fact is how balanced the Broncos were in their big plays: 9 were on run plays and 8 were on pass plays.

It's key for the Patriots to limit the Broncos offense, especially the run, and prevent extended drives. The more the Patriots offense is on the field, the greater chance the Patriots have to win; I don't think many expect the Broncos to stick with the Patriots in a shoot out. By limiting the large plays and the running attack, the Broncos will have to dink and dunk down the field and Tim Tebow may not have the skill set to consistently march the Broncos down the field with his arm on short passes.

This leads us to the Word of the Week:



Verb; To build steam and go to the brink, before exploding on everything.

Use in a sentence:

The Broncos took advantage of Dick LeBeau's strategy and Vesuviused on the Steelers defense.

The Patriots must realize that Broncos offense thrives on the big play in order to win games. Tebow is a dangerous athlete who can make those big plays happen with both his arm and his legs, so the Patriots must find a way to disrupt Tebow and force him to make terrible throws. Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia must find a way to stall the Broncos offense and, ultimately, prevent them from Vesusviusing over the Patriots defense.

Let's take a look at the Week 15 tape to see how the Broncos were able to beat down the Patriots defense for extended stretches.

First Quarter:

The Patriots allowed 8 plays of 10+ yards

6 run plays

2 pass plays

22.5 yard/play average

Play 1: Willis McGahee rushes for 19 yards. Dane Fletcher hits the gap extremely hard before the play develops and is removed from the play as McGahee runs outside. Rob Ninkovich and Devin McCourty are overpowered and sealed out of the play as they crash to the middle of the field. McGahee is able to bounce outside for a big gain. Patriots were undisciplined, out-executed, and just plain out-hustled as it seemed as if the Broncos schemed the outside run.

Play 2: Jeremiah Johnson sprints for 25 yards. Kyle Love is blown off the line and Brandon Deaderick is blocked out of position as the defensive line is extremely overpowered. Dane Fletcher is pancaked as he tries to make a backfield tackle. Matthew Slater takes a terrible angle and Johnson breaks for a huge gain. Again, nothing tricky- the Patriots are just out-executed.

Play 3: McGahee rushes for 29 yards. Patriots are in the 3-4 front. Rob Ninkovich is at outside linebacker as is sealed from the play. Broncos wide receiver Eric Decker blocks Kyle Arrington back towards the middle of the field (similar to how McCourty was blocked on Play 1) to open up the sideline for a big gain. The block on Arrington also eliminates Fletcher from the play as an unintentional "pick" to interrupt Fletcher's pursuit. Slater takes another bad angle. Again, nothing fancy- just the Broncos taking advantage of a less-than physical Patriots defense.

Play 4: Demaryius Thomas for 22 yards. The Broncos use the play action pass to draw the Patriots defense up to defend the pass. Thomas is open (as we've examined) as Kyle Arrington is out of position and the underneath layer of coverage is drawn up and out of position.

Play 5: Lance Ball for 32 yards and touchdown. Rob Ninkovich is stood up as a defender. Dane Fletcher crashes his gap, like the first play, and leaves a giant hole where he should have been in position. Ball breaks down the field and McCourty and Ihedigbo are sealed by their receiver. Sergio Brown takes a terrible angle and doesn't even try to make the tackle at the 20 yard line.

Play 6: Decker for 22 yards. This was the same exact play and coverage as Play 4. Play action with identical coverage.

Play 7: Ball for 12 yards. Patriots are in the 3-4 front. Deaderick is sealed from his gap and Jerod Mayo makes a terrible read and runs around the pile, even though Ball runs up the gut; Mayo effectively removes himself from the play.

Play 8: Tim Tebow for 19 yards. Design option play and Mark Anderson is sealed from making a play. Deaderick misreads the option and chases the running back. The defensive backs are blocked by their receivers and there are no middle depth defenders.


That was just the first quarter. Keep in mind that only Tebow's run- which was the eighth 10+ yard play of the quarter- was a non-traditional play call. The Broncos beat the Patriots by out-executing and outperforming the defense. The cornerbacks did not seem prepared for the physical blocking of the Broncos receivers and were often wiped out of run defense. The linebackers, especially Ninkovich and Fletcher, did a poor job maintaining their gaps and were continually washed out of the play. The defensive line did not seem prepared (especially Deaderick) for the physical fight in the trenches and were thrown off their gap or were sealed.

I believe that the Patriots will be better prepared for the physicality and energy that the Broncos bring to the field and to their blocking and, as a result, will not be caught so off guard. The Patriots have mentioned how surprised they were with how physical Tebow was as a quarterback and I believe that sentiment can be attributed to the entire Broncos offense- they're an extremely physical group and will try to enforce their dominance on the field.

As a result, the Patriots shouldn't try to win 2-on-1 battles. They just won't. As Jeff Howe stated, the Patriots transitioned from a two-gap model to a one-gap defense to handle the Broncos offensive line. The Broncos were double-teaming the gap they were going to run through and the Patriots couldn't win those fights. By playing a one-gap style, the Patriots can try to create traffic in the backfield and prevent the Broncos from running through open gaps.


