Nothing drives me as nuts as conventional wisdom. Conventional wisdom takes many forms, including prevailing storylines that occupy everyones’ collective attention. A good analyst spots trends before they unfold, and much of what passes as sports analysis (or political analysis or financial analysis) is one talking head responding to another talking head. There is precious little imagination.
Relevant to the entire Rockies is the biggest Bronco game in six years. The last game that ever really mattered was the Broncos tilt with the Steelers in January 2006. My twins weren’t even born when that happened. That game followed the last truly big win in Bronco history, Tom Brady’s first ever playoff loss.
Strategy trumps tactics every time. With that in mind, here are three keys to the Broncs tilt with the Pats, and none of them directly involve the play of either Tom Brady or Tim Tebow. Of course, these keys don’t apply to how the Pats will win, this will either be a Pats blow out or a late game nail-biter when you know what can happen.
Key One: the Broncos Defensive Tackles. The only way you can plan to beat the Patriots is to beat Tom Brady. The only way to really fluster Brady is to get pressure on him, and there is no way you can consistently blitz six and leave only five in coverage on a guy that throws as accurately as Brady. Brady is not mobile and uses his huge size to see down the field from the middle of the pocket. That means that the play up the gut on the defensive side of the ball is enormously important. Marcus Thomas and Broderick Bunkley have been largely ignored on defense with the playmaking all round them from Von Miller, Elvis Dumervil, DJ Williams, Champ Bailey and even Robert Ayers on occasion. These guys have been great, but it is because the middle has held on the defensive front line. With the Broncos likely spending most of the game in nickel or dime packages, and with the small and fleet Wesley Woodyard on the field, Thomas and Bunckley getting sustained pressure will enable the playmakers to make plays.
Key Two: Willis McGahee. McGahee’s ride in the Rejuvenator has been enjoyable to watch and if anyone on the Broncos offense delivers a trip to Honolulu, it is Willis. If Willis goes for 100, it will be very hard for the Patriots to win. Quite simply, Willis runs hard, punishes defenses and keeps the ball away from the other team’s offense. Tebow gets a ton of well-deserved credit for his running and for making defenses honor eleven-not ten-runners. But the play of McGahee is critical to the Broncos fortunes. If Willis is shut down, it will be very hard for Denver to have any chance.
Key Three: Colquitt/Prater/Paxton. Lonnie Paxton was the first free agent signed by Josh McDaniels. Why spend $2 million on a long snapper? Well, he snaps pretty darn well and the team making the fewest mistakes often wins. More important, great special teams play turns games. The Broncos don’t turn the ball over and therefore, Prater is very accurate from beyond 50 and usually finds the deep end zone on knockoffs, and Colquitt has been All Pro. If Tom Brady is given a short field, ever, put six on the board for New England. But if he has to drive a long field time and time again, he will have t consistently beat the Broncos secondary and be subject to their pass rush.
All three of these keys have to fall in the Broncos hands to have a chance. If they don’t happen, Tebow has no chance, and their playoff chances could well be dashed.