Monday, December 19, 2016

Patriots Get Rare Win In Denver, 16-3

The Patriots beat the hated Broncos 16-3 yesterday, in a game that was closer than the final score indicated. The win runs their record to 12-2, and it gives the Patriots the AFC East title and a first-round by in the playoffs! Next up are the woeful Jets on Saturday, with a chance to cement the overall #1 AFC seed.

All credit to the defense for this win. Four sacks of Denver QB Trevor Siemian, 58 yards rushing allowed, held the Broncos to 2-of-12 (17%) on third-down conversions, and got two turnovers. They hit hard, controlled the line of scrimmage, and shut down dangerous receiver Emmanuel Sanders. Note: the Patriots have given up the fewest points in the NFL this season.

The secondary had the best day of any unit. Corner Logan Ryan led the team with seven tackles, and added a pass defended, another QB pressure, and a huge interception (returned 46 yards). Malcolm Butler shut down Sanders, and safety Devin McCourty had five tackles, a massive hit that forced an important incompletion, and he recovered a fumble. Even Eric Rowe had a decent game, as did Patrick Chung. Overall, the secondary's best game since the Houston rout in week 2.

The defensive line was next on the hit parade. Malcom Brown and Alan Branch controlled the middle of the line, forcing Denver to run outside exclusively, which they don't like to do. The Broncos love cut-back runs, but there weren't any lanes available with those two monsters inside.

Trey Flowers extended his team lead in sacks with two more. He has seven for the year, and has only started six games! His speed is rare for a Patriots inside-lineman, and compares favorably with Chris Long on the outside. Speaking of Long, he disrupted multiple timing throws by forcing the QB to move in the pocket. And Jabaal Sheard looked like his old self, powering through blockers to get a sack and two QB hits.

On the stat line, Kyle Van Noy won the day among linebackers. He had six tackles, including one for a loss, and he forced a fumble. Dont'a Hightower didn't make many plays, but that might have indicated the Broncos running and passing away from him. He didn't appear gimpy or out of position, but his teammates just made more plays than he did.

On offense, the running backs did most of the damage. For the first time this season, LeGarrette Blount wasn't the Patriots leading rusher. That honor went to Dion Lewis, who juked his way to 95 yards on 18 carries (5.3 ypc). He showed the same burst and shiftiness from last season, and his style was the change-up needed to beat the Broncos defensive speed. Fullback James Develin deserves special mention, as he was the lead blocker most of the game for a running attack that kept the Broncos off-balance.

And the Patriots needed the running game, because quarterback Tom Brady started the game 0-6 and had trouble finding open receivers all day. Brady ended up with his lamest stat line of the season, completing only 50% of his passes for 188 yards, zero touchdowns, and a QB rating of just 68.2. But perhaps most important was that he threw no interceptions, protecting the ball to help win the turnover battle. He also used play-action fakes to excellent effect, though offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels should have used that even more.

The receivers had trouble getting open, and the team became much too dependent on wideout Julian Edelman. He was targeted 12 times, catching six passes for 75 yards. Brady and James White failed to connect on the first three passes thrown his way, twice it was Brady's fault, and once it was White's. But all of this probably owes to the Broncos insisting the Patriots beat them on the ground, which they were all too happy to do.

The offensive line blocked well on both run and pass plays. In this game, the Broncos had two sacks and five QB hits; in the AFC Championship Game in January, they had four and 20, respectively. Yesterday, tackles Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon contained the outside rush, with chipping help from the tight ends and running backs.

Marcus Cannon did a great job slowing down Super Bowl MVP Von Miller, who registered no sacks or QB hits in the game. The commentators pointed out that Cannon played with his hands down until Miller engaged him, then he'd use his superior strength to push him back or angle him away from Brady. This runs counter to most games, where O-linemen try to hit the defenders first. But it took away Miller's hand-fighting advantage, so it was a great plan and execution by the coaching staff and Cannon.

Special teams earned their name this week. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski continued his improved run with three field goals and angled kickoffs. The coverage unit downed three punts inside the Broncos 20 yard-line, and even came up with a turnover on a muffed fair catch.

So where does that leave us? 12-2 and in the driver's seat for the #1 overall seed in the AFC. Not bad for a team whose starting quarterback was suspended four games to start the season. The Jets game should be another win, but even if the Patriots do win that game, they need a loss or tie by the Raiders to secure the #1 seed.

Non-Brady MVP of the Week: Logan Ryan turned the tide with his interception and led the team in tackles.

Statistical Oddity of the Week: Brady is 5-3 in games when he posts a sub-70 QB rating without throwing an interception, and all three losses have come against the Miami Dolphins.

Bonus Statistical Oddity: Broncos fans should not despair; the last three years in which the Patriots won in Denver, the Broncos made the playoffs. (Trivia question: can you name all three years? Answer below...)

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "It's the defense that's stepping up now. Giving up just three points on the road against any NFL team is an accomplishment."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 12-2!

PPS. Trivia Answer:
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The Broncos made the playoffs in the 2000, 2003, and 2011 seasons, after losing to the Patriots at home each of those years.

2 comments:

  1. Tom was definitely off to start, seemed like he was aware that pressure could come on any pass. Glad to have that one stuffed safely in the W column.

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    Replies
    1. Always good to get a win in Denver.

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