The Broncos look to forget about last week’s loss to the Jaguars as they visit the Patriots (3-2) on Monday night. This game was circled on my calendar back in August as the biggest game of the season. A win in New England prior to their bye week would give the Broncos more confidence than Chad Johnson has in the endzone. The Broncos are the only team that has been successful against New England in recent years. Since 2001 when the Pats won their first of three Super Bowls, the Broncos are the only team with a winning record (5-1) against New England in the regular season and post season combined. That shows that Mike Shanahan knows how to counter Bill Belichick’s strategic moves. The Broncos aim to collect their 400th win and they own a 24-15 overall record against the Patriots. The Pats are looking to bounce back from last week’s loss to the Chargers, so expect a very interesting game from two teams that NEED to win. From week to week, I don’t know which Broncos team will show up to play, but they should be able to get up for this week’s game. My Prediction: Broncos 24 Patriots 17.
Broncos - The Broncos offense is not facing the Patriots defense of old, so they need to take advantage. One way to do that is by running a balanced attack in the air and on the ground. The running attack, a.k.a. Michael Pittman, finally showed that it can earn big time yards on the ground. If the ground game can continue it’s success then things will open up for Jay Cutler and the passing game. The Pats have been known to give up big passing yards this season, so Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal could potentially have a field day against the Pats new secondary. Injuries have plagued the Broncos’ offense with Brandon Stokley (questionable), Selvin Young (questionable), and Tony Scheffler (questionable) possibly out of the lineup. The three of them have combined for 5 Broncos TDs this season. The return of Eddie Royal will give Marshall a little more room to work as will the presence of Darrell Jackson. It goes without saying that turnovers or lack there of will ultimately determine the Broncos fate on Monday night. Cutler and Marshall know that more than anybody as they have combined for 6 turnovers (3 each) in the Broncos two losses.
Patriots- The Pats may be without “The Brady” and they may be ranked 25th in the league in total offense, but crazy things happen in New England this time of year. The witches of Salem are ready to spook and the Red Sox are ready to overcome the odds to make it to the World Series. Who knows, Matt Cassell may be ready to throw for 300 yards and 5 TDs against the Broncos’ defense. He’s got two great threats in Randy Moss and Wes Welker (5th in league with 36 receptions). Don’t put it beyond him. The Patriots running attack is sub par, and Sammy Morris (3.2 yards per carry) and Kevin Faulk (5.4 yards per carry) will take most of the carries. Laurence Maroney and LaMont Jordan are likely out due to injury. The Patriots have been running their offense like they still have Tom Brady running the show. It’s a pass heavy offense and Cassell has shown glimpses of greatness, but he’s a guy that before Brady’s injury, had not started a football game since high school. You can’t blame Belichick for keeping things the same. Transitions are hard especially when New Englanders are accustomed to stability at the QB position. Drew Bledsoe had started 129 of 137 games from 93′-01′ and then Brady came in to make 128 consecutive starts. Like any team in the league, the talent is there, and the offense could explode against the Broncos.
Broncos - Look for the Broncos to use more of the 4-3 alignment in conjunction with the 3-4 against the Pats. The Broncos have emphasized stopping the run in the past few weeks, but they will need to focus on stopping the pass this week. Cassell has thrown at least 31 passes in his last three games, so the Broncos’ secondary will have their work cut out for them. Arguably the most interesting match up of the game is the Champ Bailey v. Randy Moss showdown. The Broncos are familiar with Moss because of his time in Oakland, but who knows if they can cover him in Bill Belichick’s system. If Brady were playing, I would guarantee at least 1 Moss TD, but playing with Cassell has slowed Moss’s production. The Broncos defense has made some strides in the past two weeks as they recovered two fumbles against the Jags and have had 5 sacks in the past two games. They had 6 sacks combined in their first four games by comparison. Increasing their usage of the 3-4 allowed this to happen, so it will be interesting to see what scheme Mike Shanahan turns to should things turn sour.
Patriots - The Pats use a 3-4 as their base, but if they can’t stop Cutler, it will be a long night in Foxbourough. They have given up big yards on pass plays and that was especially evident against San Diego. The Pats are 17th in the league in total defense and the Broncos could have some success running the ball against this team as they are 21st in stopping the run. The Broncos don’t have many blocking schemes for the run, but they attack the edges of the defense well, so Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel could have some trouble. Adalius Thomas has 3 sacks this season, but the Broncos offensive line should be able to contain him and the rest of the defense to keep pressure off of Cutler. Ellis Hobbs has 3 INTs on the year, so Cutler will need to avoid forcing passes into Marshall and the rest of the receiving core. I’m sure the Patriots will use some different coverages to stop the Cutler-Marshall duo, but there are definitely some weaknesses in their defense.
Broncos - Kickoff coverage is always a concern for the Broncos as they are 3rd in the league in yards allowed (26.8) per kickoff. Turns out that the Patriots are 3rd in the league in kick returns. Should big plays emerge out of the Pats on special teams, all of the information above can be ignored. As far as the Broncos kicking game goes, Matt Prater proves to be a gem as does Brett Kern. As long as games are not lost on account of kicks, then I’m a happy camper.
Patriots- The Patriots kicking group is just as strong. Stephen Gostkowski has converted on 11 of 12 field goals and Chris Hanson has landed the ball inside the 20 five times and inside the 10 two times (on 19 punts). The outcome of this game could come down to field position if other aspects of the game are played on an even level.
Broncos - Mike Shanahan knows how to get under Belichick’s skin. Denver has a 9-2 record against Bill Belichick coached teams. There is no coaching edge here, but Shanahan is very successful in weeks before the bye week. He wants his team to come out of a bye week with a winning streak, confidence, and healthy players. Shanahan knows that his 1 game lead over the Chargers in the AFC West is not safe, so Monday night is a must win.
Patriots - Mr. Hoodie, Bill Belichick, is one of the greatest coaches of all time. He works with what he’s got, and takes the average player and puts him into a system where he can succeed. Teamwork…that’s what the Patriots have been about since 2001. Belichick makes sure that individual performance is not emphasized. Look at Matt Cassell. He came in and Belichick almost expects the same kind of Tom Brady performance out of him. This game is more a matchup between two great mastermind head coaches than two great football teams.
Tags: Adalius Thomas Bill Belichick Brandon Marshall Brett Kern Chad Johnson Champ Bailey Chris Hanson Darrell Jackson Denver Broncos Drew Bledsoe Eddie Royal Brandon Stokley Ellis Hobbs Jacksonville Jaguars Jay Cutler Kevin Faulk Lamont Jordan Laurence Maroney Matt Cassell Matt Prater Michael Pittman Mike Shanahan Mike Vrabel New England Patriots Randy Moss Sammy Morris San Diego Chargers Selvin Young Stephen Gostkowski Tedy Bruschi Tom Brady Wes Welker