Tag Archives: DeMarcus Ware

Patriots Report Card, Week 15 Win Over the Broncos

Steve Balestrieri
December 19, 2016 at 11:38 am ET

Blount Sets Pats Record as the Defense Shuts Down Denver

The Patriots dominated the game after the first quarter yesterday and shut down the Denver Broncos using good, solid defense and an efficient, quick running winning 16-3. While it won’t win many style points, it was a satisfying, team win with very good performances in all three phases of the game.

With the victory, the Pats clinched the AFC East for a record 8th straight year and for the 14th time in the past 16 years. And what made the victory even sweeter was that it can against a heated rival and in a stadium where they’ve had trouble winning for 56 years. Coupled with the fact that they put a big dent in Denver’s playoff chances makes the win even more satisfying.

The Patriots are 7-0 on the road and 12-2 overall, they hold the top seed in the AFC and control their own destiny in terms of home-field advantage in the AFC.

So, although we had to take a couple of weeks off from our report cards, it is time to get back to it. Before hitting the All-22 coaches’ film, here are our grades for the week. We’ll start with the offense and the players can come forward to pick up their grade sheets.

Quarterback: C+
Tom Brady didn’t have his greatest game, and certainly didn’t light up the stat sheet going just 16-32 for 188 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. He started the game 0-6, not completing a pass in the first quarter.

This was part of that was part of the game plan where the Patriots didn’t want to have to rely on the passing game to win today. Instead, the plan was on to control the clock and line of scrimmage with the running game.

Brady moved extremely well in the pocket, stepping up or sliding to avoid pressure. He made a couple of really, nice throws to Julian Edelman. The first when the Pats faced a 1st and 20, he dropped the ball deep down the sideline where #11 did a toe-tap before going out of bounds. Later he dropped another dime over the outstretched arms of the defender to Edelman for a big first down.

So, after a rough start, Brady did just what they set out to do. The offense was conservative by design and they never relinquished control once they got it.

Running Backs: B+
LeGarrette Blount wasn’t a big part of the game plan that everyone thought he’d be. The Broncos speed in the back seven negated the advantage of having the big man bulldoze his way thru the pile. He had meager stats on the day with just 31 yards but again, that was partially by design. The Patriots for this game opted to go with the quicker and shiftier Lewis. Blount, however, did get the only touchdown of the game and it set a new franchise record for rushing touchdowns (15) which he’ll probably add to in the next two weeks.

Dion Lewis had a career day getting 95 yards on 18 carries. He was the perfect answer for the Broncos dime package. They’d bring in six defensive backs to counter the pass and Brady would hand it off to Lewis. He had his heaviest workload of his Patriots career and looks like a perfect complement to Blount with the postseason approaching.

James White wasn’t anywhere nearly as effective as we envisioned in this game in our pregame matchups. Although the Patriots tried to get him heavily involved early, he was ineffective including a couple of big drops which short-circuited drives. But he nearly broke a long touchdown reception later in the game when a shoe-string tackle was all between him and the end zone.

What a difference it has been having James Develin back this season. He rarely shows up on the stat sheet, he did make a catch for 14 yards today, but the holes he opens in the running game are invaluable. Phil Simms on the telecast equated Develin to a tackle and showed him pancake Sylvester Williams the Denver nose-tackle.

Wide Receivers: C
The Patriots other than Julian Edelman didn’t target the wide receivers much. That is a testament to the respect they have for the Denver corners. The conservative approach cut out the possibility for a turnover and wasn’t pretty at times but it worked.

Julian Edelman isn’t the biggest WR, nor the fastest, but there aren’t many with more heart or tougher. Edelman is fully healthy now and has always made a living of going in dangerous places making the tough catches in traffic. He made six catches for 75 yards but that sideline catch between two defenders where he toe-tapped before going out of bounds was a beauty.

Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell each had only one catch and were targeted just three times combined. Hogan had a tough drop that killed a drive. We were expecting a bit more from those two in the game

Tight Ends: B
Martellus Bennett only had two catches for 35 yards but it was the big one for 34 yards that set the team up for a field goal in the fourth quarter that helped put the team away.

Bennett did a good job of run blocking today and with him starting to get healthy, he should become a bigger factor in the passing game.

Matt Lengel got just a few snaps in but got a tongue-lashing from Bennett on one play. Presumably for lining up in the wrong place.

Offensive Line: A+
What else can we add about the offensive line? Remember the AFCCG last January? Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware wreaked havoc on Brady as the OL was bullied, bashed and beaten on nearly every snap. Well today it was the Pats offensive line who did the pushing around. The Patriots ground out 139 tough yards in the running game to control the clock and the tempo.

Marcus Cannon and Nate Solder were flat out excellent. Miller and Ware had zero sacks, zero tackles for loss, and zero QB hits. Cannon has been going thru a rejuvenation this season with Dante Scarnecchia but even the most die-hard fans circled these last two games against Baltimore and Denver as the big tests. Well, he aced them both. Game ball to Cannon.

There were a couple of ticky-tack holding penalties on David Andrews and Joe Thuney, especially considering the mugging that Denver’s OL was getting away with early in the game.  But overall this was a truly dominant effort. Redemption game for the OL.

Defensive Line: A
The Patriots defensive line dominated in the trenches again. Denver rushed for just 58 yards on the day and averaged 3.4 yards per attempt. Alan Branch who has been excellent all season and Malcom Brown were stout at the point of attack. Brown chipped in with a sack.

The edge rushers, Trey Flowers, Jabaal Sheard, and Chris Long had an outstanding day. Flowers chipped in with two sacks, his sixth and seventh of the year. He’s peaking at just the right time. And oh, by the way, remember the worry warts who were proclaiming the doom of the Pats defense without Chandler Jones? Jones is in the middle of another late-season swoon. In Jones’ last four games he’s gotten zero sacks.

