Week 9 Recap: Patriots Embarrass Broncos Defense

Yesterday, we analyzed in depth how the Patriots stopped the Broncos Offense. Today, we dug in just as deep to see how New England scored 43 points against a previously very good Denver defense.

In our preview of this game, we said, “If Jack Del Rio doesn’t address Gronk, then it doesn’t really matter who they have rushing the passer. They won’t have time to get there.” This proved to be one hundred percent true. The Broncos barely touched Gronkowski off the line all afternoon. He was not only wide open on several plays, but Brady was able to get him the ball immediately. The Broncos vaunted pass rush had no chance to get to him as a result.

Rob Gronkowski at the snap with lots of room in front of him - Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com
Rob Gronkowski at the snap with nothing to impede his path – Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

When Gronkowski is able to release freely off the line, he can build up his speed and outrun defenders or beat them with one quick cut. This is why, as a defense, you have to make him stop and start by getting some kind of jam on him at the line. You have to disrupt him, and that gives you a chance to disrupt Brady and the passing game. Gronkowski is the key to this offense, and if teams around the NFL don’t start making life difficult for him at the line of scrimmage, there is no doubt that this offense will continue to put up 30 and 40-point performances weekly.

Why Did the Broncos Even Get Talib?
Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib made a name for himself on the Patriots defense a year ago by following the opponent’s best receiver, even if that included a tight end. He was left to jam, press, and be physical with whoever Belichick assigned him to, and he was extremely effective. This is the type of player he is. He isn’t a fast corner who runs stride for stride with speedy receivers. His strength is controlling the receiver with his physicality. Unfortunately for the Broncos, defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio has rarely used him in this capacity this season. Talib is not as good in space as he is in press-man. A few times on Sunday, he had a difficult time reacting to routes while playing off-coverage. Some of these instances occurred on critical 3rd downs. If Del Rio doesn’t start allowing Talib to do what he does best, then Denver’s investment in the cornerback will become a huge waste.

It was interesting to see the contrast between New England’s defensive approach and Denver’s. The Patriots seemed adamant about getting their hands on the Broncos’ receivers. The Broncos, on the other hand, barely jammed or rerouted at all with any of their corners. To be fair, the Patriots did a good job of using motion, stacked alignments, and routes that crossed each other in order to prevent Denver from playing press. Regardless, the Broncos’ lack of physicality with Gronk and with the rest of the receivers resulted in the Patriots offense operating smoothly.

Play-action has been key to New England’s success during their 5-game winning streak. Brady has been spectacular off of play-fakes, immediately turning his head around and getting the ball out of his hands quickly while defenders are out of position. This aspect of the game plan took advantage of a defense that is physical and aggressive against the run.

No Pass Rush:
Everything we’ve mentioned to this point contributed to the Broncos’ inability to get to Brady. The Patriots have a quick passing game, and when Brady can get the ball out of his hands immediately on a regular basis, it really doesn’t matter who is rushing the passer. This was why it was so important for the Broncos to play press coverage and disrupt routes. When Brady is able to plant and throw right away, he’s deadly. When he has to hold the ball, the chances of success for the defense increase significantly. Denver didn’t make him do much of that on Sunday.

Tom Brady had a very good game against Denver, but he wasn’t quite as sharp as he was in his previous 4 games. He missed two touchdowns on deep posts to Brandon LaFell against quarters coverage. The wind might have played a role on these throws. Brady also threw a bad interception in the 3rd quarter because Denver got quick inside pressure (a rarity on Sunday). Brady subsequently rushed his throw, the ball sailed on him, got deflected in the air, and ended up in the hands of cornerback Bradley Roby.

Other than these plays, Brady kept the chains moving. He made a few great throws into tight windows, but mostly, he did a good job of getting the ball to the open receiver. He didn’t try to do too much. Instead, he took what the defense was giving him underneath. Furthermore, he made a few plays outside of the pocket to extend drives. This is something we’ve seen several times of late out of Brady.

Final Thoughts:
Special teams and short fields off of turnovers were heavy contributors to the Patriots’ success and the Broncos’ demise on Sunday. Yet, when comparing both sides of the ball, there is one clear reason why the Patriots were able to come away with the win: Their defense disrupted the Broncos offense with scheme, and Denver’s defense did nothing to try and prevent New England’s offense from operating the way it normally does.

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