Patriots’ week always brings excitement no matter who the Denver Broncos starting quarterback is. However, now that the Broncos have Peyton Manning, Patriots’ week takes on a whole new meaning.
I asked Joe Soriano of Musket Fire to give us some insight into this season’s Patriots. Let’s go Inside the Villain’s Venue as Joe provides us with some great analysis into this week’s matchup.
Predominantly Orange: Of course this game isn’t so much about the Broncos vs. Patriots as it is Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady, at least on a national level. Why have the Patriots been able to excel at stopping Manning in the past?
Musket Fire: Manning’s played against the Patriots 16 times and has a QB Rating about five points lower than his career total when playing the Patriots, and he’s thrown 23 picks against the Patriots in his career. Those picks are the main reason why he’s been worse against us, because the other statistics don’t deviate as much from his career averages. They are all slightly worse across the board, but the number of interceptions he’s thrown is a pretty staggering total. Although, in his defense, he has averaged over two TDs per game against the Patriots.
But Ty Law, Rodney Harrison, and all those guys are gone, and Manning lit up the Patriots the last time he played them in 2010. He went 38-52 and has posted QB Ratings of 96.3 and 97.4 against them in those two games. The Pats secondary is the weakness of this team, because safeties Steve Gregory and Patrick Chung blow their coverage assignments far too often. Devin McCourty is back to his old self and is holding down QBs to a sub-50 rating when targeting him, but the big thing the Pats need to do is to intercept Manning. In those two games I mentioned, I left out one statistic that is in strike contrast to his high QB Ratings; he threw five picks in both games combined.
Tavon Wilson already has two picks this season, and McCourty had two last week against Ryan Fitzpatrick (definitely not a good Manning comparison, though) after dropping two against Baltimore. The Pats defense is still able to create turnovers after picking off the Bills four times, and they will have to keep up that trend against Peyton in order to compensate for the big plays that he will be making.
Another big thing will be their ability to blitz the QB, which will be rookie Chandler Jones’s job. He’s been excellent thus far and is the front-runner for the DROY thus far. Broncos left tackle Ryan Clady is one of the best in the business and is at his best so far this season, which is definitely worrisome for the Pats. Outside of Jones, there isn’t a legitimate pass rusher on this team.
PO: Josh McDaniels made the pilgrimage back to New England after failed stints as the Broncos head coach and as the Rams offensive coordinator. Are you happy that he’s back with the team?
MF: To be honest, it doesn’t really matter who is the New England Patriots offensive coordinator with the offensive system that is firmly entrenched there with Bill Belichick at the helm and Tom Brady under center. Here’s the thing. I hate Josh McDaniels as a head coach, but I love him as an offensive coordinator under a head coach who knows his strengths and limitations. I like having McDaniels back as opposed to Bill O’Brien, because I enjoy the creative genius that McDaniels supplies as an OC and it adds a nice touch for the Pats offense.
PO: Nate Solder hails from the University of Colorado and has made a quick impact on the team. What’s the consensus on him?
MF: Nate Solder has all the tools to be an All-Pro left tackle, and he has done a very good job so far this season in his second year. Last year, he struggled with his pass blocking like most rookie left tackles, but he was also solid as a run blocker. Solder has continued to make strides this season and has emerged as one of the better run blocking tackles in this league, and he allows the Patriots to run more screens due to his athleticism. I’m a huge fan of Solder, and he is only going to get better as the year goes on. Next season, we could be talking about him as a threat to be a Second-Team All-Pro.
PO: Tom Brady has only played one season with a top ten running back when it’s all said and done (Corey Dillon ’04). This year, Stevan Ridley is 9th in the league averaging 84.8 yards per game on the ground. Do you think he will be able to maintain that production level? What will that do for the Patriots offense?
MF: It will do wonders for the Patriots offense. Stevan Ridley should be able to maintain that level of production, because he can do so many different things as a rusher. He is explosive on the sideline, he can consistently gain yardage between the tackles, and he is a good goal-line option as well. Ridley is one of the more versatile backs in this league, and he has a legitimate chance at being a feature back in this league. The concern is finding a good No. 2 back to help him, but that concern might be over after Brandon Bolden’s performance yesterday. Ridley bounced back after a poor game against the Ravens to notch 100 against the Bills tough run defense, and the addition of a legitimate No. 1 back will give the Patriots the type of balance they haven’t had since they last won the Super Bowl.
Teams like the Green Bay Packers have found out that you need a consistent running game in order to help your quarterback out, which is one of the reasons why they picked up Cedric Benson and are continuing to roll with him as their workhorse guy going forward. The Pack were one-dimensional last year, and it showed when the playoffs came around. All it takes is for one game to expose your one-dimensional play, which is something that’s common in the pros and college game alike (USC is a prime example). With Ridley, the Patriots have greatly increased their chances of winning the Super Bowl.
PO: Finally, your prediction for Sunday’s game?
MF: Let me start of by saying that this game is going to be the most enticing one all week, but I’m also biased in this regard. Anyway, Denver is going to pose a huge threat for the Patriots defense with their passing game. Containing both Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas is going to be of paramount importance and difficulty, because both players provide big-play threats that can expose the Patriots. The Pats struggled to contain Torrey Smith, and they also gave up some big catches to Nate Washington in Week 1 and Donald Jones last week despite holding them to a low total of catches (Jones went 2-90). Oh, and you can’t forget Manning’s longtime target Brandon Stokely for his always under-appreciated work in the slot.
Willis McGahee has been one of my favorite running backs for a while, because he just keeps on rolling and reeling off 100-yard performances. What he and Manning did to the Raiders was downright scary last week, but the Patriots run defense is also scary. Vince Wilfork, Kyle Love, and Brandon Spikes make up one of the game’s best triangles, with Spikes having a huge showing in Buffalo last time out. He’s one of the most violent run-stoppers in the league, and he has two DTs in front of him who clog up running lanes as good as anyone.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Broncos will have a difficult time containing the Patriots multitude of weapons despite having one of the better cornerback trios in the league. Champ Bailey will be able to contain Brandon Lloyd, but the real worry for the Broncos should be Rob Gronkowski who will eat up Denver’s linebackers and safeties alike. Chris Harris Jr. is one of my favorite players in the league, but the underrated former Jayhawk is going to have trouble in the slot against Wes Welker, who is coming off of two amazing performances. He’s the focal point of this offense, and he’s going to show it.
In the end, I think this game is going to go down to the wire with the Pats barely coming out on top. I really like the matchup that the Broncos have against the Patriots secondary, because Manning takes advantage of blown assignments in the way that no QB can. Sebastian Vollmer has been one of the best tackles in the league this year, but Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil are downright scary and will give Solder fits. I like Solder, but he isn’t nearly as good as those two beasts.
But, at the same time, the Patriots run defense is in a better position to stop McGahee than the Broncos run D is to stop Stevan Ridley. Joe Mays is a force against the run and Miller is even better in that regard, and Kevin Vickerson and Justin Bannan have really stepped up so far this year. Still, those guys don’t top the front seven that the Pats have, and that’s not even considering the work that the safeties on the Pats do against the run.
The Patriots simply have too many weapons in the passing game for the Broncos to stop, and that’s going to be the main difference in this game. The big things to watch for are the running games, Jones vs. Clady, the Pats secondary, and the Broncos pass rushers vs. the Pats tackles. Whichever team holds the advantage in those four battles is the team that will most likely win.