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Week 9 Patriots vs Broncos: How to Defend Against Manning and Denver's Offense

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The Broncos have the best array of weapons in the league. How can the Patriots try and stop them?

Jim Rogash

You can't. You just can't.

The Patriots need to go into the game against the Denver Broncos and realize that you can't stop the Broncos offense when you attack them head on.

Demaryius Thomas is too quick. Emmanuel Sanders is too quick. Julius Thomas is too quick. Wes Welker is too quick. Ronnie Hillman is too quick.

Peyton gets rid of the ball faster than anyone in the league and his passing attack is predicated on manufacturing quick space off the snap. Those are the rub routes, the pick plays, the shallow crosses- anything to get one step on the defense so Peyton can deliver the ball. It's up to the receiver to make up the yards after the catch.

That's not to say that the Broncos aren't dangerous on the deep play- Demaryius, Sanders, and Thomas all average 10+ yards down the field on the average depth of their targets (for comparison, Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman are both well under 10 yards at their depth; Brandon LaFell is a shade under 12 yards, but only as of late) - but that all the Broncos receivers need is just one step on a defender to make a big play.

It's part of the reason why Manning has fallen below 100.0 passer rating just five times in his past sixteen games, including the playoffs. He gets the ball out quickly, he limits mistakes, and controls the tempo of the game.

But of those five games below 100.0, two have come against the San Diego Chargers, two against the Seattle Seahawks, and then the regular season game against the Patriots. The Broncos have lost four of them, barely beating the Chargers in the 2013 playoffs.

What do all these teams have in common? How were they able to slow the Broncos offense (Manning still averaged 250 yards and 2 touchdown passes in these losses)?

1) Turnovers. In all four losses, Manning has turned the ball over at least once. Denver is 9-0 when Peyton doesn't throw an interception.

2) Tight coverage. While the Chargers didn't have the best cornerbacks last season, San Diego, Seattle, and New England all played extremely tight coverage with the opposing receivers. No yards after the catch.

3) Control the pace. This is how the Chargers won. This is how the Seahawks won. The Patriots went a different route for the same result: slow, methodical drives. The Chargers and Seahawks opted to grind out long drives on offense to take the ball out of Peyton's hands. The Patriots enticed the Broncos into running the ball to extend drives and, yes, take the ball out of Peyton's hands.

4) Pressure with Four. The Seahawks bullrushed into the backfield, instead of trying to finesse into the pocket. Manning will get the ball out too quickly for a sack, anyways- so go through the linemen to get the quickest initial pressure. The bullrush and the tight coverage should force an errant throw, or force him to hold the ball a second longer than usual to disrupt the offensive tempo.

These are the keys to throwing off the Broncos offense. It's easier said than done. But it has to be tried for the Patriots to win.

Here are the man-coverage match-ups (although expect the Patriots to disguise their press man coverage with zone drops to try and confuse Manning).

Demaryius Thomas: Darrelle Revis. This is what Revis is here for and he matched up well against Brandon Marshall last week. Hopefully he has a back-to-back great week.

Julius Thomas: Brandon Browner. Typically Browner doesn't make sense against tight ends, but Thomas is not an inline tight end. He's a receiver. Browner covered Martellus Bennett well enough in the open field for the majority of last week's game; he needs an encore performance.

Emmanuel Sanders: Alfonzo Dennard. Dennard was a healthy scratch last week. He gets nicked up a little too easily. He's perfect for this match-up. While Sanders is much different from Eric Decker (who Dennard handled well last season), Dennard is the best member of the Patriots secondary who should be up to the task.

Wes Welker: Kyle Arrington. Where has Arrington been? He, like Dennard, gets hurt too often. He's the best option against Welker, even if Logan Ryan is the future. Look for Arrington to see heavy snaps against the slot receiver.

Ronnie Hillman: Jamie Collins. Hillman is hurt, but Collins needs to trail him around the entire field for the whole game.

Look for the Patriots to play the nickel defense for the majority of the game. Depending how how the gamescript falls (how often Denver is expected to throw if they're behind, how often they'll run if they're ahead), it would make sense to rotate Pat Chung and Logan Ryan as the fifth defensive back.

This won't be easy. It's likely that Manning will have the best day a quarterback has had against the Patriots this season. But the Patriots have the tools to slow the Broncos offense and dictate the pace of the game. It's a matter of execution.