Patriots Can Hurt Denver’s Playoff Hopes With a Victory
The Patriots go back out on the road and travel to their own house of horrors when they take on the Denver Broncos at 4:25 p.m. on Sunday. The Patriots obviously never cared for the thin air of Denver as they’ve traditionally played some of their worst football when visiting the Rockies. They’re hoping to change that trend with a big win this week.
The Patriots (11-2), defeated the Ravens 30-23 on Monday Night Football. Although they dominated Baltimore thru much of the game, a pair of costly special teams’ gaffes allowed Joe Flacco and the Ravens to get back into the game. However, Tom Brady shook off a slow start and was brilliant. He passed for 406 yards and three scores, his last a 79-yard clinching beauty to Chris Hogan to put the game away.
The Patriots kept a three-game lead of the Miami Dolphins who beat Arizona but lost QB Ryan Tannehill, at least for a few weeks. The Pats own the top spot in the AFC with a game lead over the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders, both 10-3. The Patriots can seriously hurt Denver’s playoff chances with a win on Sunday.
The Broncos (8-5), are struggling right now, having split their last six games following a maddening trend of win-loss and are in danger of missing out on the playoffs. Denver’s last three games of the season are at home against the Patriots, at KC and then home against the Oakland Raiders. No one has a tougher schedule down the stretch.
Here are our Five First Impressions of the Broncos:
Broncos Defense Has Had to Carry the Team: Denver’s defense which carried them to a Super Bowl win in 2015, is still incredibly tough against the pass and has carried the team thru a somewhat difficult season this year.
The Broncos are the #1 defense against the pass allowing just 183.5 yards per game. The pass rush with bookend edge rushers Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware and Shane Ray are second in the league in sacks with 38. They have more interceptions (12) than touchdowns allowed (10), through the air.
With an offense that has sputtered at times this year, the defense, while still top notch, has developed some trouble spots. And although their pass defense outside with Aqib Talib and Chris Harris is outstanding, there are areas that opponents, (the Patriots), may be able to exploit. Check back with us later today for our All-22 film study on how the Pats may decide to attack.
Tom Brady and the Patriots passing offense will face their biggest test of 2016 on Sunday and they’ll need to get everyone involved if they want to come away with the victory on the road, where the Patriots are 6-0.
Denver Can Be Run on This Week: The Broncos defense has taken a big step back in their rush defense from a year ago. In 2015, Denver opponents rushed 408 times for 1337 yards and only 10 rushing touchdowns for an average of just 3.3 yards per rush.
In 2016, Denver’s opponents have rushed 390 times for 1654 yards with 12 touchdowns and a much higher 4.2 yard per rush average. Last week, the Tennessee Titans controlled the line of scrimmage and rushed for 180 yards in the 13-10 win in Nashville.
The Broncos were third against the run in 2015, but have fallen all the way to 29th this year allowing 127.2 yards per game. This week should see a heavy dose of LeGarrette Blount and Dion Lewis in the running game for the Patriots. With linebacker Brandon Marshall hurting with an injury, he may miss this week’s game. That would be a significant loss for Denver, especially considering the struggles going on in the rush defense.
Siemian Still Learning On the Job: The Broncos entered 2016 with questions at the quarterback position as Trevor Siemian and rookie Paxton Lynch didn’t have a heck of a lot of experience. Siemian’s numbers aren’t bad, he’s completed 61.2 percent of his passes with 230 completions of 376 passes for 2730 yards with 16 touchdowns and seven interceptions for a QB rating of 89.2. Denver is currently 19th in passing offense in 2016.
Siemian has some outstanding weapons to use in the passing game, with Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders and has found youngster Devontae Booker out of the backfield as well. Thomas leads the team with 76 catches for 925 yards and five scores while Sanders has 75 catches but leads the team in yards with 958 with five touchdowns.
Without the deep passing game that hallmarked the Broncos offense the past few years, Siemian is capable of moving the ball and garnering yardage, but can he put up enough points to keep up with playoff teams? The Patriots may get after him a bit and try to disguise some coverages to make him hold the ball longer this week.
Running Game Has Struggled: The Broncos running game, once again a strength down the stretch in 2015 has left them wanting this season. Denver’s running game is mired in 27th place averaging just 93.8 yards per game, down 10 places from 2015.
With C.J. Anderson lost for the year, Denver has turned to Devontae Booker as their bell cow running back. He’s been underwhelming for the most part, gaining just 511 yards on 149 carries with three touchdowns. He’s averaging just 3.4 yards per carry. The team recently brought in Justin Forsett who was jettisoned by Baltimore earlier this season. Forsett played for Gary Kubiak in Houston and it is hoped that he’ll help jumpstart the moribund running game.
The Patriots have played better defense lately by being able to make their opponents one-dimensional offensively and it started with shutting down the run. With Alan Branch and Malcom Brown inside, there’s no reason to think they can’t do so again this week.
Special Teams May Play A Big Role: The Broncos special teams’ have struggled at times with their consistency in 2016, something that may come into play on Sunday. Who can forget the muffed punt last season? With the Patriots holding a two-touchdown lead, Chris Harper muffed a punt and it sparked a huge Denver comeback which culminated with an overtime win for the Broncos.
Kicker Brandon McManus has been perfect inside 40 yards this season but beyond that he’s just 9 of 13. Rookie punter Riley Dixon has averaged 41.2 yards net per punt. Rookie Kalif Raymond provided a spark in the punt return game against the Jaguars.
With the Patriots kicking game solidified in recent weeks, this is an area that the Patriots must feel good about. But the continued struggles for Cyrus Jones will have them searching for answers this week. Once again this year, the special teams play a big role deciding which of these two teams comes out victorious.
Check back with us later in the week as we’ll break down the key matchups for the game right here on PatsFans.com.