With Broncos Up Next, Patriots Secondary Needs To Limit Big Plays

Ian Logue
January 16, 2014 at 06:00am ET

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Looking back at Saturday night's win over the Colts, one area that is certainly glaring was the amount of big pass plays given up by New England's secondary.

Against Andrew Luck and the Colts, the Patriots' defense allowed four pass plays of over 30-yards, the most they've allowed all year and the most since their week two meeting against the New York Jets.  Otherwise they never allowed more than two pass plays from over that distance all season, which happened against the Falcons, Saints, Browns, and Bills.

In their previous meeting against the Broncos they allowed just one pass play of 20 or more yards, their best performance since they had the same success back in week eight against Miami.  They've only finished one game this season having not giving up a play that long, which came all the way back in week one against the Bills.

On Sunday against the Chargers the Broncos didn't need a big play to win, finishing the afternoon with just 1 play of over that distance.  In the passing game, Denver did most of their work on short yardage plays, with 18 of Manning's 25 completions going for plays of between 1-10 yards.

The last time they met New England's defense did a good job of preventing the Broncos from breaking off big plays. The three longest pass plays went for 15, 17, and 31 yards, the latter of which was by Wes Welker, and was a play he caught from six yards behind the line of scrimmage and took off 37 yards after the catch. If they can limit Denver the way they did the first time around, that will obviously work in the Patriots' favor.

Aqib Talib and the Patriots defense will likely have their hands full this weekend.
(USA TODAY Images)

But for New England's offense, Denver's defense is going to be tough. They held San Diego to just 259 total yards Sunday as well as keeping the Chargers from converting on 3rd down, of which they finished just 4-of-13 (33%). They're not easy to move the football against, which is something Tom Brady noted during his weekly appearance on WEEI.

“They’ve been really stingy I think the last six weeks," said Brady. "They haven’t given up many points or yards. When we played them, they’re a physical defense. I thought earlier in the year they gave up a bunch of yards, and their offense was scoring so many points that teams were just throwing the ball all day on them. Now these games have settled in over the last month, and they’ve been able to defend both the run and the pass. They’ve been really good here down the stretch.

“We’ve got to put together a great plan, and I’m sure we will. Our coaches always put us in a great position to do well. It’s going to be up to us players to go out and execute it. We’ll see where we stand at the end of the day.”

Against the Chargers, Denver also forced a lot of mistakes. Between Denver's incredibly noisy crowd and Peyton Manning's incessant cadence, San Diego committed five neutral zone infraction penalties. Ryan Mallett has already admitted he's having a good time imitating it in practice thus far, hopefully giving defensive coordinator Matt Patricia's group a good look heading into this weekend.

Manning's calls and audibles, as well as his ability to draw people offsides, is something that Patricia admitted on Tuesday was going to be something they'll need to make sure they avoid.

"I think that is certainly a hidden stat in the game," said Patricia when asked about it Tuesday. "That is certainly a big deal to us. He was obviously able to get some line of scrimmage penalties, which we always talk about. We never want to give up free yardage. Certainly with a guy like Peyton Manning who has such a variation of cadences that he uses, certainly and obviously at home where he can use all of them because of the crowd noise situation. You have to be very aware on top of that."

It's the biggest game of the season so far, with New England knocking on the door with a chance to get back to yet another Super Bowl. They're 1-0 in a three game season, with two more to go in order to achieve the goal they set back when it all began at the end of July.

It's been a long year and this team has certainly overcome a lot of adversity to get where they are. They've played 17 games at this point, and Belichick knows that the one they face this weekend will definitely be their toughest yet.

"It’s been a long, tough road to get to this point," said Belichick Wednesday. "We’ve faced a lot of great competition along the way. Now we’re playing the top ranked team in the AFC. We’re looking forward to the matchup. We know it’s going to be a challenge but we’re looking forward to it."