ReFo: Broncos @ Patriots, Week 9

Steve Palazzolo looks at the most recent Brady-Manning matchup and other standouts from the Patriots-Broncos Week 9 contest.

| 3 years ago

ReFo: Broncos @ Patriots, Week 9

2014-REFO-WK09-DEN@NEStorylines were abundant heading into this week’s matchup between the Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots, and none bigger than their respective positioning for the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Perhaps buried beneath the Brady vs. Manning and Patriots vs. Talib/Welker stories, the Patriots dealt a big blow in the battle for home field advantage come January.

The story of the game came down to situational football, whether costly turnovers or playmaking on critical downs. While the Broncos seemed to move the ball through the air at will throughout the game, the Patriots’ defense cracked down on third (3-for-11) and fourth downs (0-for-4). Throw in the two turnovers, and it was a banner day for the “bend but don’t break” style consistent with Bill Belichick-led defenses.

For the Broncos, the defense was put into some tough spots, but they had few answers for the Patriots’ passing game, particularly tight end Rob Gronkowski and wide receiver Julian Edelman who combined to catch 18-of-20 targets for 194 yards and two touchdowns.

Of course, both Tom Brady and Peyton Manning put on a show once again, flashing their Hall of Fame ability in their 16th head-to-head matchup. We may only see so many more battles in the coming years, so it’s important to appreciate the two greats while we have them.

Beyond the quarterbacks, here’s a look at the rest of the game’s notable performances.

Denver Broncos – Performances of Note

Aqib Talib, CB: -3.4

Breakdown: It was not a great return to New England for Talib who was picked on to the tune of five receptions on eight targets for 73 yards, with all three incompletions coming from drops (including one in the end zone by Edelman). He struggled keeping up with Edelman’s route running throughout the game.

Signature Plays: The Edelman would-be touchdown was a nifty route with Talib shaken pretty badly (38 seconds to go in the second quarter). He also picked up defensive holding penalty when lined up opposite Gronkowski late in the first half.

Peyton Manning, QB: +1.3

Breakdown: Manning had flashes of his typical brilliance at times on Sunday, but there were also some questionable throws and he had a number of passes defensed by New England defenders. He dropped some beautiful touch passes to TE Julius Thomas for a touchdown and later to WR Emmanuel Sanders down the sideline, and he even led WR Demaryius Thomas into open space for a 42-yard gain on a post route with 14:51 to go in the game. Despite the big plays, he was unable to connect on a number of third- and fourth-down conversions in New England territory, and that was one of the big differences in the game.

Signature Pays: Manning’s first interception was a mis-read of the coverage as he appeared to be baited by linebacker Rob Ninkovich who adjusted to a near-identical concept that had just beaten him a play earlier. With 14:14 to go in the second quarter, Manning hit WR Wes Welker with a deep crossing route just behind Ninkovich’s coverage and Manning went back to a similar route on the very next play, but Ninkovich did a better job of gaining depth in his drop and read Manning for the easy interception.

Manning’s second interception was not really on him as he threw a decent pass to Welker amid four Patriots, but he dropped the pass and CB Brandon Browner picked it off on the deflection. This offset an earlier poor decision by Manning who rushed a throw under pressure right into CB Kyle Arrington’s arms, but Welker was there to bat it away to save the interception.

Broncos Running Backs: -4.5 in pass protection

Breakdown: A big part of slowing Manning down in any game is finding a way to get pressure and while the Patriots didn’t get to him often, when they did, it came quickly and often came through the running backs. Ronnie Hillman was the biggest culprit as he struggled with “A-gap” blitzes throughout the afternoon and surrendered three hurries on only eight pass blocking attempts.

Signature Stats: Broncos running backs combined to surrender five hurries on 16 attempts in pass protection to go with their combined -4.5 grade.

New England – Performances of Note

Rob Gronkowski, TE: +6.0

Breakdown: Gronkowski appears to be rounding back into form in recent weeks and Sunday’s game was no different. He caught 9-of-10 targets for 105 yards and a touchdown with seven of his catches going for first downs. He even threw in some strong trap blocks in the running game for good measure.

Signature Plays: Gronkowski’s catch and run at the 11:06 mark of the third quarter was a classic play from him as he took the short out route, made two defenders miss, and turned it into a 15-yard first down. But his most memorable play was his one-handed snag near the goal line early in the fourth quarter that set up his touchdown on the very next play.

