This week will go down in history as one of the most important of the 2014 season. But remember that this just counts as one week, regardless of the outcome. The Patriots have the best chance in the AFC of taking down the Broncos and this Sunday will show how far New England has come over since the debacle against Kansas City.
We've focused a lot on the defense and how to defend against Peyton Manning, and we've kind of just expected the Patriots offense to take care of itself. The Patriots handled the top ranked Bengals and Bills defense well, fought well against the Jets defensive line, and it's clear the Broncos are another in a line of dangerous defenses.
The Patriots will need a complete game to be victorious. Here's how.
1) Field Position. Danny Amendola as a kick returner has added a new element to special teams and has been good enough to pick up five or more extra yards on each return. Don Jones and Matthew Slater are possibly the two best gunners in the AFC, if not the NFL. The Patriots will need every yard they can so a great day by the kicking units and the return units will be imperative to overall success.
2) Establish the run for Play Action. The offensive interior line of Dan Connolly, Bryan Stork, and Ryan Wendell are clearly the best hope for the Patriots. Last season, when Wendell couldn't handle nose tackle, the Patriots knew they needed to upgrade. Stork, while more inexperienced, is two inches and nearly 30 pounds heavier than Wendell. That's some beef. Jonas Gray runs like a hammer and no linebacker can keep up with Shane Vereen in coverage. The Patriots are ranked 7th worst in the league in gaining 3.76 yards per carry (tied with, wouldn't you know, the Broncos). The Broncos defense is 5th best against the run allowing just 3.40 yards per carry. Of course, 4th best are the Jets (Patriots averaged 4.20 yards per carry) and 6th best are the Bills (Patriots averaged 1.85 yards per carry). So who knows how the Patriots will produce; regardless, the Patriots need some semblance of a running game in order for the play action game to have any success.
3) Dictate the game script. Game script is the concept of understanding football situations and when teams will throw or pass. Teams far behind are more likely to throw, teams far ahead are more likely to run. The Broncos win by dictating how opposing offenses and defenses have to line-up; the Patriots can't let that happen. They need to take a leaf out of the Seahawks defense and play their own style; don't worry about the Broncos. Same on offense- don't worry about the Broncos defense, just play their own successful offense.
4) Disguise coverages. Peyton Manning wins the down prior to the snap. The Patriots can play their own defense, but they can't reveal the coverage- the Patriots should only be rushing four the entire game, which means that the defense has a lot of opportunities to disguise who the rushers will be. Mix zones and press coverages. Knock receivers at the line of scrimmage. Do anything to make the Broncos timing slightly more difficult.
5) Take the wind. The wind was 22 miles per hour last year. It will be roughly 20 miles per hour on Sunday. But in reality, this point is all about the little things; like field position, every extra bit of effort and output will be needed. Gray needs to fall forward. Brandon LaFell and Rob Gronkowski need the yards after catch. The run defense can't let the Broncos fall forward after contact like they let Matt Forte. The defense can't let up the mental big plays. The team needs to follow Bill Belichick's plan and succeed with the little factors.