The New England Patriots were originally scheduled to take on the Denver Broncos last Sunday, but the game had to be postponed twice after cornerback Stephon Gilmore and defensive tackle Byron Cowart tested positive for the Coronavirus. While Cowart still remains absent, Gilmore will be back for the Patriots when the game will be played this week.
We have spent quite a few time talking about Denver over the last two weeks, but now let’s give the floor to our friends over at Mile High Report. Joe Rowles from Pats Pulpit’s sister site was kind enough to answer some questions about the team, and they look as follows:
1.) How do you think the Patriots should attack the Broncos defense?
With De’Vante Bausby playing boundary corner, the Broncos secondary reached a new level against the Jets. Bryce Callahan sliding into the slot should help to hide the biggest issue the defense has had so far this year: they’re very susceptible on the second level. Josey Jewell has been better than most hoped, but he’s still on the worse end of most matchups because of his so-so athletic tools. A.J. Johnson’s a very good run defender and blitzer, but is still improving against the pass.
The other big issue Denver’s had without Von Miller is that they need to dial up heat to get consistent pressure. One way teams have attacked this over the first four games is with crossing routes. I’d expect to see a heavy dose of it against Josh McDaniels.
2.) How do you think the Patriots should attack the Broncos offense?
Whether Brett Rypien, Drew Lock, Blake Bortles, or Jeff Driskel find their way into the starting lineup, they’ll need to play around a really poor interior line. The biggest issue looks like Lloyd Cushenberry, who’s been so poor as a rookie that both Dalton Risner and Lloyd Cushenberry are suffering as they try to protect him. I expect Belichick to dial up stunts and blitzes to expose the Broncos’ third round pick to one on one matchups as he’s had huge problems with it ‘til now.
3.) Denver has been hit hard by injuries this year. Which ones stand out the most?
The big three are Von Miller, Courtland Sutton, and Drew Lock. They fundamentally changed how the Broncos play on both sides of the ball. Normally Fangio likes to rush four and play over the top of everything on defense, but he can’t do so without a pass rush. The adjustments over the first month are really something: more 5 and 6 man pressures and man coverage behind it.
Offensively, coordinator Pat Shurmur loves 11 personnel. He’s going to run three receiver sets come hell or high water. Without Sutton and K.J. Hamler for parts of the first four games, that’s led to a ton of opportunities for Tim Patrick. The former undrafted agent is the Broncos’ leading receiver so far and he’s done an admirable job filling in for Sutton as the X-receiver. Unfortunately the musical chairs at quarterback mean there are essentially two games that the reaction to pressure was so poor he didn’t see the ball as much as he should have.
4.) The Patriots defense loves to take away what teams do best. What do you think it will try to eliminate this week?
I’ve been trying to figure this out the last couple of days. With Rypien starting my guess would have been the short passes. He lacks the arm talent to make off platform throws with accuracy downfield.
While Melvin Gordon popped off for 100+ and two touchdowns last Thursday, it was a bunch of no-yard gains mixed with some big runs. He isn’t the Broncos’ biggest threat, the passing game is.
5.) Who are some under-the-radar players Patriots fans need to know, and why?
I’ve already mentioned Tim Patrick, but one other player who looks likely to see some snaps on Sunday is DaeSean Hamilton. He isn’t a star by any means but has been playing a ton because he’s a reliable route runner and the Broncos’ best blocking receiver. Pat Shurmur asked him and Patrick to play more nasty splits against the Jets to try and help the run game and impede pass rushers.
On defense the Broncos are essentially “The Other Guys” now, but they’re still finding ways to make plays. Bradley Chubb, A.J. Johnson, and Justin Simmons are the big names. Kareem Jackson and Bryce Callahan are two of the others. I’m curious to see how Shelby Harris does this week because the Patriots have one of the better coached lines in the league and more talent than New York does. He’s been a wrecking ball the last couple weeks, but Joe Thuney is a different animal.