Tom Brady, QB: +3.3

Breakdown: It was yet another efficient outing for Brady who did some fine work in the red zone to help ensure the victory for New England. In classic Brady fashion, he controlled the game between the numbers completing 26-of-35 passes for 266 yards and a +2.6 grade in that area.

Signature Plays: Brady’s best throws came around the goal line, though his best throw may have been a drop to WR Brandon LaFell in the end zone with 14:28 to go in the second quarter. He followed it up later in the quarter with a touchdown pass to Edelman as he zipped the ball past SS T.J. Ward who was beaten by the velocity on the ball as much as the location. Throw in a nice touch pass to Edelman that was also dropped in the end zone and it was a strong day for Brady around the goal line.

Jamie Collins, OLB, +4.0 and Patrick Chung, SS, +4.9

Breakdown: Both Collins and Chung were big parts of the Patriots’ game plan as Collins did fine work as a blitzer picking up five hurries on 12 rushes and Chung covered a variety of Broncos’ wide receivers and tight ends. He surrendered four catches on nine targets for 52 yards and a touchdown, but he also managed to get his hands on four passes (One negated by a penalty). Collins did his part in coverage as well, grading at +1.0 and finishing with a team-high seven stops.

Signature Plays: For Collins, his A-gap pressures stood out as he tossed Hillman aside at the 8:42 mark of the second quarter and later juking past him to provide the quick pressure on Manning and nearly force an interception with 5:39 to go in the second. Chung made some good plays on the ball, whether knocking away a potential touchdown with 11:33 to go in the fourth quarter or staying with TE Jacob Tamme’s wheel route with 4:38 to go in the game.

PFF Game Ball

Rob Gronkowski looked like the best player on the field Sunday as the Broncos had no answer for him in the passing game.


Follow Steve on Twitter: @PFF_Steve


| Senior Analyst

Steve is a senior analyst at Pro Football Focus. His work has been featured on ESPN Insider, NBC Sports, and 120 Sports.

  • Jason Williams

    I thought Manning looked as bad as I’ve seen him in a Broncos uniform. I felt like he was directly responsible for the play that ended the day for Welker. He led him right into that hit.

    Gronk was a monster. My goodness.

    • Lord Mad

      Agreed..I don’t see how that INT was not on him. Manning has no regard for the health of his receivers and lofted it high into heavy coverage. That is also why Welker is getting concussed/hurt so damn often and not even 2 years into being with the Broncos.

      • pbskids4000

        If the ball is tipped up by the reciever, it is not the QBs fault.

        • Lord Mad

          He was going to get destroyed anyway by Dmac and the ball likely would have been knocked out anyway.

          • Guest

            LOL. The ball was in his gut before even getting hit.

      • Brian Bigger

        Maybe you should actually watch the play. Manning put the ball right between the numbers and Welker decided to catch with this body not his hands (like a rookie). All on Welker. If this is on Manning why is Welker the only wr that has missed games since Manning has been in Denver?

        • Lord Mad

          I did actually WATCH the play and I watched it in slow motion. Manning made a poor decision on a risky throw with his terrible duck attempt. Maybe you should understand situational awareness and why so many of Manning’s former pass catchers end up retiring early and/or struggle to stay on the field.

          • Brian Bigger

            The ball was to Welker well before he was actually hit. The pass was fine. I think you are just a Manning hater.

          • Lord Mad

            Anybody that resorts to calling somebody a “hater” is nothing but a feckless whelp.

          • anon76returns

            Clearly not a Manning hater, but rather a Pats fan. They’ve been complaining that Manning is getting Welker killed all season, conveniently ignoring the fact that Welker’s people say he had multiple concussions while playing for the Pats.

          • Lord Mad

            He also played for about 6 years on the Pats so yes, of course he would get multiple but it wasn’t because Brady was leading him into those concussion unlike Manning who does that to a lot of his receivers.

          • andre

            Manning is overrated he got outplayed by Russell Wilson.

    • pbskids4000

      How many games have you watched if THIS is the worst you’ve ever seen him? At worst this was an average day for him.

      • guest

        How many QBs have an average day with 438 yards passing and two touchdowns?

        • Lord Mad

          Let’s rewrite those stats but with the two dumb INTs on him and the 150~ yards + completions he got when the game was well out of hand.

