With the Denver Broncos heading into New England Patriots territory, I thought it was best to revisit Jamie Pacheco, the editor of Musket Fire.
A lot has happened since the Broncos and the Pats last met. The Broncos lost three straight and then won a huge playoff game while the Pats won out and secured home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
I had to ask Jamie if he thinks the bye week will effect the Patriots’ streak, whether the Broncos offense is concerning for the Pats, and what it’s like to play at Gillette in January among other things.
Let’s go Inside the Villain’s Venue with Musket Fire.
Q: The Patriots have won 8 straight heading into the playoffs, but they had a bye in first round. Does the time off concern you in terms of maybe a little momentum being taken away?’
A: Not playing for a week is always a concern, but I feel the positives of having the bye far outweighed the negatives. The Patriots had several players banged up who were able to rest up, like Logan Mankins and Sebastian Vollmer, who returned to practice for the first time in weeks on Tuesday. With the recent slow starts the team has faced, it was also good to take last week and self-evaluate. The Patriots spent the off week on themselves and tried to make the necessary corrections. Did it work? We’ll find out Saturday.
Q: Had the Broncos not turned the ball over three times in the last meeting between these two teams, I believe we would have had a much closer game. After the Broncos offensive performance against the Steelers, does your defense have a lot to worry about?
A: The Patriots defense always has a lot to worry about. The Broncos ran for 167 yards in the first quarter alone back in Week 15 and Tim Tebow passed for 194 yards, his third-best total of the regular season. His performance against Pittsburgh does demonstrate that his passing ability can’t be ignored, but I don’t think Bill Belichick would show the complete disregard for the pass that the Steelers did anyway.
Q: How have teams slowed the Patriots offense in the past? The Dolphins had a 17-0 halftime lead in week 16, but New England came out firing in the second half to win the game 27-24. How did the Dolphins do it in the first half?
A: Part of the problem in the Dolphins game was the significant shuffling on the offensive line that went on both before the game and in the first half. Matt Light surprisingly couldn’t go, so Logan Mankins was placed at left tackle. Mankins was injured in the first quarter and left the game, causing some more shuffling. With the unsettled situation on the offensive line, the Dolphins were able to get pressure on Brady and force inaccurate throws, and that’s really the book on stopping Brady. Disguise the pre-snap looks on defense, get pressure, and force bad throws. It’s executing that game plan that is usually the problem.
Q: Talk about the home field advantage that the Patriots have. What makes it so hard to win in Foxborough in January?
A: The Pats’ home field advantage at this point is debatable. The team has lost its last two home games in the postseason, going one-and-done. Gillette Stadium is not one of the loudest places to play in if you’re a visiting team, and the Pats do not have any weather advantages over Denver like they would have had against a dome team. It’s the Patriots themselves and Bill Belichick that make it hard to win in Foxborough. If they lose at home again, though, the Gillette Stadium mystique may be gone. They need to win at least this game to make the claim that they have an advantage at home.
Q: Finally, your prediction for Sunday’s game (Include score please)?
A: I don’t think Bill Belichick will show the complete disrespect for Tim Tebow’s arm that Pittsburgh did, though the execution of the scheme by the players may still allow some big plays in the passing game for the Broncos. That being said, I hadn’t seen any fight in the Patriots when they were down the past couple of seasons, but that has changed this year. Tom Brady and the playoff experience of the team will be enough to win a closer game, 30-24.