By Rich Kurtzman
It’s impossible to miss how familiar these Patriots and Broncos are with one another.
Josh McDaniels, the man that held the reigns of the Broncos in 2009-2010, has returned to where his NFL coaching career began in New England. McDaniels, a master of offense, was the offensive coordinator with the Patriots from 2006-2008, with the team putting up NFL records for 75 touchdowns and 589 points scored. His offensive “genius” didn’t pan out in Denver, where the Broncos continually struggled under his tutelage, but now that he’s back at home, McDaniels’ offense is too smart to stop.
The Patriots are No. 1 in the NFL in yards per game (438.2) and scoring (33.5 PPG), putting up an equal number of rushing and passing touchdowns (7). Last week, the offense really hit their stride.
New England scored 52 points in the game, 40 in the second half alone, while completely humiliating the Bills in Buffalo.
They looked unstoppable, unbeatable even, leaving their opponents and contemporaries in awe.
Tom Brady remains arguably the greatest quarterback in the game today—if not ever. Brady’s got it all; the looks, the cockiness, the talent. He’s the NFL’s golden boy, and he’s earned four Super Bowl rings along the way. Brady is cool under pressure, one of the most accurate passers and incredibly intelligent. It’s why he’s consistently considered among the best in the league, even though the roster changes around him.
This year, he has a ton of talent to toss the ball to, and Brady uses them all. Ex-Bronco Brandon Lloyd is currently tied with Wes Welker in receptions while slot man Julian Edelman has steadily progressed year after year to be a threat as well.
But the most dangerous thing about the Patriots offense is the way they use their tight ends. Rob Gronkowski is the top tight end in the NFL, huge in stature, strong, fast and athletic. He’s the total package and it’s why he led the league in receiving touchdowns (17) last season. It doesn’t end there, though, as Aaron Hernandez is very versatile. He blocks, catches passes and as Denver saw last January in the playoffs, he can run the ball out of the backfield. Hernandez injured his ankle in Week Two, but he’s likely to be back this Sunday, giving that Patriots’ offense another dimension.
What the Broncos didn’t see in their 45-10 drubbing by the Patriots was the stellar running of Stevan Ridley. Ridley is top-10 in the NFL in rushing yards (339) while scoring three times on the year. All the tight end and running back play will put a strain on the Broncos’ linebackers, who are thin without starting outside linebacker D.J. Williams. Joe Mays has been filling the void to the best of his abilities, but he’s too slow to keep up with New England’s tight ends and Ridley. Denver’s linebacking corps, and how they attempt to slow down Ridley and the tight ends, should be the focus of the Broncos’ defense.
Speaking of defense, the Patriots don’t put up much a fight on that side of the football. New England’s defense is among the worst in the game, especially when it comes to pass D, where they give up 281 yards and more than two touchdowns per game. Of course, this will be a game when Peyton Manning—who is undoubtedly studying game film currently—and Brady will be put in the spotlight and have a chance to shine.
Manning and Brady have met 12 times (Tom leads 8-4), though Manning is 4-2 in the last six regular season meetings. Which quarterback can exploit their opponent’s defense more? Which one can make the right read and big throw in clutch time?
The answer to those questions will be the winning quarterback Sunday evening.
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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.