Patriots’ quick-throw offense will test Broncos’ pass rush

Tom Brady's quick release against Kansas City mitigated the Chiefs' pass rush. Will it have the same effect on Denver?

| 1 year ago
(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

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.

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN and NBCSports.

  • anon76returns

    “More diverse and healthy pass rush”. That’s the key there. Edge pressure can occasionally get to Brady, but it’s generally going up against the Pats’ best pair of pass protectors (Vollmer and Solder, when healthy), and has the longest path to get to the QB, thus being most easily nullified by Brady’s quick release.
    The Chiefs have some very stout run defenders in the interior DL, but the Broncos have better pass rushers on the interior, and are five deep there with guys who put up 2+ sacks on the season (Wolfe, Jackson, Williams, Smith, and Walker), while also being 4 deep with guys who put up 4+ sacks from the edge (Miller, Ware, Barrett, & Ray).
    If the Broncos can get push from the 2/3 interior pass rushers, that will help in slowing down Brady’s release (Jackson alone had 7 batted passes this year), which should help out the edge rushers as well.
    It’s also worth pointing out that the chunk plays given up by the Denver defense were not true to season form. Did they have a down day, or was there secondary suddenly exposed after 16 games of solid tackling and limiting YAC? It’s a fair question, but my guess is that it was more a case of the former than the latter.

    • Tim Edell

      Great point..the ability of Denver to create pressure from the interior is paramount for them!

    • humper-dinkle dinkle-humper

      I think that the Pitt game wasn’t so much the 2ndary being exposed (as the writer of the column stated) but instead an strategic adjustment. Pitt is the only offense that gave Denver fits this year through its combination of a HoF QB in his prime, skill players, solid o-line, and sharp coaching decisions. I think that they decided to play off the line and keep everything in front of them. This meant they gave up big chunks, but when the field shortened they were able to tighten things up and only gave up a single offensive TD. Given the sputtering offense, this was risky … but it worked. I think it was one of Wade’s masterpieces this season. Denver held up strongly against NE and I think they should again … if Chris Harris is at least 75% of his 2014 form. This should be a close game … and Denver has honed its team psychology on these tight, ugly games. I like their chances*.

      *That said, if Denver goes out flat like they did last Sunday they will be blown out.

      • anon76returns

        Certainly the Broncos switched to zone coverage schemes, but the chunk plays they gave up were almost purely due to defenders failing to carry out their assignments (ex: Roby letting DHB get open behind him for 40 yards). There was almost always a defender there to make the play, but 5 or 6 times they just failed to make the play. Broncos definitely need to play better against the Patriots- they don’t go for big chunk plays these days, but blown assignments will lead to Brady having 400 yards and 40 first downs on 6.5 ypa passing. Death by a million paper cuts.

        • humper-dinkle dinkle-humper

          Agreed — I am not denying that there were mental and technique mistakes in coverage. These mistakes can be attributed, I think, to the fact that Denver is not a zone team. I don’ t think the 2ndary was comfortable in that scheme …. but Wade’s overall plan worked. They gave up yards, but not points. He went to ‘bend but don’t break’ and, though the players were no comfortable in the scheme, they executed it well.

  • Peter Kaboth

    Great comments to this article so far – no name-calling or temper tantrums, just an intelligent discussion based in facts. Could the lack of Patriots fan comments have anything to do with the civility and insight on display in this discussion? I can’t say for sure but I get the feeling that the previous posters are all Broncos fans. I’m just proud of the level of class and knowledge displayed by my fellow Broncos fans.

    In terms of the game itself, the Broncos D will need to disrupt Brady’s timing and get him out of his comfort zone in order to have a chance at winning. That doesn’t necessarily mean the Broncos need sacks, collapsing the pocket around Brady so that he’s uncomfortable will go a long way towards disrupting the Pats rhythm on offense. Even the bet quarterbacks make mistakes when their operating space is reduced due to a shrinking pocket.

    • Evocoot

      your first sentence would have stood better without your second one. The second one just invites and could be considered exactly what you aren’t looking for.