The Patriots defense in the early going was a little bit soft, as the Broncos were able to march up and down the field on their first two drives. The difference between the Patriots 16-3 win vs. their 20-18 loss in the AFCCG was Red Zone defense. The Broncos scored 14 points in the AFCCG, only 3 on Sunday in their first two Red Zone possessions. In the 2nd red zone possession, the Patriots defense forced a huge takeaway and a long return set up the offense with a short field. The offense was able to score the go-ahead TD from there and held that lead all the way to the end.
The Broncos lined up in 11 personnel and motioned WR Emmanuel Sanders to the left side of the formation to create a stacked release. The Patriots countered with nickel personnel (3-3-5), with CB Logan Ryan following Sanders across the formation, indicating man coverage to the Broncos offense. Before the snap, you could see the Eric Rowe point to Sanders, telling Ryan that he’s got coverage out of the stacked release. Ryan gives Sanders a 5-yard cushion on the snap, knowing the down and distance (3rd and 3).
The Patriots double Demaryius Thomas with CB Malcolm Butler getting a good jam on the line and S Devin McCourty over the top. AJ Derby is running a clearing route up the seam to draw attention away from both Sanders and Taylor at the sticks. Taylor and Thomas are running crossing routes, but Butler’s jam is able to disrupt the timing of the two routes and Siemian is forced to look elsewhere. At the top of the screen, it’s man coverage as Chung followed Derby up the seam and Rowe picked up Taylor, and Ryan got Sanders. Normally, a Ryan vs. Sanders matchup is a mismatch due to Sanders’ speed, but on a short route where quickness is more important than speed, Ryan can hold his own if he can be physical at the top of the route.
Logan Ryan does a good job of getting physical at the top of the route, which was a 5-yard out. At the same time, Dont’a Hightower was able to knife through Max Garcia’s block and flash in front of Trevor Siemian’s face, forcing the QB to throw a back-foot duck into a well-covered route. The rush also opened a lane for Chris Long to loop around and get to the QB had Siemian elected to pull the ball down and run. Thanks to his re-direct, Ryan was in position to locate and intercept the pass even before Sanders got out of his break. Ryan steps in front of the pass and intercepts it with a lot of real estate in front of him. The only Broncos in position to stop a possible Pick Six was Siemian and the eventual tackler, Thomas, who got Ryan at midfield.
Enjoy the play in live speed and if you can’t stand Nantz and Simms, just mute the audio.
The interception that led to the #Patriots TD: https://t.co/RImgb48ss3— New England Patriots (@Patriots) December 18, 2016
It was a great case of both pass rush and coverage combining to make a great play. The offense would take advantage of the short field with a 1-yard LeGarrette Blount TD to give the Patriots a 10-3 lead they would not relinquish. In a game where the Patriots won by 13, this play by itself is at least a 6-point swing, with a strong argument for a 14-point swing. The Patriots defense doesn’t have to be great for the team to win a Super Bowl, but if it can complement the offense and give Brady and Co. an extra short field opportunity, then the defense will hold up in the playoffs.