It’s Week 5! Pondering time. Here are seven things to think about against the New England Patriots. If you don't know why there's seven, you're a rotten egg.
Artwork provided by my girlfriend, a Pats fan, hence the larger Patriots kitty.
- Identify and Exploit
A good way to win at football is to figure out where the other team is weak and exploit it. It is not something we ever saw the Broncos do under Josh McDaniels. In a heart-warming display, the Broncos actually tried this technique on Sunday against the Raiders. A good example of weakness is the Raiders imbalance at the offensive tackle position. On the left side, Jared Veldeheer is an up and coming star blocker. On the right, Willie Smith is, in the paraphrased words of Dante from Clerks, "Not even supposed to be [there]." An injury to Khalif Barnes put him in the lineup.
The Broncos flipped Elvis Dumervil to the left side so he could face Smith and the proof ended up in the pudding: two sacks and five additional pressures (according to Pro Football Focus.) This flexibility will be important against a Patriots team with far less glaring flaws.
- Lockdown Time
Another place where the Raiders are terrible is in their receiving core. Dennis Allen walked into a situation marred by lame-brained drafting based on old-timey vertical philosophies and then had the most talented receiver of the bunch, Darrius Heyward-Bey get his bell epically rung by Ryan Mundy.
This allowed the Broncos to play man coverage and blitz at will for almost the entire game. There was only one scare, which came in the 2nd quarter when Denarius Moore beat Tracy Porter deep, but Carson Palmer missed the throw and the rest is history.
This won’t work against the Patriots, who probably have the best receiving corps in the league and could possibly even be getting Aaron Hernandez back this week.
- Belichick’s Alchemy in the Secondary
As the Broncos thrived with blitzes and man coverage, the Raiders floundered. Part of that was Peyton Manning, but another part is that the Raiders DBs are not suited to such a scheme. Mostly because they suck.
The Patriots aren’t the best defense in the league (and they don’t have to be), but they have a weird mix of young talent in the secondary and Bill Belichick seems to know how to mix the talent. Devin McCourty suffered a noticeable sophomore slump being asked to play press-man coverage in 2011, but is rebounding in a 2012 season where he’s staying off the line of scrimmage. His interception helped turn last week’s game against the Bills into a rout.
Another player to watch is rookie safety Tavon Wilson. The Patriots blew minds by taking him in the second round because his skills didn’t seem to fit any traditional position. I think Belichick valued that, as his skills are suited towards covering all the untraditionally athletic tight ends that the league is stocking up on. I’ll be interested to see what effect he has on Joel Dreessen and Jacob Tamme.
- The Trenches (The very middle to be specific.)
A lot of the Broncos running success has come on counter plays that rely on over pursuit and exploit the gaps in a 4-3 defensive line. The Patriots play a hybrid defense a talented and smart front seven. That means a nose tackle in Vince Wilfork that requires double teams and fast linebackers that know how to use the space the defensive line buys them. It sounds weird to say, but I think the Broncos are going to have to get finessy with the running game. The loss of JD Walton makes it even harder for the Broncos interior to handle the Pats in a straight up fight, but they can, in the immortal words of Monty Python, "run away."
Beadles, Clady and Franklin are all faster than the average lineman and do well out in space. I'd much rather take my chances with them taking on Pats LBs amidst chaos than trying to move Wilfork, Kyle Love and Co. The Broncos need to move the point of attack and set up miniature 2-on-2 scenarios.
- Hillman, finally!
Independent of all the Raider bashing and Patriot fretting, the Broncos have a new weapon to be excited about. Rookie Ronnie Hillman has finally worked his way back to health and into the Broncos backfield rotation, landing Knowshon Moreno on the inactive list for two weeks in a row. If Hillman can develop his pass blocking and receiving skills, it will be the end of Knowshon. Hillman showed flashes of elusiveness, caught two passes and helped keep Peyton standing (albeit against the Raiders). In a week where Willis McGahee’s cutback style may meet with some resistance, the Broncos may need to rely on some of Hillman’s jitterbug stylings.
- I greatly dislike Josh McDaniels
When Josh McDaniels got hired, I objected because I wanted Steve Spagnuolo. When he traded a future first-round pick for a second-round pick, I complained. When his play calling looked bullheaded and stale, I said so. I didn’t like his attitude (even compared to Jay Cutler’s). I thought his personnel decisions were digging holes that it would take the Broncos years to get out of.
And looking back, two years later, I was right every time.
Now he’s returned to doing what he does best, which is taking credit for Tom Brady’s success.
- Why do so many New Englanders move the SoCal?
Unless I am at Brennan’s, I find myself surrounded by more Patriots fans than any other team. I even date and live with one of them. I fear she will raise our cats to be Patriots fans. What draws them to Southern California? Do they just come here to torment me? I have been to two Patriots’ games, both of which were ridiculously cold, so I can only assume it’s for the weather. I watched both Patriots games and the Super Bowl with Pats fans last year and misery abounded. It’s almost too much to ponder.