On Sunday night in front of all of America, the Denver Broncos will have one last chance to save their season. The Broncos come in poised to get the taste of embarrassment out of their mouths after last week’s debacle in Philadelphia. Sunday’s opponent will feature a familiar foe.
The meeting with the New England Patriots marks the seventh consecutive year that the two teams have faced off. While the Broncos are trying to dig themselves out of a four game losing streak, the Patriots come in fresh off their bye week after winning their last four. Here are this week’s keys to beating the defending Super Bowl champs and maybe just maybe getting the win needed to spark a late season run.
1st Down: Red zone efficiency
The Patriots’ defense is in the bottom ten in both rushing and passing yards given up. However, despite the yardage given up they’re allowing fewer points per game than the Broncos’ defense. The bend-but-don’t-break defense has been crucial to the success of New England. It’s also no secret the Broncos’ offense have had their share of red zone struggles. While the Broncos were just two for 11 in red zone efficiency in weeks four through seven, the past two weeks Denver has been able to turn six red zone trips into three touchdowns. Kicking field goals isn’t going to beat Brady.
2nd Down: Shot plays
The Denver offense has been deprived of any explosion offensively. The Broncos’ longest play of the year remains the Virgil Green catch up the seam for 44 yards in week one against the Chargers. With the Patriots giving up a league high 309.3 yards per game, the Broncos must take their chances down the field.
3rd Down: Don’t beat yourself
The Patriots are the smartest team in the league. It’s a large reason why they have been so successful for so many years under Belichick. The Patriots’ head coach will likely look to take away Denver’s running game in an attempt to force Osweiler into uncomfortable passing situations where he’s prone to making mistakes.
The Broncos remain dead last in turnover differential at minus 12 and are only one spot ahead of the Cleveland Browns with 19 total giveaways. This week more than any other, the Broncos can’t afford to turn the ball over against an opponent that has only turned the ball over five times all season.
4th Down: Make Brady hold the ball
Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady will be without wide receiver Chris Hogan. The remaining receivers include Danny Amendola, Brandin Cooks, and Phillip Dorsett. None of which necessarily strike fear into the Broncos’ secondary.
However, the Patriots create their own mismatches with their running backs and specifically running back James White. Remember White? He’s the guy who caught 14 passes for 110 yards and a touchdown in the Super Bowl comeback victory against the Falcons. If the Patriots’ quarterback wasn’t named Tom Brady, White is your Super Bowl MVP.
The other mismatch the Patriots present is no other than Rob Gronkowski. To say the Broncos have struggled against tight ends this year would be an understatement. The Broncos have given up 75.8 yards per game to the position. The last time Gronk played the Broncos, he shredded them for eight catches for 144 yards and a touchdown in the Patriots’ loss to the Broncos in the 2015 AFC championship game. You can’t shut him down, but you can attempt to slow him down by chipping him on every route. It’s paramount that the Broncos’ linebackers and safeties run toe to toe with James White and Gronkowski to give the Denver pass rush enough time to get to Brady.
It’s going to be an uphill battle for Denver. Over the years, the Broncos have faced the Patriots with trips to Super Bowls as well as home field advantage in the playoffs on the line. On Sunday night at Mile High, Denver’s season will be on the line.
Prediction: While the Patriots’ defense struggled mightily early in the year, they’ve been better of late. Bill Belichick had two weeks to prepare for Brock Osweiler. Denver also hasn’t shown the slightest ability to take care of the football or be able to cover a tight end. They’ll now have to cover one of the best to ever play the position. It’s all too much for the Broncos to overcome. Patriots win 23-16.