Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

This time around, Broncos will stop the run ... and the Patriots

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before:  Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are two pretty decent quarterbacks.

Let’s get this out of the way and say both will do just fine Sunday night when the 9-1 Denver Broncos meet up with the 7-3 New England Patriots in Foxboro, Mass.

Manning will throw for 300-plus yards as he always does and Brady will complete pass after pass when the going gets tough, as he always does, and come close to, if not better, Manning’s numbers.

That being said, it would seem that the team that comes out on top will have to go above and beyond sensational quarterback play.

Last season, the above-and-beyond in New England’s 31-21 win was a Patriot rushing attack that chewed up 251 yards on an incredible 54 rushes.

Think about that:  The Patriots rushed 54 times. That’s almost the average number of offensive plays for a team in an NFL game.

Most of the rushes came from a rapid-fire no-huddle offense when Denver had a nickel or dime defensive package on the field.

Brady would come to the line with at least two plays in mind and call the one he thought would work best against the Bronco alignment.  Most of the time, that play was six or seven blockers and a big tailback rushing against Denver’s three or four linemen and gaggle of smallish defensive backs.

That game was the primary reason the Broncos bulked up in the defensive line in the offseason, adding 335-pound Terrance Knighton and 320-pound No. 1 draftee Sylvester Williams to the roster, moves that have helped Denver rate among the league’s best against the run this season.

This season, the Patriots have also changed significantly, mostly in the passing game due to changes in personnel.

Slot receiver Wes Welker is now a Bronco instead of being targeted almost 10 times a game by Brady.

Aaron Hernandez, another Bronco buster as a tight end, H-back and even tailback, is in prison.

Deep threat Brandon Lloyd was released.

Brady has not thrown the ball as often or as efficiently as in past seasons.

The Pats are 16th in the league passing, averaging only 237 yards per game. Brady is completing 58 percent of his passes with a passer rating of 83.6.  Last season, he completed 63 percent of his passes and had a rating of 98.7. In the three seasons prior to that, he completed more than 65 percent of his passes.

Thus, the Patriots have tried to control the ball with the run.  They are ninth in rushing at 127 yards a game.

Think Bill Belichick, a coach who has gained more than a little notoriety for his brain power, won’t try to run the ball at Denver again? Think he won’t make the Broncos prove they can stop what made them roughly 5 yards per attempt the last time around?

You bet he will, early and often.

That’s going to be Denver’s biggest challenge Sunday:  Force Brady to repeatedly target monster tight end Rob Gronkowski or dump it to his backs for short yardage because the Patriots still don’t have much in the way of deep threats.

I originally had a big fear of this contest, mostly because Brady has bested Manning 10 times compared to only six losses (all games including playoffs).

Not this time.

The Broncos are loaded and healthy on the offensive side.  Manning’s ankles won’t be a factor and Welker, who suffered a neck injury and concussion last week, will play.

Conversely, the Patriots are banged up on the defensive side, with three defensive backs questionable, including their best cover guy, Aqib Talib.

More importantly, the middle of their defensive unit is out for the season. Defensive tackles Tommy Kelly and Vince Wilfork, maybe the best duo in the NFL, are on injured reserve, as is starting middle linebacker Jerod Mayo.

I just can’t see Manning & Co. not being able to move the football, even in New England’s wintery conditions.

And I can’t see Denver, which has played one-on-one man-to-man cover defense all season, needing or using more than five defensive backs on any first- or second-down against the mediocre New England receivers, meaning they will be bunched up on the line to slow the run.

That will be the Broncos’ above-and-beyond that will make the difference — defending the run.

I’ll take my 9-1 record picking with or against the Broncos and go with them again to win:  Denver 31, New England 27.

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Tags: Denver Broncos Peyton Manning Tom Brady

  • anon76returns

    I’d love to see the Bronco D start holding the opposition to the point totals that their improved defensive passing play warrants since the return of Von Miller, but I agree that this week might be a tough one to do that. Brady has virtually no passing weapons outside of Gronk, but it’s still very hard to imagine him getting less than 20 points. 31-27 sounds about right.

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  • DXW

    The only way Denver loses any game this year is if they beat themselves with dumb mistakes. They can score on anyone, and their defense is better than people think. They lost to the Colts because of dumb mistakes and bone-headed penalties and because Manning was injured. Unless they repeat that performance, they will cruise through this game with an easy win.

    • Paul V. Suffriti

      Maybe not……it might likely be a shootout.

      The Pats defense is depleted with injuries. They are a shell of what they were in the beginning of the season. Peyton may just pass for over 400 yards. The Broncos will score well over 30 points.
      The Pats running game is very good and they just got Vereen back last week. They ran for 107 yards against the best seven defensive front in the league,on the road. Brady has finally found comfort with his new receivers and Gronk is finally getting into form since he returned to the offense. Brady passed for 296 yards against one of the best if not the best pass defense in the league, Panthers. Brady is spreading the ball around. Against the Panthers, Vereen – 65 yds. Amendola – 45 yds. Gronk – 59 yards. Dobson – 38 yds. Eldelman – 27 yds. Thompkins – 60 yds. Homann – 2 yds.

      Brady has plenty of good targets. He is also one of the best at reading a defense. This is going to be a shootout in Foxboro. Whoever has the ball last will win the game. This will not be an easy game for Denver. Turnovers may play in deciding the outcome…..the weather is going to be brutal.

  • Alberto Milian

    This game will be a blowout Denver will win 42-24 Patriots will be outmatched and score will be 21-3 by halftime and will coast through on the second half

    • Paul V. Suffriti

      well… almost predicted the halftime score (24-0), but fell short predicting they will coast through the second half. Painful game to watch in the first half as a Pats fan…..but even more painful to watch as a Broncos fan in the second half.

      • Alberto Milian

        Yeap I´m beginning to suspect that Peyton Manning´s brain freezes in cold weather and he can´t think straight, also the defense coudn´t account for DRCs injury and the Patriots began to exploit that hole in the defense, everything snowballed and they stopped going to Knowshon Moreno, Montee Ball should be cut from the team and replaced with someone who takes care of the football, CJ Anderson should be Knowshon´s backup, and the Broncos should look for a good running back from waivers right now anyone available with playoff experience

    • is4u2p

      Hahahahahahaha! Peyton cements his legacy as the choke artist!

      You guys will realize that this guy cannot get it done come playoff time and you’ll acknowledge that Brady is the better QB.

      • Alberto Milian

        Sometimes these things happen, remember karma is a bitch, Patriots in Denver could be different story, great game anyway will meet you soon as the number 1 seed!

        • is4u2p

          Nah, this has nothing to do with the Broncos, I wouldn’t like Peyton in any uniform! Even when he won the big game he had 3 or 4 picks and his team saved him.