Second Quarter:

The Patriots allowed 2 plays of 10+ yards

1 run play

1 pass play

13 yards/play average

Play 9: Thomas for 15. Play action pass on the same route as Plays 4 and 6.

Play 10: Ball for 11. Tracy White attacked the correct gap, but completely whiffed on an arm tackle. Jerod Mayo was also in position to cut off the run, but couldn't disengage from his blocker and couldn't make the play.


The Patriots settled down in the second quarter and forced plenty of turnovers to disrupt the Broncos momentum. The Patriots need to find a way to break up Tebow's favorite throw (it involves the linebacker not biting on the play action and dropping to the correct depth to either deter the throw or defend the pass). Again, poor fundamentals led to another large play.

I hope the Patriots spent their Bye Week working on their tackling.


Third Quarter:

The Patriots allowed 1 play for 10+ yards

1 pass play

16 yard/play average

Play 11: Thomas for 16 yards. Another play action play, but this passing play is different from the others. Arrington and James Ihedigbo cover deep quarters of the field and Thomas cuts into an out route to get open and away from Arrington. In fact, Ihedigbo bumps Thomas at the line to throw off his rhythm and to deter Tebow from throwing his normal seam route. This is a bend-don't-break look and the Patriots seemed fine with letting Tebow attempt that throw. They wanted to challenge his sideline arm and accuracy.


The Patriots were on lock-down mode in the 3rd quarter and were able pretty much eliminate Denver's big play ability. Hopefully the Patriots will review what worked so well in the 3rd quarter and find a way to incorporate some of the core strategies of their defense into their game plan for Saturday.


Fourth Quarter:

The Patriots allowed 6 plays of 10+ yards

2 run plays

4 pass plays

23.7 yards/play average

Play 12: Tebow scrambles for 10 yards. The play was a 3rd and 14 so the defense was willing to give up the yardage. Still, Ninkovich is blocked out of the play by an offensive lineman and White misses another arm tackle. The linebackers need to be smarter when they try to take down Tebow in the open field.

Play 13: Thomas for 14 yards. This is the first passing play of 10+ yards not from the play action set-up. Thomas run an out route and Arrington tries to undercut the throw and make an interception. It was a good read by Arrington, although it was a risky play. He probably could have knocked the ball down if he didn't go for the interception.

Play 14: Thomas for 39 yards. Worst play of the Patriots second half. McCourty is expecting deep safety help and, as a result, releases Thomas to cover the middle depth of the field. Unfortunately, the Broncos have two receivers deep and only Sergio Brown is deep to cover. While McCourty should not have released his receiver so early in the play, Brown didn't read the play as it developed and was playing center field instead of covering the deep receivers. Nate Jones had left the slot receiver to spy the outlet and the slot receiver took off down the field. Just total miscommunication by the secondary.

Play 15: Ball for 34 yards. Tebow dumped the football to Ball 5 yards down the field and Ball ran for 29 YAC. Mayo was in coverage of Ball, but Tebow had bootlegged out and Mayo abandoned his man to make a play on Tebow. Bad move by Mayo. White made a bad angle in pursuit of Ball, while Arrington gave a low effort attempt because it was late in the game and the score was already determined. Nate Jones also whiffed on a tackle. The defense definitely phoned in the effort at the end of the game.

Play 16: Matthew Willis for 15 yards. Willis ran a crossing pattern away from McCourty. The tight end engaged with Guyton to set a pick and create separation between Willis and McCourty. Well designed play by the Broncos and there was little McCourty could have done on this play.

Play 17: Tebow scrambles for 30 yards. Ninkovich creates pressure and has his arms around Tebow, but Tebow breaks free and takes off. The Broncos receivers had run deep routes so the entire Patriots secondary was very deep and there were no defenders around to slow Tebow. Guyton did take a terrible angle on Tebow, but this was a broken play at the end of the game that Tebow turned into a big gain.


The Patriots were definitely sloppier in the fourth quarter, although I feel like the lack of hustle can be attributed to the score differential. Still, the Patriots should show the desire and effort to play the full 60 minutes in a playoff game as this is do-or-die.


So what can the Patriots take away from reviewing the Week 15 game? They need to be ready for the Broncos physical game from the first snap so all levels of the defense are prepared to stop the run attack. They must also realize this scary fact:

The Broncos gained 393 total yards of offense.

The Broncos gained 364 total yards of offense from the 17 plays of 10+ yards for 21.4 yards/play.

The Broncos gained 82 total yards of offense from their 41 other plays for 2.0 yards/play

The Broncos lost 53 total yards of offense from 4 sacks for 13.25 yards/sack

Limit the big play and the Broncos offense will struggle. A tight bend-don't-break defensive scheme should limit the Broncos as the Patriots offense (hopefully) manages to score early in the game.

The Patriots have had plenty of time off. It's time they take the field and play their hearts out for a full 60 minutes and have a statement game to open up their playoff season.