When the two franchises met in Week 12 of the regular season the Patriots came away with an inspirational, but somewhat fortunate 34-31 victory after overtime. Ryan Allen’s punt landed at the Broncos 13-yard line and was ran into by Denver CB Tony Carter allowing Nate Ebner to recover for New England and Stephen Gostkowski to convert the resulting 31-yard field goal for the win.
During the match-up three of Peyton Manning’s favourite weapons were neutralised by individual brilliance by members of the Patriot’s defence. Tight end Julius missed the game with a knee injury, but Denver’s three other stand-out players played and were astonishing reduced to only nine catches between them throughout the five quarters.
During one of the most dramatic games in the 2013 regular season the Patriots’s defence matched Manning’s three go to guys in mainly man-to-man coverage. Bill Belichick’s strict instruction to each of his CBs to stick to each of their individual target worked wondered. In majority either Cover 1 and Cover 2 Man 2013 pro-bowl selection Aqib Talib was able to monitor DeMaryius Thomas, Logan Ryan oversee Eric Decker and Kyle Arrington brilliantly able to control Wes Welker.
DeMaryius Thomas was unstoppable in the regular season and that form carried on in the play-offs accumulating in the monstrous 6’3 229lbs WR totalling an impressive total of 1,430 yards and 92 catches so far this season.
With those stats and his physical attributes, especially the 229lbs of pure muscle that you wouldn’t expect to see on a WR, you might have been forgiven to expect a repeat of the destructive form that accompanied Thomas before week 12 in the regular season. But CB and 2013 pro-bowl selection Aqib Talib lived up to why he was selected as one of the 86 players to compete in the Pro Bowl in Hawaii on the 26th January; limiting Thomas to a season-low 41 yards in the 34-31 overtime victory back in November.
In most of the plays, two deep safetys were set-up as precautions encase Talib and Logan weren’t able to accommodate Thomas as well as Welker and Decker, but both CBs stuck to man coverage and superbly subdued the threat so Manning’s only option was to hope Montee Ball could make inroads down the field.
Wes Welker was one of the most successful Patriot WR of all time, but since his move to the Broncos has struggled to find any notable form, missing out on a pro-bowl selection and only accumulating 778 yards and 73 catches so far this season.
Welker and ‘the picture boy’ of the NFL Eric Decker were practically unnoticed by Kyle Arrington and Logan Ryan. Both CBs were rarely caught out of their individual zones and with the use of both man and zone coverage the dual threat of the WR was eliminated. At times, during a blitz, the safety would come up the field on top of Welker so he had less time to manoeuvre and findspace.
Julius Thomas missed the game in week 12 due to a knee injury, but after a break-out season in the NFL with 65 catches for 788 yards and 12 touchdowns, the Patriots will look towards rookie linebacker Jamie Collins to cover the towering 6’5” 250lbs tight-end. Collins ,the first player to be selected by the Patriots in the 2013 NFL Draft, was instrumental against the Indianapolis Colts last week covering Coby Fleener so he was unnoticed. The job on Sunday will be to try and cover Thomas, but without a doubt it will be more of a difficult task than it was last Sunday.
Running back Knowshon Moreno, the first Bronco’s player in the franchise’s history to reach over 1000 yards rushing and over 500 yards receiving could become another threat to Brady’s chances of a 4th Superbowl ring.
Moreno ended the game in week 12 with 224 yards and one touchdown, but the bigger picture is the 280 yards that were given up by the Patriots, the most yards ever given up in Bill Belichick’s 224 game-history of coaching the Patriots. Linebacker Brandon Spikes was momentous against the Broncos in week 12 after making nine tackles and a fumble return, but is now out for the rest of the season and will be sorely missed.
In recent matches the Patriots have decided to resort to the running game, successfully resulted in a pretty convincing victory over the Indianapolis Colts in the last game of the post-season. Stevan Ridley and the newly discovered LeGarrette Blount, who ran in four touchdowns against the Colts, be looking for a repeat on Sunday at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
Peyton threw a season-low 150 yards in five quarters in week 12 and only completed 19 of his 36 passes. If the Patriot’s D are able to replicate the same tactics and form they did in November they will be headed to the MetLife Stadium to face either the Seattle Seahawks or San Francisco 49ers in Superbowl XLVIII.