While we’re talking about the Patriots defense, it’s important to give credit where it’s due to the Patriots secondary. Sterling Moore, yes the same Sterling Moore who was cut midseason, played incredible as a nickel back not allowing a single reception. Devin McCourty, playing safety and cornerback and Jerod Mayo also didn’t allow a single reception.
Getting Patrick Chung back has been really good for the New England secondary, he allowed one reception for 18 yards, but is also all over the field in the running game and really ties the Patriots defensive backs together.
Kyle Arrington continues to struggle through his foot injury, he allowed seven receptions on eleven targets for 112 of Tebow’s 136 yards. Stats are courtesy of Pro Football Focus.
It was like night and day watching the pass protection of both of these teams. While the Broncos were allowing pressure almost every single time Tebow dropped back to pass, the Patriots allowed just five pressures total all game.
Matt Light was facing one of the premier pass rushers in the game, Von Miller, and allowed three pressures and one QB hit on Brady. Dan Connolly allowed the only other pressure.
Logan Mankins played more than half the game, coming back from injury and looked to be back to his old All Pro level of play after struggling for parts of this season. The Patriots rarely had to go to six offensive lineman, with Marcus Cannon getting just five snaps all game. Rookie Nate Solder completely shut down the right side of the line with Brian Waters. It will be interesting to see what happens when Sebastian Vollmer is finally healthy. Solder has played very well since week 14 and has especially starred against the Bills and Broncos. I’d expect Solder to still get the starting nod, but it would allow the Patriots to play a ton of snaps in a six OL/3 TE set.
THE TIGHT ENDS
It’s tough to talk about how well the Patriots played without mentioning the Patriots pair of 22 year old star tight ends. I really wasn’t sure how the Patriots or Broncos would game plan against Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. After Hernandez played so well against the Broncos in week 15, I was thinking that he might take a backseat to Gronk on Saturday. I also figured the Broncos might really key in on Hernandez.
Well, the Patriots turned the Broncos on their heads and let Hernandez do most of his damage out of the backfield while Gronk was the go to guy through the air. Hernandez finished with 61 yards on five carries, and really broke out for a 43 yard run. He probably could have taken that run to the house, but like Deion Branch did earlier in the year, cut back inside for no good reason and got stopped inside the five.
Gronkowski continued his dominant streak into the playoffs with ten receptions 145 yards and three touchdowns. It might be impossible to stop the Patriots in the red zone right now. You’d have to triple team Gronk, but that just leaves Hernandez and Welker open.
One of the negatives we saw come out of Saturday was Hernandez getting his bell rung on a goal line carry. I thought it was dumb to give him a goal line carry, especially late in the game. It would have been fun to see him get that TD, but he’s also not experienced to be running into that kind of goal line defense as a tight end. He looked fine in post-game interviews and I’m sure he’ll be fine to play next week.