Sheard had a fantastic game with a sack, two QB hits and was playing like a beast on the edge, consistently having his way with RT Donald Stephenson.

Linebackers: A
The Patriots’ other move this season that was lambasted was the trade of Jamie Collins to Cleveland. While the jury will be out on that one until the season is over, no one can argue with the production the team is getting out of Kyle Van Noy.

He’s neither the athletic freak nor a Pro-Bowler but what he is, is a damned-good addition to the Patriots defense. Van Noy can do a bunch of things, cover the running backs either in the flat or on wheel routes, rush the passer and help on the tight ends.

He covered an early wheel route in the end zone perfectly, which forced the Broncos into settling for a field goal. He also read a screen pass in the flat and flew up to nail the play in the backfield for a loss. He blitzed up the A-gap a few times as well.

Dont’a Hightower was his usual stout presence in the running game. He was questionable in this game due to a late addition to the injury report for a knee injury but was more than up for the task.

Shea McClellin even got into the act…on offense as a decoy. It was that kind of day.

Secondary: A
The Patriots secondary had a very solid game and it begins with the play of Malcolm Butler. Butler was lined up with Emmanuel Sanders and with over the top help, he relegated him to the side of a milk carton until he caught a couple of passes in garbage time late in the 4th quarter.

Eric Rowe and Logan Ryan matched up with Demaryius Thomas and had very solid outings, for the most part taking away the deep ball and forcing Denver to take the underneath stuff.  Trevor Siemian had a nice 1st quarter but after that, the defense, specifically the secondary adjusted and he and the Broncos passing game was held in check.

Ryan turned the game on the first play of the 2nd quarter. Facing a third and short, Siemian tried to hit Sanders on a quick out pattern at the Patriots 4-yard line. Ryan read it perfectly and jumped the route, easily intercepting the pass. He returned it 46 yards to the Denver 46. Brady then led a drive to put New England up for good. It was a 14-point turnaround.

Devin McCourty had another terrific game as the QB of the back seven. His thunderous hit on Thomas jarred the ball loose on a 4th down attempt late in the game.

Special Teams: A
Stephen Gostkowski is no longer in a slump, he went back to the scene of his frustration like Cannon and helped erase some of the sting of his miss last year. He was 3-3 on field goals, right down the middle and good on his only extra point.

Ryan Allen once again did a terrific job of pinning the Broncos deep in their end. Allen’s only short punt was muffed by Jordan Norwood where Jonathan Jones was alert and recovered the ball leading to the Patriots first field goal.

The coverage units were solid although the return game was stuck in neutral. But they didn’t have any slipups this week. Edelman was back fielding punts as Cyrus Jones was a healthy scratch…not surprisingly.

Coaches: A
Bill Belichick’s game plan to use the running game wasn’t a surprise. What was, at least a little bit was the use of Lewis’ quick running instead of battering the Broncos with Blount. It worked very well and the offense controlled the clock and the tempo. Denver’s defense couldn’t tee off on Brady at all.

Josh McDaniels called a very solid game for the offense with the exception of one drive with just eight minutes left. He eschewed the running game for three straight passes which was a head-scratcher considering the success they were having at running the ball. But overall, he did exactly what they set out to do.

Matt Patricia who was under fire just a few weeks ago, has got the defense playing super situational football. After Denver moved the ball well in the first quarter, Patricia adjusted the defense and they shut them down and out from that point onward. Patricia has found roles for all of his players and not only are they comfortable within the system, their level of play has increased as they play much faster and instinctive now.

We’re on to the Jets…

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Five Patriots Players to Watch Against the Broncos

Steve Balestrieri
December 17, 2016 at 9:41 am ET

The Patriots are alone at the top of the AFC and travel to Denver to take on the Broncos at 4:25 p.m. on Sunday afternoon. This will be the third trip to Denver for the Patriots in the last 13 months. The situation is quite like a year ago when the Patriots visited Denver at 10-0 and the Broncos were two games back.

This meeting is a bit later in the season and unlike a year ago, the Broncos are a team desperate for a win. At 8-5, they need to win to keep their playoff hopes alive. Presently they sit in the #6 seed with the tiebreaker over Miami. But tough games remain against the Chiefs and Raiders so they’ll need to seal the deal at home.

The Broncos have the #1 pass defense in the league and will be looking to use their vaunted pass rush against Tom Brady and slow down the Patriots passing game. Their edge rushers Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware and Shane Ray are productive and had big games against Brady twice last year.

The Patriots are 11-2 and the offense didn’t seem to miss Rob Gronkowski when they faced the #1 defense in the league last Monday night. Against the Ravens, the Patriots rolled up 496 yards of offense and 30 points. They’re hoping to carry that over against the team that beat them twice in 2015.

Here are our five players from a Patriots perspective to watch on Sunday:

QB Tom Brady: Brady has pretty much had his way most every team in the NFL, and that includes Denver. But not on the road, Brady is just 2-7 against the Broncos in Mile High. This has been a rivalry dominated by the home teams. In the last ten games between the two, the home team has won 9 of 10.

Brady is sure to know this and will surely be thinking about the heartbreaking loss last year in the AFC Championship Game where a two-point conversion with just 12 seconds left failed, which would have sent the game into overtime.

But the future Hall of Famer knows what’s at stake this week. With a win, the Pats clinch a first round bye and deal Denver a serious blow to their playoff hopes. A win on Sunday won’t erase a lot of bad memories in Denver, but it will go a long way in doing so.

