The New England Patriots have to find a way to move the ball against one of the best defenses in the league. The Denver Broncos have do the exact same thing. Who wins this game?
I just look to the Chiefs victory in Denver a couple weeks back. Look at the Chiefs roster and tell me that their offensive skill players are better than what the Patriots have left, with or without Danny Amendola. They have tight end Travis Kelce, wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, and running back Charcandrick West. That's it.
Seriously. That's it. So long as the Patriots have Rob Gronkowski, Brandon LaFell, and LeGarrette Blount, the Chiefs offense cannot be considered better than New England's. Add in Danny Amendola and it's undeniably still better.
That's why the Patriots will always have a chance in this, with or without Amendola. It's all about execution.
When the Broncos run the ball
Gary Kubiak imported his stretch zone run offense that was fairly successful against the Patriots last season when Kubiak was the offensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens. The Patriots run defense is operating at a whole new level and they should have Jamie Collins back this week.
Ronnie Hillman is an extremely quick runner that can change direction on a dime, while C.J. Anderson is able to drive the pile down the field after contact. The Broncos rotate them in their offense and they're both capable of generating some damage at the second level.
The Patriots need to make sure they have a) backside contain to prevent the Broncos from cutting back; and b) linebacker gap integrity so the rusher can't have a free lane into the second level. Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, and Jabaal Sheard will have their hands full collapsing the zone, while the defensive tackles have to ensure they don't get sealed.
Dont'a Hightower, Jamie Collins, and hopefully Jerod Mayo will be extremely active in this game. It's also possible for the Patriots to deploy Patrick Chung as a linebacker this game due to the Broncos heavy usage of tight ends.
The running game is the life blood of this Brock Osweiler led offense and if the Patriots can stop the run, then Denver will really struggle to move the ball down the field.
When the Broncos pass the ball
Denver will likely operate with two tight ends (Owen Daniels and Vernon Davis), two wide receivers (Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders), and a running back (C.J. Anderson or Ronnie Hillman). Sometimes they'll field three tight ends (Virgil Green). Sometimes they'll use three wide receivers (Bennie Fowler, Jordan Norwood, Andre Caldwell, or Cody Latimer).
It doesn't really matter since Brock Osweiler rarely throws more than 7 yards down the field. He is 0 for 5 with an interception on passes 15+ yards down the field. The Patriots will have their safeties take away or take advantage of the rare deep throws, but it's imperative that New England clog the middle of the field and force Osweiler to use the sidelines.
If the Patriots put their defensive backs with enough depth to deter Osweiler from making the quick passes, while also allowing them to stay on top of the route to defend the quick in and out cuts, then the Patriots pass rush will be able to get home. The Chiefs and Bears did a great job of sending pressure up the middle of the Broncos weak interior offensive line because Osweiler doesn't have great pocket awareness and will often go down for the easy sack.
The Patriots will be without Justin Coleman, so it's likely that Tavon Wilson will earn another game as the nickel corner on three receiver sets. It's also likely that the Patriots will use Chung, Devin McCourty, and Duron Harmon on two tight end sets. New England matches up very well against this Denver offensive personnel.
Use Malcolm Butler on Emmanuel Sanders and Logan Ryan on Demaryius Thomas. Tavon Wilson can defend Owen Daniels or the third receiver and Patrick Chung can defend Vernon Davis. Devin McCourty will need to be used to attack passes over the top and the Patriots could use three linebacker sets to take away any open pockets in the middle of the field.
Osweiler hasn't shown the ability to throw the ball down the field with much accuracy. Don't give him anything easy underneath.
When the Patriots run the ball
Running against the Broncos is like running against the Bills- necessary, but fruitless. The Patriots will need the play action to be effective in order to use Rob Gronkowski up the seam, so look for a few early dives into the teeth of the Denver defense.
LeGarrette Blount won't have a good day out there, but it's quite possible that James White could be effective as an extra blocker and as an outlet receiver. Blount will get a few carries every other drive to show that the Patriots are willing to run, but it definitely won't be a key part of the game plan.
When the Patriots pass the ball
This is how the Patriots are going to have to win. Quick passes, long drives, and successful red zone trips. Hopefully Danny Amendola can play, but teams have been able to pick up chunks of yardage with screens that take advantage of the man coverage of the Denver defense.
Chris Harris Jr., Aqib Talib, and Bradley Roby are one of the best cornerback trios in the league and they don't give up anything easily. Screens and low crossers are the easiest ways to get separation, while slants have marginal success.
The Patriots have tried to use Brandon LaFell on screens and crossers lately and hopefully he'll be up for the task as the only really healthy receiver. It wouldn't be surprising if James White receives a couple slip screens, or Chris Harper sees a couple, too.
The Broncos defense is extremely stingy and there's no real easy way to win, other than to take what they allow. If Tom Brady gets frustrated and throws deep to Chris Harper in double coverage, the Broncos are going to have a field day. The Patriots offense has to keep their cool, and move the ball down the field 4, 5, or 6 yards at a time.