In what could be a shootout between Tom Brady’s Patriots and Peyton Manning’s Broncos, a key for Denver will be the pass rush.
Broncos pass rush vs. Patriots O-line
It has been written countless times, but getting pressure on Tom Brady using as few defenders as possible is a good recipe to slow the Patriots’ offense, since he can pick apart a blitzing defense. The Bills tried last week by relying on a front four that fell well short of expectations and barely breathed on Brady all day long.
The Broncos have a pair of edge rushers that can do damage in Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller, but in two matchups against New England last season, the duo was held in check. In Week 15, Dumervil notched a pair of QB hits, including a sack. One hit on Brady came on a designed TE screen to Rob Gronkowski, and Dumervil came in between Gronk and OLT Matt Light to help blow up the play.
Dumervil had a crushing sack on Brady in the fourth quarter, when ORT Nate Solder took the inside blitzer and ORG Brian Waters couldn’t get around in time to stop Dumervil, who came untouched. It appeared to be a miscommunication, but the Broncos hardly rattled Brady in that game, nor did they in the playoff matchup, when Brady threw six touchdown passes. In that game, Miller got one quarterback hit, but it was late, as Brady had completed a pass to Gronkowski.
Instead of looking back at those plays, the Broncos would be well served to see what Ray Horton's defense did to Brady in the Cardinals' Week Two upset, and that’s where rookie Derek Wolfe could help. Arizona’s front wreaked havoc all day, finishing with four sacks and six QB hits. Arizona’s Calais Campbell (two sacks) had a big game rushing from the inside as well as the edge to get into the backfield. The Cardinals also benefited from a pair of coverage sacks.
Wolfe, Dumervil and Miller are the Broncos’ top pass rushers in Jack Del Rio’s new defense. In four games, they have combined for 6½ sacks, 10 tackles for loss and 17 QB hits. Dumervil will get Solder, the left tackle this season, who, along with ORT Sebastian Vollmer, was superb last week against Buffalo. The Broncos will want their pass rushers to get by quickly, and Dumervil and Miller have the speed to do so, which means the pressure is on the Patriots’ tackles and tight ends to win the initial punch.
Last week, with a heavy focus on running the football, Patriots TE Daniel Fells, a solid blocker, saw a fair amount of snaps, and he should be able to help with protection. The Broncos’ run defense has been solid this season and they will want to make the Patriots one-dimensional, which puts the emphasis on their pass rush.
Wolfe could be key as well. The rookie will move inside on passing downs and if he can get upfield toward Brady, who would prefer to stay in the pocket, that will benefit the Broncos. The Bills’ defensive tackles, however, were unable to do much of anything last week to slow the pass attack, and New England should have All-Pro OLG Logan Mankins back for this game.
The Broncos’ defense is different this season in terms of scheme, coaching and personnel, but the goal against the Patriots is always the same — get into the backfield and disrupt Brady’s rhythm. Dumervil and Miller will have to be careful about pinning their ears back, considering the Patriots’ recent success running the ball, and New England could use screen passes as well.
The quarterbacks are both great, and while Brady may have more weapons at his disposal, the Broncos have better edge rushers, and that could be how they gain an advantage in Sunday’s game. The Patriots’ O-line, a question mark in the preseason and vs. Arizona, had an exceptional game in Week Four and will need to step up again vs. Denver.