Here is a final look at the Patriot's match up against the Broncos and how I thought each unit performed. Also, we will peak quickly into this week's showdown at the Seattle Seahawks.
Let me know your thoughts: Will the Patriots use a game-plan against Seattle similar to what they used against Denver last week? Currently, all of the hype surrounds the Patriot's "new" no-huddle offense that utilizes an explosive running attack. How might this "new attack" factor or not factor into this week's game?
Against Denver, the Patriots ran the no-huddle 72% of the time, which is more than they did in any of their games this season. In fact, they used it so often that 33 of their 40 first-half plays came out of this formation, ultimately leading to an astounding 94 total offensive plays.
Let me repeat that statistic: 94 total offensive plays. They have not run over 80 offensive plays for over two years. That is easily a season-high game total, which contributed significantly to New England holding an 11 minute time-of-possession advantage over Denver.
More so, the Patriots were equally impressive in what they did in their fervent hurry-up offense. It is almost contradictory to think this type of assault would both provide that many offensive opportunities and contribute to the Patriots holding a time-of-possession of 35:49.
But it did.
Tom Brady used short throws (22-26 for 198 yds on throws 10 yards or less) and a 250-yard run game to take advantage of Denver’s smaller sub-packages (five defensive backs or more). Denver likely planned to stop their lethal no-huddle attack, but they were not ready to take on an even faster no-huddle that relied heavily on running the ball.
In last Sunday's article, we mentioned that the Patriot's offensive line protected well. Since then, some have stated otherwise. Yet, I still stand by those original comments. Let us examine this a bit closer. Denver's 4 total sacks came in the second half, and 3 of those sacks led to either New England punting or turning over the ball. Only 1 of those sacks, a strip-sack and Denver recovery, led to a Bronco’s touchdown with 8:08 remaining on the clock in the fourth quarter.
Yes, this strip sack, recovery and subsequent touchdown could have swung momentum in Denver’s favor. In all, however, New England’s pass protection held up against a dangerous Denver pass rush because of it's up-tempo-offense and potent ground game.
Because of how defensive lineman Rob Ninkovich has silenced my criticism, thus far, I almost want to forget mentioning how he performed. Never less, I must duly note it.
My pride can wait.
His forced fumble on running back Willis McGahee in the fourth quarter ended Manning’s chance of a 48th game-winning drive, while earlier, Brady converted a strip sack by Ninkovich into a touchdown. He finished with 4 tackles, 1 sack and 2 forced fumbles. In the past two games, Ninkovich has totaled 11 tackles, 2 sacks and 3 forced fumbles.
Also, as previously noted, shutting down Willis McGahee was a huge asset to the Patriot's overall success against Manning—McGahee had only 54 total rushing yards. Although Manning ran the hurry-up offense 43% of the time, New England’s stingy run defense still helped shrink the field and force Denver’s offense to play one dimensional.
The only instance where the Broncos successfully ran was during its third drive of the game. It matched the Patriot's previous touchdown with a 10 play, 80-yard drive that saw 6 rushes come out of the shotgun formation. On the drive, McGahee converted a critical third down, which Belichick challenged unsuccessfully.
Special Teams Snapshot
Most will agree, the Patriot's return game has been abysmal since Brandon Tate’s drop off and release during the 2010 season. Against Denver, the Return Team did little to inspire confidence as cornerback/returner Devin McCourty’s sole kickoff return went for a mere 23 yards. Wide receiver Wes Welker returned 1 punt for 5 yards.
Excluding kicker Steven Gostkwoski’s recent mishaps, New England’s punt and kick teams have been superb. Against Denver, Zoltan Mesko punted 3 times for an average of 43 yards. Finally, the Broncos averaged only 20 yards on kickoff returns.
Peering into next Week
Seattle boasts one of the best rushing and passing defenses in the NFL, ranking 7th and 5th respectively. This is also the first time since 1998 Seattle has held opponents to under 20 points per game. Add in that they play extraordinarily well at home and have one of the loudest stadiums in the National Football League and the Patriot’s offense could struggle to communicate and produce.
New England’s offensive line will have to handle up-and-coming rookie and defensive end Bruce Irvin. Already, he has 4.5 sacks in his first 5 games this year. Underated defensive end Chris Clemons, who had 4 sacks against Packer's quarterback Aaron Rodgers a couple of weeks ago, lines up opposite Irving.
Defensively, the Patriots match up well. 2012 third-round pick and quaterback Russell Wilson has surprised many with his pre and early season play, but he has dropped off lately by throwing 5 interceptions in his last two games.
The leagues fifth highest rusher, Marshawn Lynch (508 total yards, 4.5 avg) powers their running attack and Sidney Rice (17 rec, 199 yds, 1 td) and wide receiver Golden Tate (10 rec, 144, 3 tds) help lead the passing attack.
The Patriots should prevail because Russell Wilson is mistake prone and many consider New England's run defense as one of the league's best. Like no other team, they also have an innate ability to mix-and-match schemes and communicate effectively on offense.
At the end of this week, check out my post on Patch for a more in-depth preview of Seattle vs New England.