We were treated to some fine games on Sunday but the New England Patriots come from behind, overtime victory over the Denver Broncos was arguably the best of the lot.
A true game of two halves (with an additional quarter thrown in for good measure) we bore witness to a display of dominant interior run blocking in the first half before a precise passing attack made a potential blowout anything but. In the end there was very little between these two teams despite their very different makeups, with the game ultimately decided by unfortunate muffed punt.
What odds on these two meeting again later this year, and what odds on it being as entertaining?
Broncos – Three Performances of Note
Last week was that rarest of rare things. A quiet day for Von Miller. As my colleague Sam Monson broke down, the Chiefs were able to slow down the often unstoppable Miller, but the Bronco seemed determined not to let that happen again.
It wasn’t the quantity of pressure that was amazing (though two sacks, two hits and two hurries is a solid number) but it was the speed of the pressure he was bringing. If you’ve seen Nate Solder play this year you’d have seen a guy pushing on the door of being regarded as one of the top tackles in the game, but he was no match for Miller, beaten early (9.30 in Q1) for a sack on his outside shoulder before allowing another sack with 5.15 to go in the first half. By the end of things he alone had allowed five of the six quarterback disruptions, resorting to compensating so badly against the speed off the edge of Miller that he was beaten viciously inside with a spin move (Q4, 2.00).
In years gone by we’ve seen Miller work over right tackles but now he’s putting all the left tackles out there on notice.
Passing Game Woes
On the surface of things a +1.9 grade for Peyton Manning isn’t all that bad. But the truth is that outside of his touchdown throw to Jacob Tamme and a wonderfully orchestrated game tying drive late in the fourth, he really struggled with the conditions. By the end of the day he’d completed just four of 10 attempts aimed over 10 yards in the air (though it should be noted he wasn’t helped with his receivers dropping five passes). The encouraging thing is that he did seem to adapt to the conditions as the game went on but it does get you thinking about how he might handle a New York Super Bowl if the Broncos make it that far.
Of course it wasn’t just him to struggle. The five drops were far from ideal with Demaryius Thomas sidetracked by his battle with Aqib Talib often enough that he didn’t do a good job securing the ball when it came his way.
Last week I was fortunate enough to watch Marshal Yanda put on a blocking clinic as he tossed the Bears defenders left, right and center. This week? Well it was center Manuel Ramirez (+7.7) who made an impression on me. He was ably supporting by Louis Vasquez (+3.8) as the duo worked wonderfully, often double teaming one of the overmatched Patriots defensive tackles before moving to the second level to open up a running lane for their backs. What makes Ramirez so impressive is that you often see centers struggle to hold up at the point of attack in one on one situations. But Ramirez, a former guard, is big and strong enough that it never looks a problem for him. He constantly sealed of Joe Vellano and Chris Jones who just couldn’t get any push on him.
Patriots — Three Performances of Note
Secondary Stands Up
Now the wind was always going to help them but faced with the three pronged attack of Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker this was always going to be a test for the Patriots’ developing secondary.
To say they stood up to it would be an understatement.
Veteran Aqib Talib manned up with Thomas, allowing 3-of-6 into his coverage for 30 yards and a touchdown with one pass break up to his name. The stats may flatter a bit when you consider Thomas dropped two passes in his coverage, but the constant close coverage ensured Manning was rarely prepared to test his arm against the ball skills of the former Buccaneer.
That left Logan Ryan and Kyle Arrington trying to stop Welker and Decker, and as the combined +6.0 grade shows, you can consider that mission accomplished. The two were targeted seven times in coverage with the result two receptions for 15 yards, two pass break-ups and one interception. If they’d found a way to stop Jacob Tamme then it could have been a whole different ball game.
Brady Beats the Conditions
While it took Manning three and a half quarters to adapt to the wild wins, life wasn’t quite as hard for Tom Brady (+4.7). The deep game rarely worked (one of five on passes 20 yards in the air or more) but he ate the Broncos up in the second half as he worked the middle of the field, going 23-of-28 between the hashmarks. That 110 of his yards came throwing to Julian Edelman wasn’t lost on viewers as Welker watched from the sideline as the Patriots receiver turned in the kind of consistent display that has seemed to evade him despite the repeated attempts to get him going in New England. If he can keep this up then who knows what the Patriots are capable of with Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola (as much as a non factor as he was here) in the mix.
Pushed About Up Front
Amidst all the euphoria, Sunday Night Football provided a great example of the most glaring weakness on Team Belichick. As Vince Wilfork watched on, two rookie defensive tackles were, as the kid would say, owned.
It was never going to be easy with both men facing a number of double teams, but while their opposing numbers stood their ground to squeeze running lanes, they were moved off the line of scrimmage. It wasn’t much better when they were left one on one with the Broncos interior, and while they did win some battles in the run game (they finished with five defensive stops) they lost an awful lot more. The problem for them came at the initial point of attack where upon losing the initial exchange they were rarely able to work off the block and be in position to slow the Broncos running game down. It left their linebackers (who did a commendable job going head to head with the bigger offensive linemen) exposed, and left Knowshon Moreno with a career day.
– Speaking of Moreno he averaged 6.1 yards per carry and a staggering 7.3 yards per carry on his nine runs through the right B-gap.
– Aaron Dobson ran 23 pass routes but wasn’t targeted once. Meanwhile Kenbrell Thompkins ran 30 and found nine balls aimed his way.
– Not a game for missed tackles. Denver missed just four and the Patriots just five.
To the winner goes the spoils. As good as Miller and Ramirez were, the contribution of Julian Edelman was crucial.
Follow Khaled on Twitter: @PFF_Khaled