Running Back James White: With much of the focus this week and justifiably so on LeGarrette Blount, it may be White who holds the key to attacking Denver’s defense. The Broncos haven’t been good against the run this season and Blount and Dion Lewis will bear most of the heavy lifting there. But in the passing game is where White may open things up for Brady thru the air.

Denver will be minus Brandon Marshall on Sunday, and fellow inside linebacker Todd Davis is hurting too. The Patriots will look to spread out the Broncos defense on passing downs and find mismatches by isolating White and Lewis on the linebackers. With the backs keeping the Denver defense honest, they’ll have to respect the run this time around and won’t be able to just pin their ears back and rush the QB.

Look for White to move in motion and be split out wide at times, giving Brady a look at how the Broncos coverage will be set up. If they’re forced to start using a safety on him, it will open single coverage for one of their wide receivers.

Safety Devin McCourty: The Patriots defense has been much better the past month especially in the passing game and this week the secondary will be facing a pair of very prolific receivers in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. The Denver passing game hasn’t been as vertical as we’ve seen in years past but it is still a very viable one with those two receivers. And the Pats final line of defense is McCourty.

Against the Ravens last week, he picked off a deep Joe Flacco pass to Mike Wallace and the Patriots would love to see more of that this week. But with each of the receivers’ ability to go deep, McCourty will ultimately see time against both.

The Patriots game plan every week is to take away the big, chunk plays and make the opponent slowly make their way down the field. Against a young QB like Trevor Siemian who has struggled lately, this strategy will be even more important. McCourty will have a big say in how effective their strategy will be with his performance this week.

Right Tackle Marcus Cannon: The Patriots right tackle is having a career best season in 2016, but he too can recall the nightmare of the AFC Championship Game in January. Von Miller had 2.5 sacks and rode roughshod over not just Cannon but anyone who was in front of him that day. Cannon would love to turn the tables on him this season and not only setting the outside edge but opening holes in the running game as well.

Denver is second in the NFL in sacks with 38, one behind Carolina but is the most efficient pass rush team. One way to slow down Miller, Ware, and Co.? Running the football. And Cannon has been very good at opening holes from Blount to run through this season.

Cannon was just rewarded with a nice contract extension for the Patriots. Here’s an opportunity to show he’s earned it by keeping Brady upright this time and paving the way for a Patriots ground attack that should be much more effective than the last two times they faced this defense. This will be Cannon’s biggest test of the year…so far.

Linebacker Kyle Van Noy: The Patriots made a trade for the misused former 2nd round pick from the Detroit Lions this fall and he’s been rewarding them with some stellar play recently. After the trade of Jamie Collins to Cleveland, the team was searching for a replacement of his production and they found it with a combination of Van Noy and Shea McClellin.

As he’s found a comfort level in the defense, Van Noy’s production has increased. He can do a bit of everything. While McClellin is generally on the field for running downs, Van Noy has taken over in coverage and for the most part has been very good. He’s also adept at rushing the passer and can bring a lot to the table.

Facing a Denver team that has struggled to run the football in 2016, Van Noy should see plenty of snaps against the Broncos on Sunday afternoon. He should see some coverage on TEs Virgil Green and A.J. Derby and it wouldn’t be surprising if he blitzes a few times up the A-gap as they mix things up with their pass rush against Siemian.

Stay tuned to PatsFans.com as we’ll have up-to-the-minute breaking news as well as post-game analysis.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots – Broncos Keys, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
December 16, 2016 at 8:09 am ET

The New England Patriots head out to the Mile High City as they take on the Denver Broncos on Sunday afternoon. Kickoff is scheduled for 4:25 p.m.

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS and can be seen locally on WBZ -TV Channel 4 in Boston. Jim Nantz will handle play-by-play duties with Phil Simms as the color analyst. Tracy Woolfson will work the sidelines. The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The SportsHub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Cappello.

The Patriots (11-2) beat the Ravens 30-23 on Monday Night Football. Tom Brady threw for 406 yards and three touchdowns as the Patriots rolled up nearly 500 yards of offense. Shea McClellin blocked a punt and LeGarrette Blount topped the 1000-yard mark for the season and picked up his league-leading 14th rushing touchdown.

The Broncos (8-5) lost in Tennessee to the Titans 13-10. The loss was Denver’s third in the last six games and now they face New England, Kansas City, and Oakland in their final three games as they try to make the playoffs.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2016 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

Series History:
The Patriots and Broncos are meeting for the 52nd time since 1960 when the AFL first opened. No place has been tougher to win for the Patriots since they entered the league as they’re just 9-21 on the road. The series has been dominated in recent years by the whoever is playing at home. The home teams have won 9 out of the past 10 games with the only victory on the road was the Pats in December 2011 defeating the Tim Tebow led Broncos.

Denver took both games last year, a 30-24 overtime win in Mile High in November and 20-18 in the AFC Championship Game, where a missed extra point by Stephen Gostkowski turned out to be the difference in the teams not going to overtime.

Here is a look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge.

First up is the Patriots offense:

How Can The Patriots Defeat Denver’s Pass Defense?

Steve Balestrieri
December 15, 2016 at 11:30 am ET

All-22 Film From Atlanta May Hold the Key

Facing the #1 pass defense of the Denver Broncos is always a tough task, for the Patriots, facing them in Denver makes it even tougher. The thin air of the Rocky Mountains has been a tough place for Tom Brady and the Patriots and this week will be no exception.

So how will the Patriots and Josh McDaniels decide to attack the vaunted Denver pass defense this week? Well, we know that the game plan will feature more of the running game, an area that the Broncos defense has struggled in this year. The answer to the passing dilemma may rest with the running backs as well.

