NEPD Staff Writer: Jason Cappell
The last time the Patriots faced off against the Denver Broncos it ended in heartbreak for New England. Not only did the Patriots have to travel across the country but they were also decimated by injuries at the time and really didn’t have the weapons needed to beat Peyton Manning. However; this time the result could be very different.
Though New England suffered key injuries to defensive stalwarts Chandler Jones and Jerod Mayo, their secondary is now as good as ever and are physical enough to slow down Denver’s weapons.
Last week New England faced a tall task going up against the likes of Alshon Jeffery, Matt Forte and Brandon Marshall, and remarkably passed with flying colors. Darrelle Revis matched up for most of the day with Brandon Marshall and proved to be worth every penny. Revis didn’t allow any completions to the receivers he covered and also managed his second interception of the season. Revis’ dominant showing couldn’t have come at a better time, and the Patriots will once again need their shut down corner at his best against Demariyus Thomas.
In his first true test of the season, Brandon Browner was every bit as good as advertised, and was able to shadow both Martellus Bennett and Alshon Jeffery when called upon.
This season Denver tight end Julius Thomas has been a matchup nightmare, scoring nine touchdowns while proving to be too fast for linebackers and too big for safeties. But this time around the Patriots may have an answer for the Broncos’ weapon as Browner’s rare size and speed gives him an intriguing set of cover skills to matchup against Thomas.
This season the Patriots’ defensive strength has successfully limited explosive plays. To date they are the only team that hasn’t allowed a pass play of 40 yards or more, and the acquisitions of Revis and Browner are a big reason why.
While the Patriots have an arsenal at their disposal to top the reigning AFC champs it will certainly be a challenge. Denver has amassed 23 sacks in only 7 games thanks to the return of Von Miller and the free agency addition of Demarcus Ware.
After a slow start to the season the Patriots offensive line has greatly improved, but Ware and Miller will be their toughest test of the season. The Broncos defense has had a major overhaul since last year, and the additions of T.J. Ward and former Patriot Aqib Talib could pose problems for Tom Brady and his offense.
Since the last meeting between the two, Denver’s defense has vastly improved but so has the New England offense. This time around the Patriots will have a healthy Rob Gronkowski who is coming off arguably his best performance as a pro. He caught nine passes for 149 yards, tying a career high. Not only do the Patriots have Gronk back, but Julian Edelman is now no longer Tom Brady’s lone target at the receiver position. In the past month Brandon LaFell has come on strong and is fresh off an 11 catch 124-yard performance against the Chicago Bears.
With LaFell now in the mix, joining the reliable Gronkowski and sure handed Julian Edelman, the Patriots are far better equipped than they were in the AFC Championship when they had to trust Austin Collie to make plays. As good as Denver’s defense has been this year New England is perfectly capable of creating big problems for them.
After four weeks of ineffectiveness, that saw them ranked as low as 29th in total offense, the Patriots have turned things around. Tom Brady was named AFC player of the Month and played absolutely “lights out” in October.
In their last four games the Patriots have averaged close to 40 points per game. Their most recent outing had them put up 51 points in a game where Tom Brady completed more than 85 percent of his passes for 354 yards and five scores.
Had the Patriots played Denver four weeks ago no one would have given Brady and company a chance, especially not with their lackluster offense. But fast-forward a month and it’s clear that the Patriots are ready for their biggest test yet. Their offense is clicking, Gronk is healthy, Browner is up to speed and most importantly, Revis is still Revis.