By Rich Kurtzman
Everyone knows the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots have two of the most explosive offenses in the NFL today.
The Patriots are led by Tom Brady; the Broncos, by Peyton Manning. Each are elite quarterbacks in their own right, and each can take over a game at will. They both did just last week. Manning’s Broncos scored 37 in total and 27 in the second half, Brady’s Patriots put up 52 total and 40 after the break.
That’s why each team’s defense will be put to the test and will be even more important this week.
When it comes down to passing defenses, Denver is simply better in nearly every aspect. The Patriots rank 25th overall with 281 yards per game given up through the air, including a fourth-most nine touchdowns. The Broncos are 14th at 220 PYPG, allowing eight touchdowns passing of their own.
Undoubtedly, Peyton Manning—known for his steadfast studying of the game tape—will find ways to exploit the passing defense that is just as bad as the Oakland one that he just got done shredding. For Brady, finding ways to take advantage of Pro Bowl cornerbacks Champ Bailey and Tracy Porter will be much more difficult, though he should look to use safeties Mike Adams and Rahim Moore. Neither have been consistent in coverage this year, each allowing receiver to catch deep passes over their heads this season.
Where New England is superior is in the interception department, where they lead 6-2. Devin McCourty and Tavon Wilson each have two picks a piece, while Adams has zero, letting three seemingly easy interceptions slip through his hands already this year.
When it comes to getting after the quarterback, the Broncos are better, with 10 on the year compared to the Patriots seven. When Denver’s defensive backfield can cover well, it often results in a sack, a huge momentum swing for the defense on the whole. Unsurprisingly, Von Miller leads for Denver with three sacks and Elvis Dumervil is right behind with 2.5 and for the Patriots, it’s Chandler Jones with three, Rob Ninkovich with 1.5.
Overall, New England allows an average of 23 points per game; the Broncos, only 20.
What it means is that while the Patriots’ offense is more explosive due to more playmakers—they are expected to return second tight end Aaron Hernandez this week—the Broncos’ defense is better in most aspects and more well equipped to slow down Brady and the Pats this Sunday.
A key to the contest will be the play of the Patriots’ tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Hernandez, who each destroyed Denver the last time the two teams met in the AFC Divisional round of the playoffs in January. Luckily for the Broncos, they get back Joe Mays from a one-game suspension following his hit of Texans’ quarterback Matt Schaub in the helmet.
Yes, we know each team can score lights-out, and it’s likely we’ll see a barn-burner at Gillette Stadium, but which defense steps up and accepts the challenge of stifling their opponent’s offense stands the better chance of winning. Denver should be that team.
Give me Bailey and Porter over McCourty and Kyle Arrington any day, especially when it’s an elite quarterback attacking them.
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Rich Kurtzman is a Denver native, Colorado State University alumnus, sports nerd, athletics enthusiast, and competition junkie. Currently writing for a multitude of websites while working on books, one on the history of the Denver Broncos and Mile High Stadium. Find more of Rich’s Denver Broncos pieces on Examiner.com.