We rolled back the tape of the Denver Week 5 matchup against the Atlanta Falcons. In that game, while the Broncos excellent tandem of Aqib Talib and Chris Harris at cornerback kept the Falcons duo at WR of Julio Jones and Mohammad Sanu in check, it was the backs who did the major damage for Matt Ryan.

Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman had a combined 286 yards from scrimmage during Atlanta’s win in Denver that day. Freeman did the bulk of his work on the ground, grinding out 88 yards and a touchdown. While Coleman was devastating thru the air catching four passes for 132 yards and a score. Atlanta mixed up the run and pass well that day and the combination of the two backs along with fullback Patrick DeMarco took advantage of matchups. The Falcons attacked inside linebackers Brandon Marshall and Todd Davis by isolating them in coverage.

The Patriots have three backs with LeGarrette Blount, James White and Dion Lewis who the Pats use in much the same way along with fullback James Develin. It comes down to getting the right matchups and execution.

Here’s a look at the Coaches’ All-22 film from NFL Gamepass that highlights how Atlanta was successful.

Coleman 48-yard Pass Play: On the Falcons first possession, they go with three wide receivers with the tight end aligned in line on the right. Two receivers are bunched together on the left. Ryan moves Coleman out to the right slot where he’s isolated on a linebacker. Denver is playing man coverage with two deep safeties in a Cover 2.

At the snap, the three wide receivers run deep patterns taking their coverage with them down the field. After chipping the edge rusher, tight end Jacob Tamme runs a shallow cross with Coleman. Coleman runs underneath and gets a free release when both Broncos defenders get caught up in the legal pick play by Tamme.

Coleman runs a short 4-5-yard slant and Ryan hits him with the pass easily in stride. With the receivers clearing out the coverage, there is a huge gap in the middle of the field. Coleman catches the pass and turns up the field, where the safeties are much too deep to influence the play.

Freeman 14 Yard Pass Play: During the same opening drive, the Falcons once again, used their running backs in a mismatch against the linebackers. This time Ryan flexed Freeman out to the left slot where he was aligned with Marshall. Denver this time is in a Cover 3 where the safeties again take deep drops.

At the snap, Freeman runs a dig route where once he gets the ball from Ryan, about 5 yards from the line of scrimmage, he reverses his run and cut back to the outside where he picks up about 8-9 more yards on the play.

Coleman 31-yard Touchdown: Coleman later burned Marshall badly for a deep touchdown pass from Ryan where the safety seemed to be in double coverage on Jones to the outside.

Atlanta lines up with three wide receivers, with two to the left and one to the right. Coleman moves to the left slot giving Atlanta three receivers on one side where he’s again in single coverage with Marshall.

At the snap, Coleman blows right by Marshall, who is chase mode. Ryan lays the ball out perfectly for Coleman at the 10-yard line. Safety T.J. Ward who was providing deep coverage to the outside can’t react in time and Coleman has the touchdown.

Coleman 49-Yard Pass Reception: Atlanta got aggressive at their own 25-yard line by going five wide with three wide receivers, the tight end, and Coleman split out to the slot on the right. Denver is in man coverage with a single deep safety, Ward in the middle of the field.

Davis gives Coleman a nice cushion but froze flat-footed at the snap, perhaps the crowd noise distracting him. Coleman blows right by him and is wide open down the sideline. Once again Ryan delivers the ball perfectly and Ward is late in getting over. The result was another huge gain for the Falcons.

The Patriots can use White and Lewis in similar ways this week, they can show run and motion them out to the outside where they’ll have single coverage on the linebackers. White has functioned almost as a slot receiver at times and is excellent in blitz pickup. Lewis is more of a runner out of the backfield than White is and is also good at catching passes out of the backfield. They give Tom Brady plenty of options in the passing game.

While this may not be a great statistical week for wide receivers, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell due to the strength of the Broncos cornerbacks, it doesn’t necessarily mean that Brady can’t have a successful day throwing the ball. White and Lewis will probably factor big into this week’s game plan.

The “X-Factor” for the Patriots is tight end Martellus Bennett. If the offensive line can hold up well enough, Brady can get him more involved in the passing game. There he can also create mismatches on the linebackers and force the safeties to get more involved with him, which will allow others the opportunity to win one-on-one battles.

The difficulties of facing the Denver pass defense is daunting, especially with the way New England has played there in the past but not impossible. It will require a good game plan and the players to execute it. This should prove to be a very intriguing chess match to watch. Wade Phillips defense, which likes to be aggressive going against Brady and the Patriots on Sunday, what better way to spend the afternoon?

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots 2016 Opponents, 5 First Impressions of Denver

Steve Balestrieri
at 6:00 am ET

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.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Belichick, Patriots Made the Right Decisions in Denver

Steve Balestrieri
January 26, 2016 at 9:30 am ET

The Patriots season is over, the Broncos held on in the final 12 seconds to stop a two-point conversion that would have sent the game to overtime. With their defense earning a much-deserved win, Denver moves on Super Bowl L. And now the second guessers are circling, eagerly awaiting their chance to snipe at Bill Belichick and point fingers at him as to why the Patriots lost.

I think this has more to do with people wanting to chip away at Belichick’s image and having to assign blame to someone  at a loss than just admitting the fact, that the Broncos were the better team on Sunday.

Did Belichick and the Patriots coaches make some questionable decisions in the rarified air in Denver? Absolutely and you could start with the very rare decision to take the ball at the opening kickoff, something they never do. The hope was to strike quickly, put Peyton Manning the and Denver offense in catch-up mode and take them out of their game.

It didn’t work, the Patriots stalled and it was the Broncos who scored on their first possession. If you want to question anything from the start, question why the powers that be (Belichick, Matt Patricia), treated Manning like the one of yore in the first quarter, afraid to bring pressure. Once they finally did do that, they were already down 14-6 and the Denver offense didn’t do much more the rest of the game.

