6. Running the ball up the middle against the Denver Broncos is never an easy task, and they actually have the best run defense up the middle in the league statistically. That dominance up front was on display, and Terrance Knighton was once again the main guy for the Broncos on run defense. “Pot Roast”, as he is so aptly named, completely dominated the much smaller Ryan Wendell, whom I highlighted as an underrated X-Factor coming into the game. He was certainly a factor, but that was very much in a negative way. Knighton finished with a sack and an additional tackle for loss, with the sack coming when he absolutely destroyed Logan Mankins on fourth down.
7. A huge reason why the Patriots lost yesterday was their lack of a pass rush, and it was seriously pathetic watching the Patriots try to get after the quarterback. They only put pressure on Peyton Manning twice all game, and the pressure wasn’t of the quick variety when it did get there. The Patriots never even got a hit on Manning, and that’s just unacceptable when going up against a top-notch quarterback. What helped the Broncos were two things. First of all, the Broncos offensive line is superb, and they were every bit as dominant as usual (Manny Ramirez, Louis Vasquez, Chris Clark, and Orlando Franklin make up a unit that is fun to watch). Also, the Patriots couldn’t manufacture pressure by blitzing, because they had to keep just about everyone in coverage in order to counter the four and five-receiver looks that the Broncos were throwing at them; they couldn’t afford to end up leaving a guy like Orange Julius open. The fear of Manning’s intelligence, great vision, and quick release probably played a role in that, but the Patriots four-man rush has to get better. At this point in time, those who believe Chandler Jones is a good pass rusher are overrating him, but the sad part for the Patriots right now is that he is currently their best threat; here’s to hoping for a big breakout year from the talented DE in 2014.
8. It was pretty crazy comparing the Broncos pass-catchers to the Patriots pass-catchers, because the Broncos are just so much more talented and deeper at receiver. Shane Vereen, Julian Edelman, and Austin Collie played well yesterday, but they didn’t play as well- nor are they as talented- as Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas, and Eric Decker (five catches for 73 yards). Heck, Wes Welker got in on the act with four receptions for 38 yards. It is so difficult to cover the Broncos receivers, because all of them are among the best route-runners in the league. Welker is nigh uncoverable, and the Broncos use him on decoy routes to free up the likes of JT (check out Julius’s TD catch against the San Diego Chargers last week). DT is ridiculously good at getting open, and Decker is extremely deadly going over the top. Meanwhile, the Patriots got nothing out of X-Factor deep threat Aaron Dobson, and Edelman was once again the only true threat at receiver for the Patriots.
9. Ryan Allen suffered a shoulder injury in last week’s game against the Indianapolis Colts, but he clearly wasn’t bothered by it and booted all three of his punts inside the 20. In fact, he averaged 49 yards on those punts, including a beautiful 60-yard boot. Allen has one of the strongest punting legs in the NFL, but the Patriots defense was so bad that they couldn’t take advantage of the Broncos disadvantageous field position caused by Allen’s punting. Credit that to Manning, the line, and the pass-catchers, but also dock major points off from the Patriots pass rush and secondary.
10. At the end of the day, though, there was also a big gap between the Broncos ability to cover and the Patriots ability to cover. There was also a big difference in the Broncos play in the trenches vs. the Patriots play in the trenches. Plus, the Broncos were actually able to run the ball, as the only success the Patriots had on the ground game were outside runs with Shane Vereen and nice cutting by Stevan Ridley. Seriously, Belichick deserves to be criticized for one thing, and that’s for not running with Vereen and Ridley more early in the game (they had some really bad third-down playcalls as well, though the consensus is that those are on Josh McDaniels). The Broncos were clearly the better team yesterday, and they are the significantly better team on paper as well. Both of these teams overcame difficult injuries, but the key difference is that the Patriots had to overcome more of them and weren’t as good of a team coming into the year anyway. What Belichick and Co. did in Foxboro to get to this point was nothing short of amazing, and they should be applauded for that. The Broncos should be given all the praise in their world for their dominant performance, and we’re in for one heckuva Super Bowl in two weeks.