The Patriots defense caught a lot of flak this year, reaching peak criticism when the defense struggled to execute basic coverages in a loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Since that game, the Patriots defense has made significant strides. While they haven’t faced a gauntlet of tough offenses or quarterbacks, the Patriots have been able to shut down their opponents. The defense has forced 7 turnovers in their last 4 games and has allowed only 53 points (you can argue 39 points if not for a double special teams fail vs. Baltimore). That has helped the Patriots jump up to the #1 scoring defense in the NFL through Week 15.
While I don’t think the Patriots have the best defense in the NFL nor consider it elite, the only question was if it was good enough to complement the offense. I think the defense that showed up against the Broncos yesterday is good enough for the team to make a title run. The Patriots defense allowed only 3 points, forcing the Broncos to go 0 for 2 in the Red Zone with a FG and an interception. The defense got nearly as many turnovers as the number of points they allowed. On 3rd down, the Patriots held thge Broncos to 2 of 12, and got a 4th down stop in plus territory. The Patriots were able to produce on critical downs, a big reason why Denver struggled to score. Denver doesn’t have a great offense and their QB is average at best, but the level of play on the road against an AFC contender is very encouraging moving forward.
Trey Flowers has emerged as the team’s most consistent pass rusher with 7 sacks in the last 7 games. Flowers had racked up some QB hits, but the sack numbers are coming in. Rob Ninkovich and Chris Long have been fairly solid on the edge and Jabaal Sheard had one of his better games as a Patriot. The Broncos don’t have a good offensive line, but that’s no reason to discredit how the Patriots were able to pressure Trevor Siemian the entire second half. The Broncos went about an entire quarter between picking up first downs as the Patriots built their lead up to 13. The Patriots weren’t scoring a lot of points on offense, but were able to pick up enough yards to continually win the battle of field position. That was another reason why the Patriots were able to win.
In terms of playoff matchups, the Patriots magic number to clinch Home Field Advantage is 2. Either the Patriots win twice and go 14-2 or they get help from the Colts in Week 16 and clinch home field that week. Teams will be playing in Foxboro, where the freezing temperatures and vaunted Patriots offense becomes a difficult challenge. Only the Oakland Raiders are still in the race for HFA, but don’t control their destiny. The only question left was if the Patriots could win a game with Tom Brady having an average day or worse. The Patriots win over the Broncos certainly answered that question a bit, as they were able to run the ball 38 times for 137 yards with Dion Lewis picking up 18 carries for 97 yards. The defense was strong with 4 sacks, 2 turnovers, including a well-timed Logan Ryan interception that changed the game.
Complementary football was on point in this game. The offense was able to sustain long enough drives to stay ahead of the Broncos in field position. The Broncos defense bottled up Blount, but the smaller and shiftier Dion Lewis sliced them apart for over 5 yards a carry. Tom Brady only had to manage the game, avoid turnovers, and make the occasional drive-extending throw. With the performance of Lewis, who set a career high in rushing, combined with the strong play by the defense and special teams, there is a reason to believe the Patriots don’t need Tom Brady to play at a Hall of Fame level for the Patriots to get into the Super Bowl.