But the calls everyone are falling all over themselves to second guess are “Why didn’t they take the field goals, they’d be heading to the Super Bowl.” Sounds simple enough and reasonable, but let’s look at the facts leading into it.

4th & 1 with 6:03 Remaining: Through the first 54 minutes of the game, the Patriots offense couldn’t move the ball with any rhythm or continuity. Their longest drive, 48 yards, resulted in only a field goal. Their lone touchdown drive to that point came off of a turnover, a backwards pass gone awry and set them up with a very short field.

So if you’re the head coach, you are looking at this game in the context that thru 54 minutes your offense has done next to squat, you are still within one score and a two-point conversion and this just might be your only chance to tie this thing up and hope your defense can generate a turnover. The offense put together its longest drive of the day and is inside the red zone at the 16-yard line. 4th and 1 isn’t the most difficult one to make, in the red zone. If and a big IF, if you have any semblance of a running game. The Patriots didn’t so this is where you trust your QB and skill position players to make a play.

A field goal here does what? Narrows a 20-12 lead to five, and the Patriots would still need a touchdown to win. The way Denver’s defense had been playing to that point, there was nothing to suggest that the Patriots were going to get another opportunity, especially with the way the pass rush of the Broncos was bringing pressure on Brady every single snap.

The point differential here is everything, if Denver’s lead had been six points, I believe Belichick wouldn’t have hesitated for a field goal attempt. Then they’d need only another field goal to tie or a touchdown to win. Watching the game, I thought at the time, they have to go for it here, thinking they may not get this close again.

Many have lambasted the play call and while I see their point, looking at the replay, it wasn’t so much the play call but the execution by DeMarcus Ware who blew up the play. The call had Edelman coming in motion from right to left, at the snap Brady slides to the right and Edelman is supposed to slip behind the flow and catch a pass from Brady where he’s supposed to be alone in space.

Everything seemed to be working, except Ware blew the play up. Coming hard after Brady, he was on him in no time. Brady couldn’t fire the ball to Edelman as Ware was in his face. Instead he had to loft it over him; Edelman, instead of catching the ball at the line of scrimmage, was caught waiting for it to come down a yard behind the line. Chris Harris who had been playing about 3-4 yards back, flew in and with Aqib Talib’s help stopped Edelman for a loss. That was just a great head’s up play by Ware. Had Brady been able to fire it in quickly, Edelman makes that first down easily.

If your offense can’t get you a yard at crunch time when you’re down by a touchdown, then you aren’t going to win a lot of games. And in this case, they did not.

4th & 6 2:25 Remaining: But the Patriots did get another chance late in the game. This time they drove to the Denver 14-yard line with just under two and half minutes remaining.

The Denver pass rush was finally beginning to tire just a bit and their secondary was taking some injuries. Look at the scenario again; if they kick a field goal here, it still leaves your team needing a touchdown. And although the defense has stuffed the Broncos in the second half, even with three timeouts and the two-minute warning, one first down by the Broncos ends it.

At this point now, Belichick’s hand is about forced; do you kick a field goal, still needing a touchdown to win, knowing one first down ices the game for Denver? So they went for it. Brady was under duress (as one nearly every snap) but was able to get the pass away in the back of the end zone where Gronkowski was covered by three different defenders. The pass was a bit high and tipped away.

Gronk Talib

Gronkowski and Brady were screaming for a pass interference penalty on Talib, who did have a bear hug as well as a tug on the jersey of Gronkowski at the back of the end zone. The referee was right there and had a perfect view of it. But it was to no avail, Talib got away with a veteran move, did just enough to NOT get called for a flag and Denver took over on downs.

Should there have been a flag? You can argue that one ‘til the cows come home. Perhaps Denver’s obvious lobbying the refs prior to the game had an influence on the call, who knows? It was close, that’s for sure.

So in looking at the scenario late in the game, while everyone can’t wait to point fingers and assign blame to Belichick for going for it…twice. They were the right moves at the time. But there seems to be this unending desire to chip away at the Hoodie at every opportunity. Looking back at some decisions against Philadelphia and the finale at Miami, I can and would agree with. Against the Broncos on Sunday…nope.

We’re on to the off-season, Free Agency and the Draft.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Monday Observations: Brady Battered, but Resilient In Loss to Broncos

Steve Balestrieri
January 25, 2016 at 6:31 am ET

The Patriots will look back on this one as the one that went awry from the outset. The Pats were playing a step slower and from behind all day long and could never get on track as the Broncos defense dominated the New England offensive line in their 20-18 win in the AFC Championship Game.

This was a game that the front seven of Denver took charge of right off the bat and never let up, sacking Brady 4 times and being credited with 20 QB hits. The Patriots offensive line wasn’t close to providing anywhere near the protection that Brady needed to get the job done.

Playing at home and with the crowd noise, Denver keyed in on the Patriots snap cadence and were teeing off all game long. Several times their edge rushers blew past the tackles on the outside untouched. The coaches tried to even put an extra tackle (Cameron Fleming), out there to help but he too was rendered into a turnstile without laying a hand on the defender.

The Broncos defense and coach Wade Phillips deserve a lot of praise for this one. They were able to take away the quick passing game of the Patriots and bring the heat with a very talented front seven. Von Miller led the way with 2.5 sacks and four QB hits. Derek Wolfe had a sack and four QB hits. DeMarcus Ware chipped in with a half-sack and seven QB hits.

In contrast, the Patriots edge rushers, Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich and Jabaal Sheard…0 stands for zero. No sacks, no QB hits, no pressure. The only pressure the Patriots were able to produce was in the A-gap with Jamie Collins and Allen Branch who combined for the three Patriots sacks.

