A few random thoughts on the Patriots win over the Broncos after re-watching the game for a third time.
Denver’s Vonn Miller is a very good player without a doubt – I want to make that perfectly clear. While he did get two sacks and a forced fumble, none of his plays were game changers. (Yes, I know he blew up the play at the end of the half where the Pats had to settle for a field goal; that was a good play but not a game changing play). The Patriots simply had bigger plays, both in terms of quantity and magnitude. The Broncos also had more unforced errors, mental or physical lapses that were big plays in a negative way. It’s really surprising that the final score was as close as it was.
Why people focus so much on the inappropriately named “total offense” and “total defense” statistics while simultaneously glossing over turnovers is beyond me. There is such a far greater correlation between winning and losing with turnovers rather than yardage that the former should be just another statistic, like third down percentage or yards per carry. By the way, Denver turned the ball over three times, the Pats once; not coincidentally the reason the Broncos got back into the game and kept it close was that one turnover by the Patriots.
Big Play #1: on the opening drive Peyton Manning hits Demaryius Thomas for a 40+ yard gain deep in to Pats territory. Thomas focused on gaining yardage rather than securing the ball while Sterling Moore made a conscious effort to cause a fumble. Moore succeeded in punching the ball out, preventing Denver from scoring at least three and probably seven points.
On a side note, for all those that assess full blame on the cornerback for a completed pass (yes, I’m looking at you PFF), the major culprit in this completion was Tavon Wilson, not Moore. It appears that Wilson thought manning would go underneath to Brandon Stokely – but there was no reason for the rookie to bite on that since Stokely was covered by Ras-I Dowling and Patrick Chung on the play. I’m sure Wilson heard the phrase “Do Your Job” more than once monday morning. Unfortunately the recurring theme from 2011 remains, as an out of position safety hangs his fellow cornerback out to dry on a long pass completion by the opposition.
In Thomas’ defense he did redeem himself with several good plays – he finished the game with nine receptions for a whopping 188 yards – but if the Broncos score to take the lead early, the entire tenor of the game could have changed.
Big Play #2: late in the 2nd quarter the Pats are faced with a 3rd & 14 deep in their own territory on the 11 yard line. Danny Woodhead winds his way downfield for a 25-yard gain and an improbable first down, thanks in part to some nice blocking (more on that later).
Big Play #3: after a holding penalty on Ryan Wendell negates a completion to Rob Gronkowski and put the Pats into a 3rd and 17, Woodhead runs 19 yards for a first down. The play was a thing of beauty: Gronk went in motion and took out DE Elvis Dumervil while Nate Solder obliterated LB Wesley Woodward. Wendell and Dan Connolly sealed off DE Robert Ayers and LB Joe Mays. Logan Mankins led the way through the opening and didn’t even have anybody to block for about ten yards, when he got to help out Deion Branch on S Jim Leonhard. Into the next level now CB Chris Harris came over, but Wes Welker took care of him, and then added a block on S Mike Adams. It was absolute textbook teamwork, with great blocking both on the line as well as downfield.
Overall for the game Deion Branch, Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski all did an excellent job run blocking all night long – something that doesn’t show up in their stat lines but had a profound impact on how successful the Pats were in running the ball. The Pats went on from there to score a touchdown and take a 24-7 lead.
Big Play #4 – on Denver’s ensuing first play from scrimmage Rob Ninkovich strips the ball away from Peyton Manning. The turnover is no fluke, it’s obvious what Ninkovich was trying to accomplish. Vince Wilfork recovers and on first down Stevan Ridley scores to put the Pats up 31-7.
Big Play #5 – Pats fail to convert on 4th and 5, losing twenty yards in the process. Denver scores just 1:25 later to make the score 31-21. While in hindsight the Pats should have punted, the issue I have is the play calling. If the Pats were not going to punt and considered that to be four down territory, then why tip their hand by going with an empty backfield on both 3rd and 4th down?
Big Play #6 – three plays later Stevan Ridley fumbles the ball. While Ridley absolutely has to hold on to the ball in this situation, again I don’t like the play call of running him in to the line in that situation, where you know the Broncos are going to try and strip the ball away from him.
Big Play #7 – Rob Ninkovich forces his second fumble of the game, stripping the ball away from Willis McGahee. Pats recover and run out the clock for a 31-21 win.
Seven big plays: five went the Pats way, and two went the Broncos way. It really wasn’t as close as the final score would have you believe.
I wouldn’t characterize it as a big play, but Brandon Bolden‘s 24-yard run on 3rd and 1, three plays after Woodhead’s 25-yard gain on 3rd and 14 is worth mentioning. Bolden’s ability to break tackles is a joy to see, but he also whiffed in pass protection that resulted in Brady getting knocked down.
Yes, Stevan Ridley fumbled at a key time late in the 4th quarter. It’s something that is obviously a concern, but it’s not enough to sit him when he’s rushing for 151 yards – yet.
On the offensive line Logan Mankins appeared to be flawless but Ryan Wendell had a tough time; it seemed as if nearly every sack or run stuffed for no gain was a result of a defender beating him on that play. Sebastian Vollmer limped off with what appeared to be a leg injury; hopefully he’ll be back to 100% by Sunday. Don’t hold your breath on getting any more information than that on the severity of the injury out of Foxboro this week.
The Broncos blitzed about 40% of the time, and although Brady was sacked four times he did not turn the ball over. Overall the offensive line did a good job of protecting him, and he made the Broncos pay, completing one pass after another when Denver brought an extra pass rusher. So much for the superficial theory casual fans have that in order to beat the patriots all you need to blitz Brady.
Daniel Fells didn’t really distinguish himself at tight end, with a dropped pass and a couple of missed blocks. The Pats only had two tight ends active for the game so they went with a fewer two-TE sets and more three-WR formations. Later in the game Nick McDonald got several snaps at TE to help out in blocking; it looked as if the offensive line was getting tired from being on the field for so many plays. I thought that was supposed to favor the OL and not the defense?
Once again opponents got zero return yardage off Zoltan Mesko‘s punts; he averaged 43 yards on his three punts.
On the other side of the ball Denver safety Joe Mays seemed to be overwhelmed and overmatched. The Broncos didn’t seem to respond and help him out schematically, so the Pats just kept taking advantage of the mismatches.
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