Broncos' front four dominate Pats, will be difference against Panthers
Many will say the blueprint has been set for years. The way to slow down the New England Patriots’ offense is to create pressure with the front four and play tight coverage on the back end. In reality, that’s not so much a blueprint as much as it is having dominant players come up big in clutch situations, and that’s just what the Broncos had on Sunday.
The first part of the equation, the pass rush, is essential to make it work, and the Broncos showed they have the playmakers up front. Everything starts with Von Miller, the best edge rusher in the NFL. New England’s right tackle, Marcus Cannon, was no match for Miller, who finished with three sacks, one hit, and four hurries on 41 rushes. His pass-rush grade of 91.3 is the best among the league’s edge rushers, and it was on full display in the AFC Championship.
On the other side, it was a similarly dominant performance by DeMarcus Ware, who notched a sack, six hits, and three hurries of his own. He did most of his work against Patriots’ left tackle Sebastian Vollmer, combining with Miller to create some of the best edge pressure on both sides that you’ll ever see in a game.
It didn’t stop there.
The great equalizer, especially against Tom Brady, is the interior pressure. More importantly, getting pressure from more than one player makes it near-impossible for the quarterback to diagnose the defense, and Denver got plenty of help on the interior. Derek Wolfe picked up a sack, three hits, and four hurries to go with a batted pass, while Malik Jackson had two hits and four hurries of his own. With pressure coming from all angles, and strong coverage from Denver’s back-seven, Brady had little chance and finished 7-for-23 for 73 yards (3.2 yards/attempt) and a passer rating of 37.0 when pressured.
Perhaps most impressive about the entire effort: the Broncos blitzed a season-low 17.2 percent of the time. The four-man rush created pressure on 19-of-39 dropbacks, an incredible 48.7 percent (Brady was pressured on 35.3 percent of all snaps this season), including two sacks and 12 hits on those 19 pressures. When pressure got home, it got there in 2.16 seconds on average, quicker than Brady’s 2.35 second average time to throw on the season.
Looking forward for Denver, this is the type of pressure they’ll need to combat the high-powered offense of the Carolina Panthers, though the task won’t come as easy. The Panthers’ line gave up 18 sacks, a league-low nine QB hits this season, and the third-fewest “knockdowns” in the league (27). Denver had 18 knockdowns alone against New England. Something has to give.
If the Broncos are going to be crowned Super Bowl champions, it will come down to another dominant performance from their front-four; Miller, Ware, Jackson, and Wolfe may just be up to the task.