The flip side of the offensive line’s struggles was the continued inability to run the football. The Patriots were able to muster only 44 yards on the ground on 17 attempts which comes out to a measly 2.6 yard average. Brady was the team’s leading rusher with 13 yards which sends up red flags as to what kind of day it was.

In a game where they were only trailing by one score, any semblance of a running game would have taken a tremendous amount of pressure off of Brady. As a result, the Pats third down percentage was once again an awful 2 for 15.

Brady Battered but Resilient: Brady deserves a lot of credit for hanging tough in this one. He was bruised, battered and bloodied all day long. His numbers won’t reflect him having an even close to Brady-type afternoon, 27-56 for 310 yards with 1 touchdown and 2 picks, but he was under duress on nearly every play.

It marked the first post-season game where he didn’t complete at least 50 percent of his passes, and while he made some questionable decisions, he did lead the team to what should have been a tying touchdown with 12 seconds left.

The pass and catch to Rob Gronkowski for 40 yards to set them up at the 10-yard line was a beauty over double coverage. And he and Gronk hooked up again for the touchdown on a fourth-down pass from the 4-yard line. A rare Stephen Gostkowski missed PAT in the first half (his first since 2006), couldn’t have come at a worse time. It forced the Pats to go for two which the Broncos stopped to clinch the game.

Gronk is a Gamer: Rob Gronkowski had another outstanding day. The big tight end wasn’t at 100 percent, was drawing a lot of double and at times triple coverage but still came thru with a big game. Gronk hauled in eight passes for 144 yards and a touchdown and although was struggling with leg cramps and dehydration was still able to make plays at crunch time.

His big 40-yard catch over double coverage was one of the best plays of the season and he was able to defeat double coverage at the back of the end zone for the potential game tying touchdown at the end of the game.

Curious Decisions to Start: The Patriots made a couple of head scratching decisions to start the game and their second really hurt them. The first was after winning the coin toss, the Pats went against their normal M.O. and elected to receive. I can’t recall the last time they did that to start a game.

Obviously the thinking was to get the ball, score quickly and make Peyton Manning play from behind. They didn’t do that and were forced to punt. Which leads to the second strange decision.

At the beginning of the game, the Patriots defense was treating Manning like the Manning from 2003 where they seemed afraid of blitzing him for fear that he’d make them pay. Well…it did. Manning was operating early in the game with impunity for the most part and after driving down to the Patriots 21-yard line on their opening possession, Owen Daniels ran down the seam.

Jamie Collins and Rob Ninkovich couldn’t decide who should cover him and in the end neither did. Manning laid a 35mph fastball down the middle that was way too easy for the score. That gave Denver the lead they would never relinquish. Manning would toss another touchdown to Daniels where he faked Collins out badly to the corner of the end zone.

Once they finally decided to start getting after Manning with some aggressive packages, the Broncos offense stalled for much of the rest of the game. They did get one nice run by C.J. Anderson that set them up with a field goal, but that was it.

Manning finished 17-32 for 176 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions although he was tagged for a fumble on a backwards pass that was picked up by Jonathan Freeny. Malcolm Butler had opportunities for two interceptions that went right thru his hands.

The Patriots defense did a good job of limiting the Broncos running game, holding them to 99 yards rushing of which nearly a third of that total was on the one run by Anderson in the second half. It wasn’t the defense that lost this one. We wrote yesterday that Manning was 3-12 when the opposition scored 19 or more points. The Patriots scored just 18 and that isn’t enough

Denver Won STs Field Position Battle: This wasn’t a stellar day for the Patriots special teams’ units. First Gostkowski misses his first PAT in 524 attempts which puts them down 7-6. Ryan Allen wasn’t able to push the Broncos back and his 46.8 average was a bit misleading.

In contrast, Denver’s special teams were constantly pinning the Patriots deep in their zone. Britton Colquitt had an outstanding day, his punts were hanging up there allowing the coverage units to get down field. He had four punts inside the 20 including a few inside the 10-yard line.

On a day where the Denver front seven was kicking the NE offensive line’s ass, it ended up being a huge win for them as they held favorable field position for much of the day.

White Targeted, Martin/LaFell Invisible: There has been calls for the Patriots to get James White more involved in the passing game. Well they certainly did that, targeting the 2nd year RB 16 times in the air. The problem was he caught only 5 passes for 45 yards.

They kept attempting to hit him on a go-route isolated on a linebacker and while a few came close, especially one in the end zone, it didn’t materialize for them. While some of the issues came about because Brady didn’t have proper time to get him the ball, one would think they would’ve looked elsewhere.

On the flip side, WRs Keshawn Martin and Brandon LaFell were relegated to milk carton status. Martin was targeted once, LaFell not at all and both were invisible. On a day where Denver was placing a premium on stopping Gronk and Edelman, they needed to make some plays and didn’t.

A disappointing end to a year that started so well, no it’s on to offseason. The draft is next up and the team will have to look to it and free agency.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Who Are the Players to Watch, Patriots Broncos AFC Championship

Steve Balestrieri
January 23, 2016 at 10:48 am ET

The Patriots need just one more win to book a trip to Santa Clara for Super Bowl L and a chance to win back-to-back championships. That is something that the mainstream media has been remiss in reporting all week. Considering it hasn’t been done since the 2003-04 Patriots with Tom Brady at the helm, it deserves mention. And not just a little.

The Pats took care of business against the Chiefs and looked much more like the team that throttled the opposition early in the season than the team that limped into the postseason losing four of six. Tom Brady was especially sharp hitting 28-42 passes for 302 yards and two touchdowns, despite his team having a case of the drops.

