Monday, January 20, 2014

Broncos Take Out Patriots, 26-16

The Broncos whupped up on the Patriots yesterday, dominating the lines of scrimmage en route to a 26-16 win that put Denver in the Super Bowl and sent the New England back to the drawing board. The game wasn't as close as the final score indicated, even though a missed two-point conversion could have made it a one-score game. The loss ended the Patriots season, and there will be much soul-searching after another poor offensive performance in the playoffs.

Denver got out to a 13-3 halftime lead, and the Patriots fought them to a draw in the second half (13-13). And they did a decent job making the Broncos settle for field goals (4) instead of touchdowns (2). So the defense did what it could; but by the second half it was too late to play catch-up.

I've heard people say the Patriots didn't commit enough to the run. And I completely disagree with that assessment -- in fact, they should have run the ball less! They ran only 33% of their first half snaps, but that number should have been even lower. In 2006 they played a Vikings team that was stout against the run, and they ran only 15% of their first half plays. That is the kind of run/pass ratio they should have had in the game yesterday.

Their first half runs went for 0, 1, 5, 0, 3, 2, 0, and 5 yards (last play of the half against a prevent defense). In the second half, they threw 75% of the time, which is closer to where they should have been all game long. But even me, a lowly blogger, even I knew they'd never run effectively against Denver, at least not out of standard running formations. And it was frustrating to see them bang their heads against that wall over and over.

The other problem was, when they threw, quarterback Tom Brady was not sharp. In the first half alone he missed two long throws to wide open receivers (Edelman and Collie). And at least two other times he went with long passes instead of taking sure first downs to keep the drive alive. His worst choice was a long pass to Matthew Slater, who has one catch in his NFL career, instead of taking the first down with a check-down over the middle.

Brady ended the day 24 of 38 (63%), 277 yards, 1 touchdown, 0 interceptions, and a 93.9 QB rating -- numbers that look decent. But it mattered not, because he left points on the field with those miscues in the first half. And after Denver scored a touchdown to start the second half, it was all over but the shouting at 20-3 -- when it should have been 20-9, 20-13, or even 20-17.

The receivers were okay, Slater aside. Julian Edelman ended up with 10 catches for 89 yards and the lone touchdown. Austin Collie had only 4 catches (57 yards), but he converted several important first downs late, and was open down the sideline near the end of the first half, but Brady missed him. And tight end Michael Hoomanawanui had a very nice case for a first down, though he ended up with just 2 catches for 33 yards.

The running backs are probably best not spoken of. Shane Vereen had more catches (5) than rushing attempts (4), though he averaged 8.5 yards a carry. Not to beat a dead horse, but his average was so high because he ran out of spread formations, which is the only formation they should have run from. Oh... and Vereen and Stevan Ridley did a nice job in pass protection.

The offensive line was too inconsistent. Nothing in the running game, and they gave up two sacks for 21 yards, 3 QB hits, and 3 tackles for a loss. Also, the second sack was a blown play by Logan Mankins on fourth down, and there was too much pressure coming up the middle all game long.

On the other side of the ball, the secondary apparently can't sustain an injury to Aqib Talib without melting down. For the second straight year, he got injured in the first half of the AFC Championship Game, and the other team picked the secondary apart in his absence.

Dennard switched to Talib's "cover Damarius Thomas" role, and he got beaten and beaten and beaten. Kyle Arrington missed an easy interception, and rookie Logan Ryan looked a bit lost in the big moment. And even though safety Devin McCourty led the team in tackles (9), he was late in coverage too often.

The linebackers actually played a decent game. Jamie Collins (7 tackles, 1 pass defended) and Dont'a Hightower (8 tackles) were both hot-and-cold, but each had short bursts where they dominated play. It showed that the team has a lot to build on there, especially if Jerod Mayo comes back strong from his injury. Not that any of that helped yesterday.

The defensive line just stunk the joint out. Zero sacks, zero QB hits, and Manning scanning the field all day, just slicing and dicing with pinpoint passes. Chandler Jones no where to be found, Rob Ninkovich was double-teamed and ineffective, and the inside men unable to get any pressure up the middle. A really, really bad game by all involved (except maybe for Sealver Siliga -- 5 tackles, one for a loss).

Special teams were unremakable. Aside from a Patriots pooch-kickoff, there were no kickoff returns in the game, with kickers putting the ball through the end zone every time in the thin air. Also, no punt returns. And the field goal units were perfect on both sides. So that was a wash.

The Patriots coaching staff did a decent job with the defensive plan, but a very bad job with the offense. On defense, the plan with Manning has to be to stop him when you can and make him take field goals as often as he gets touchdowns. Yesterday they made him take twice as many field goals (4 field goals to 2 touchdowns). So even with the injury problems, the defense did well enough to keep the game winnable.

However, on offense their plan coming into the game was flawed. No one has run on Denver lately, and the Patriots recent running success came in bad weather against teams not that great at stopping the run. And once the game started, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels took much too long to adjust and start throwing.

So where does that leave us? Rooting for the hated Peyton Manning or the oft-derided Pete Carroll in the Super Bowl. I won't be rooting for anyone in specific; just for a good game so the entire day isn't wasted. Whatever you decide to do, hope your SB Sunday is enjoyable... after all, you've got two weeks to recover from this game before then.

Statistical Oddity of the Week: Brady's numbers were decent, but Denver defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio got his first victory over a Brady-led team.

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "The offense depends completely on Gronkowski, and the defense depends completely on Talib. That has to change next season."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS.  13-5 & 1-1!

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