Thursday, January 12, 2012

Broncos-Patriots: Do You Gotta Believe?

A true David vs. Goliath battle may be even bigger than the game itself. It will be Tim against Tom, with the winner taking his team to the AFC championship game.

The list of accomplishments for Tom Brady is enormous. Even looking at what he has done this season, there may be no better quarterback in the league. But with the way things have gone this season, it may not be out of the question to think that Tebow can lead his team to victory in this one game.

We’ve all heard it by now, the Patriots defense routinely stinks up the building. While their run defense isn’t anything to write home about, their pass defense has been especially atrocious, ranking 31st in the league. For Tebow, a quarterback who just shredded the top ranked pass defense in the NFL last week, this should be a breath of fresh air.

Tebow took up a new game-plan last week, listening to John Elway’s advice: “Pull the trigger.” He tossed the ball downfield like he was Elway himself and had great success in doing so. With great success comes great confidence. The confidence Tebow built last week can help him in this game, and I truly feel he will take advantage of the suspect New England secondary.

One of the big reasons why he will do so is Demaryius Thomas. When these teams met earlier in the years, Thomas torched the Pats for 116 yards on seven catches. He has the kind of breakaway speed that will leave the New England corners in the dust.

Then you have the running game. While I doubt they will have as much success as they did last time (252 total rush yards), they should do better than last week against Pittsburgh (3.9 yards per carry average). The key here is to have a balanced offense, but to make sure they run it enough so that Willis McGahee can control the clock and the Denver offense can keep the ball out of Tom Brady’s hands. The Patriots won the time of possession battle last game by a slim margin.

There are two keys for the Denver offense. First, don’t turn the ball over. In their previous meeting, the Broncos had three fumbles while the Patriots didn’t have a single turnover. If that happens again, there’s no way they can win. Second, play the game at your pace. This Denver team isn’t built to win in a shootout. If they can play the game at their speed and score enough points, there may still be some Tebow magic left after all.

Now to the other side of the ball: the vaunted New England offense. Yes, this is one of the best offenses in the league, but there are some problems that the Patriots may run into. While I think Tom Brady will have a good day throwing the ball, he has been notorious for starting games slow because of his shoulder tendinitis. He often needs some time for his arm to warm up. However, this is the playoffs, and that is something that could doom the Patriots, if not in this game, then later on.

The New England running attack is miserable. BenJarvus Green-Ellis leads what is the 20th ranked rushing offense in the NFL. They go up against Denver’s top ranked rush defense. I don’t like the Patriots in that area.

The running game could be crucial, because if they can’t anything going, the Denver defense can put more pressure on Brady, who tends to struggle a bit under duress. If the Broncos can get sacks the way they did last week, it could throw Brady off his game, a key for Denver.

Another interesting note is that the Broncos held Rob Gronkowski and Wes Welker to only four catches each last time. Sure, they may have let Aaron Hernandez run wild on them, but if they can slow down Welker and the Gronk, that could go a long way in giving Brady trouble.

The previous Denver-New England meeting could have been a lot closer. Had Quan Cosby not muffed a punt return right before the half, it would have stayed a one possession game at halftime. The Broncos were in the game, they just needed to take care of the ball better.

Once again, the stars may be aligning for the Broncos. On offense, Tebow has finally found his groove and should be a threat in the passing game, while Willis McGahee will eat up the clock on the ground.

The Denver defense should be able to stop the run and get pressure on Brady. While it’s impossible to completely stop Brady, they should slow him enough to get the pace the way they want it.

If the defensive pressure can get some sacks and a turnover or two, the Broncos are in business.

Make no mistake; this won’t be easy. Denver needs to execute this game plan nearly perfectly. However, they seem to be in the position to do so, and have all the momentum in the world. I truly believe that Tebow is in to pull off another upset. His success is an amazing story, and I think that John Fox and the Denver coaching staff has learned from their first meeting with the Patriots. If Denver plays the way they did on their winning streak (Tebow taking care of the ball, stingy defense, strong run game) with a mix of downfield throws, I believe that will continue their improbable run to the AFC championship game.

Denver 24, New England 20

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