The Broncos had an impressive 23-16 comeback win against the Steelers. Down 13-12 midway thru the 4th quarter, Peyton Manning with a strong running game, led them to the eventual game winning touchdown and then added a field goal to put this one away. The defense held the potent Pittsburgh offense to just 16 points.

We already broke down this game with our Key matchups breaking down the offensive, defensive and special team’s units for this week.

Now it is time for our players to watch for this week. We’ve selected three players from each team that will be key to each team’s success.

Julian Edelman: The Patriots sparkplug wide receiver returned after missing two months and it seemed that he never left. Edelman caught 10 passes for 100 yards. He set the tone right away as he caught a key third down pass from Brady to move the chains on the Patriots opening drive.

Edelman’s presence ignites the short passing game that the Patriots lean on in lieu of the running game and no one does it better than Edelman. Prior to his injury the Patriots offense on third down was humming along at 50 percent (54 of 107). After his foot injury the team’s third down conversion percentage plummeted to 31 percent (34-108). During the first game in Denver without Edelman and Danny Amendola the Patriots were a woeful 2 of 13 on third down. Last week against the Chiefs, the Pats were 6 of 12 to get back to that 50 percent mark.

Edelman and Rob Gronkowski are Brady’s favorite and most trusted targets in the Patriots passing game, how well they produce will go a long way in determining the outcome of this one.

Key stat: With Edelman back in the lineup, his presence along with his ability to get open quickly gave Tom Brady the capability of getting the ball out of his hands incredibly fast. This helped the Patriots offensive line which has had issues with protection. On Brady’s 10 completions to Edelman he got the ball out of his hands in 1.57 seconds from snap to throw. On Gronkowski’s six receptions while lined up outside the numbers, Brady’s snap to throw times were an even faster 1.48 seconds.

Chris Harris: The Broncos most athletic cornerback will be the player tasked with stopping Edelman on Sunday. He has the quickness and physicality needed to matchup with #11 and try to take away that underneath quick pass that the Patriots offense thrives on.

Harris has been dealing with a shoulder injury which was characterized as a deep bone bruise. He played only on third downs against the Steelers, but was reportedly much better this week, with HC Gary Kubiak characterizing him as “ready for a full load” on Sunday.

Harris himself said he felt “light years better” and was listed as probably for the AFCCG on the Broncos injury report Friday. His matchups with Edelman will be the story inside the story of the passing game of NE against the Broncos defense. Especially when Edelman slides inside into the slot.

Key Stat: When moving inside in the slot, Harris held opposing QBs to a passer rating of just 44.6 in the 2015 regular season. Something will have to give here. This should be a good matchup between the two players.

Rob Gronkowski: Gronkowski definitely benefitted from having Edelman back in the lineup along with Amendola. No longer could teams dedicate a fleet of players assigned to Gronkowski, he now had much more room to operate in and he made the most of his opportunities.

On the Patriots opening drive, facing a 3rd and 13 from the KC 43-yard line, Gronkowski attacked the middle of the field and hauled in a 33-yard pass from Brady which set up the opening touchdown, also a pass to Gronkowski.

Whenever the Patriots spread the Chiefs out with a four or five-man wide formation, Brady would look to Gronkowski if he were singled up in man-coverage and the results were plain to see. Six of Gronkowski’s seven receptions were outside the numbers and they resulted in two touchdowns. Brady targeted Gronk eight times against KC, completing seven for 83 yards and the pair of scores.

Key Stat: In the first meeting in Denver, prior to being injured in the 4th quarter, Gronkowski had six catches for 88 yards and a touchdown. And that was without Edelman and Amendola in the lineup. In Brady’s last 23 games with both Gronkowski and Edelman available the Patriots are 22-1. And in those games Brady has completed 67.3 percent of his passes for 7322 yards with 64 TDs, 13 INTs for a passer rating of 107. That is how effective this trio is when they all are together.

Peyton Manning: The Denver signal caller is entering the twilight phase of his career. He’s no longer the focal point of the offense but rather a game manager who has to rely on his running game to get the job done as injuries and age have taken their toll.

The throws down the middle of the field aren’t as easy anymore as he now longer has the arm strength to test those passes which used to come so easily for him.

But he still has his brain and that with his experience can still be a dangerous combination if the game is close at crunch time. He was patient against Pittsburgh as he didn’t try to do too much and would only take what the defense was giving him. But Denver’s defense kept the game a one-point affair late into the fourth quarter. How Manning and the offense respond if they fall down by more than that will bear watching on Sunday.

Key Stat: Manning had his worst statistical year of his career in 2015 throwing just nine touchdowns and 17 interceptions.

Dont’a Hightower: The Patriots linebacker is questionable for this game and his status as well as his production will be a huge key for the Patriots defense on Sunday. Hightower is the Patriots key player on their defense, he is a big run stuffer that explodes in the gaps and blows up plays at the line of scrimmage or in the backfield.

He is also an underrated player in space that is very good at covering backs and tight ends close to the line of scrimmage. In the Pats front seven, Hightower is the anchor and Jamie Collins is the playmaker. The two give New England a very talented pair that work seamlessly with one another.

One other aspect for Hightower’s game is his ability to blitz up the A-gap. Both he and Collins have been quite adept at that and with an immobile Manning in the pocket, that could be something to watch for a couple of times on Sunday.

Key Stat: In the first meeting between the two teams in Denver, the Broncos rushed 15 times for 43 yards (2.9 yard avg), when Hightower was on the field. After he left with an injury, Denver ran 15 times for 133 yards (8.8 yard avg), and three touchdowns.

Derek Wolfe: The Broncos interior defensive lineman played a big role in the earlier meeting back in November and may once again be one of the key players to watch in this conference championship. With Brady attempting to the get the ball off quickly, it negates much of the rush that the Broncos can bring from the edge.