          • guest

            I can agree with one dumb interception, but he hit Welker in the chest..Welker didn’t use his hands, but let the ball get to his body, totally on Welker for that one.

    • John

      You are Bear fan your opinion is invalid. You got Jay Cutler throwing pick after pick what do you know man

      • Jason Williams

        way to stay current with the conversation man – this was three weeks ago.


    Revis and Browner were abused all game. This game came down to coaching and game planning and as usual Belichick owned Fox.

    • James

      Belicheck owned Manning too.

      • Nick

        Belicheck gets own by Tom Coughlin. Peyton is overrated. All he does is run up the score on awful team.

    • Lord Mad

      Abused? what regard? This came down to everything and the Patriots executed well and bullied the soft Broncos.

      • PatsFinatic

        They were not abused . Revis allowed 3 catches in the first quarter and then NOTHING else. He gave up 2 catches in garbage time when the game was already decided . Browner didnt play excellent, but Revis wasnt that bad. And its the broncos WR he matched up with not a bunch of bums.

      • guest

        The Patriots play very physical defense at home, because they know the refs will give them the calls there. Against San Diego, a San Diego linebacker hit a Bronco running back that had fell to the ground untouched. The ref in the booth said it was a “point of emphasis” this year, that the linebacker should have just reached down and touched the receiver on the ground. He was hit with a personal foul for unnecessary roughness. At New England, twice receivers with the ball slipped and went down, and they were immediately speared by Patriots defensive players. No flags whatsoever. Say what about home field advantage?

    • eYeDEF

      If you thought Revis was abused then what exactly would you call Talib?

  • Rick S.

    This was similar to the San Diego game last year, in that it was 3rd downs and special teams that caused Denver the game, along with Fox and Del Rio being out-coached.

    Denver and New England were equally effective on 1st/2nd down, but on 3rd downs Denver couldn’t stop New England and couldn’t convert when they were on Offense.

    The special teams gave up a return TD, missed a FG that was really worth 6 pts because they went for it instead of kicking on the next drive, and they made stupid penalties that flipped the field (PR interference that led to Pats getting a a FG on a drive where they only made one first down).

    • Lord Mad

      Out coached and out played as a team regarded as the best offense and defense.

  • longtail

    I was a little surprised that the media didn’t make more of the Gronkowski reception at the Denver 1. I considered that one of the ten best catches I’ve seen in fifty years.

    • guest

      Gronkowski is the best all around tight end I have ever seen. Brady has been very lucky to play with the most physically talented receiver ever, Randy Moss, the best slot receiver ever (in his prime), Wes Welker, and the most talented tight end ever, Gronkowski. And he has never had any weapons.

      • nemome

        Well, he gets Gronk for parts of years…he never makes it through any. He had Moss really for two years. He did have Welker, but it is the lack of talent across the board for Brady. He often has predominantly had average to less than average receivers. He had Edelman last year and Gronk for half a year, plus a little Amendola. If you think about it, his performance last year was amazing considering how many receivers from 2012 he lost from the system, and still made it to the AFC Championship without Gronk, with Edelman, Vereen, and little else.

        • guest

          Vereen is a very good back coming out of the backfield in the passing game. He was hurt some last year, too. Faulk was pretty good at that as well. Belichick has done a good job getting some good receiving options out of the backfield.

        • Jay

          It’s funny how people praise the Talent he had to work with but completely ignore the lack of Talent he won a his championships with.

  • Jim F. Kennedy

    didnt jamie collings completely lost track of Hillman on his second TD?

    • anon76returns

      He didn’t lose track of him- Collins blitzed. Hard to infer whether or not Collins blew his assignment, but clearly Collins did not think that Hillman was his assignment on that play.

  • anon76returns

    I’d be interested to hear the reasoning on Hillman’s pass blocking grade. Hillman never missed an assignment, and on his 3 ‘worst’ blocks he re-routed the blitzer, allowing Peyton to step up and deliver ~accurate passes. He did this in spite of the fact that the LBs he was blocking had full heads of steam and outweighed him by ~60 pounds, and I emphasize again that they never laid a hand on Manning.
    I’m not saying he should have had a positive pass blocking grade, or even a ‘0’ grade. But getting a -4.0 on essentially 3 ‘bad’ blocks is something that I thought would be reserved for missed assignments leading to easy sacks. Those blocks just weren’t that bad, and gave Manning time to pass in each case.