Patriots' quick-throw offense will test Broncos' pass rush
One of the more interesting matchups on paper heading into last weekend was how New England would fare trying to block Kansas City’s pass-rushers, and as it played out, the answer was quite well. Justin Houston’s knee injury caused him to miss much of the game for the Chiefs, but that wasn’t the only factor in why New England prevailed in this area.
The Patriots do not have a good offensive line or pass-protection unit, but they have an offense uniquely suited to mitigating the damage by getting rid of the football quickly. Tom Brady had the fastest average time-to-throw in the NFL this season, and that’s a time that is even quicker when he has Julian Edelman in the lineup.
Brady’s average of 2.35 seconds this season is already the fastest mark in the league, but it drops to 2.2 seconds when he has Edelman in the lineup, and goes up to 2.5 when he does not.
Against Kansas City, Brady had the ball in his hands an average of just 2.19 seconds, with 79.1 percent of his passes coming out in 2.5 seconds or less. On those plays, he had a completion percentage of 76.5 percent, giving the opposing pass-rush very little time to make an impact.
No New England pass-blocker surrendered more than two total pressures in the playoff win, and as an offense, they allowed just five total. Brady didn’t hit the ground once by the fault of his pass blockers, but the credit should go to the speed with which he got rid of the ball, more so than the length of time his blocking held up.
Denver struts into the AFC Championship game with a more diverse and healthy pass-rush stable than the Chiefs presented, but the key may be further back in the defense—can their pass coverage stifle Edelman and the rest of the Patriots receivers, buying the rush time to pressure Brady?
Against the Steelers, Denver had four players record multiple total pressures, with both Von Miller and Derek Wolfe notching seven each. However, the Broncos’ coverage was problematic on the back end against Pittsburgh, a good omen for the Patriots’ offense in the AFC Championship.
Whether they were spooked into schematic changes by how badly they were gashed by Antonio Brown and the Steelers in their first meeting, or whether it was more to accommodate the injury Chris Harris Jr. is playing through, Denver’s man-coverage was dialed back and exposed in the game by Pittsburgh.
If they can run what they do best against New England—man coverage across the board—then Denver will have a chance of forcing Brady to hold the ball long enough for the pass-rush to have an impact. If they choose to run the same watered down version of their coverage schemes as they did against the Steelers, or if the man-coverage simply can’t hold up against Edelman and Rob Gronkowski, then all the pass-rushers in the world won’t be enough to stop the Patriots’ offense from rolling, because they simply won’t have time to get to Brady.
New England’s pass-protection could once again look a lot better than it actually is. If that occurs, the praise should go in the direction of Brady and the receivers, once again.