But Wolfe can bring the pressure from the inside and not allow Brady to step up in the pocket. He and Malik Jackson in the interior may play a bigger role in this game than their more well-known teammates in Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware in disrupting the Patriots passing game.

Wolfe had a big year in 2015 with 6.5 sacks, all in the last eight games after missing the first four games of the season, serving a suspension for violating the league rules on PEDs. He just signed a four-year contract extension worth $36 million with 17.5 of it in guarantees.

Key Stat: In the first meeting Brady had Gronkowski in single coverage with Miller, a huge mismatch, and as Gronk was breaking free with plenty of room to run after a catch, Wolfe burst thru a double team and was able to get the sack. It was one of those plays that turned field position as the Patriots instead of being near midfield, were forced back around the 10-yard line.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots, Broncos Keys to the AFCCG, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
January 22, 2016 at 6:00 am ET

The New England Patriots need one more win to get back to the Super Bowl with a chance to repeat as champions. But to do so, they face a familiar nemesis in the Denver Broncos.

The game will be televised by CBS with Jim Nantz and Phil Simms on the call. The game will also be on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak doing the play-by-play and analysis. Kickoff is slated for 3:30 p.m. ET

The Patriots defeated the Kansas City Chiefs in the Divisional Round 27-20 as Tom Brady threw for 302 yards and a pair of touchdowns to Rob Gronkowski. The team welcomed back Julian Edelman and his presence ignited the short passing game. Edelman missed the final seven games but had 10 catches for 100 yards on Saturday.

The Broncos made a big fourth quarter comeback and defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 23-16. Trailing 13-12, it appeared as if the Steelers were driving for clinching touchdown when a fumble turned the game around. The Broncos scored the next 11 points in the final four minutes to pull away for the win.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our playoff edition of the “Razor’s Edge” column in 2016 to give a quick break down on some of the key match-ups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

Series History:
The Patriots and Broncos will meet for the 51st time in their history, the most the Patriots have faced an opponent that has been outside their division. The Patriots never seem to play their best football in the altitude there as they’ve been 9-20 in Denver since the early days of the NFL. There was one stretch from 1984 -1998 that the teams met 11 times, nine of them in Denver and the Pats lost them all.

The two teams met in November in Week 12 with the Broncos taking a 30-24 win in OT.

Here is a look at some of the key match-ups and who holds the Razor’s Edge.

First up is the Patriots offense:

Patriots Return of Edelman, Good News For James White

Steve Balestrieri
January 21, 2016 at 6:00 am ET

The Patriots are just a win away from returning to the Super Bowl and after the win over Kansas City, there is confidence in the offense, especially in the short passing game once again.

The return of Julian Edelman and a healthy Danny Amendola did wonders for Tom Brady, the offensive line and the receivers as they were able to spread out the Chiefs, neutralize their pass rush and surgically pick them apart.

Edelman and Amendola missed the game in Denver back in November and their presence are expected to jump start the offense quickly against the Denver defense which led the league in sacks with 52. The Broncos have some quality edge rushers with Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware and Shaq Barrett along with inside guys Derek Wolfe and Malik Jackson.

In the November game, Brady was hit or pressured on half of his drop backs, but against Kansas City all that changed.

With Edelman back in the fold, Brady was getting the ball out lightning fast and methodically carving up a very good Chiefs secondary. Edelman brings that out and now with the team confident that they can throw the ball quickly and move the chains, it is creating a snow-ball effect which should benefit James White out of the backfield.

Gronk 16 yd TD3

White still didn’t have the coaches’ trust in that earlier Denver game as Brandon Bolden got a lot of snaps during the Week 12 loss. Now White seems fully integrated in the offense and with Edelman and Amendola back, he should emerge as a bigger weapon this time around.

In the earlier game, the Patriots tried to stress the Broncos linebackers by putting them in coverage. It was a match-up they didn’t fully exploit but with Edelman back on the field, White is a weapon that they can bring to bear.

We saw some of this against the Chiefs. Instead of keeping White in to block on the majority of his snaps, they shifted him out wide, at times going 5-wide and that with Brady’s quick release (average 1.94 seconds according CSNNE’s Mike Giardi), rendered the Chiefs talented pass rush toothless.

White had a big 29-yard catch and run, from out of the backfield in the KC game and could be primed for more. Denver has a very talented defense that likes to set the tone and be very aggressive. By spreading them out and forcing them to declare where the pass rush is coming from, Brady can send White, Edelman or Gronkowski in motion to see if the defense is sticking with man or dropping into zones.

James White 29 yd2

Can we see them trying to put pressure on the linebackers again by using the backs, i.e. White out of the backfield or split wide? Absolutely and he may be utilized more this time around and even more so than he was against the Chiefs.

Being able to get rid of the ball so quickly will help Brady immensely against this talented front seven. Giardi posted some eye-popping numbers from Saturday regarding how quickly Brady was throwing the ball.

On Edelman’s ten receptions, Brady’s average time from snap to throw was an incredibly fast 1.57 seconds. When the Patriots spread the Chiefs out and had Rob Gronkowski split wide, Brady threw to him seven times, completed six and got two touchdowns. He got rid of the ball in a ridiculously fast 1.48 seconds.

It makes life incredibly difficult for the pass rushers to get there in that fast of a time. Look for the Broncos to bring pressure up the A-gap, much in the same manner that Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia use Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins. But if Brady is getting the ball out that fast, it is going to create more receiving opportunities for White and that is a positive for New England.

With Edelman and Gronk bound to get a lot of attention from the Denver defense, White could be the Patriots “X-Factor” in the game on Sunday.

And if he and the rest of the Pats do their job on Sunday, they’ll be packing their bags for Super Bowl L.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.