As the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos get set to battle it out for the right take part in the Super Bowl, we took a closer look into this AFC Championship showdown. Editor Andrew Dill of Mile High Maniac answered five of my questions regarding the Broncos chances of winning on Sunday.
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1.) Do the Broncos have enough toughness defensively to combat the Patriots smash-mouth rushing attack? New England’s offensive line excels in run blocking and they have four backs who can step in and contribute. LeGarrette Blount, Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden all are unique in their own ways.
A: It will be tough given the variety of backs that the New England Patriots equip, like you said they are all unique. One thing that is intriguing about this matchup is the Broncos are good at stopping the run. The problem with Denver is they give up too many big plays which bury them in a hole. Denver’s defense is built on quickness with linebackers Danny Trevathan and Wesley Woodyard leading the charge. As a Broncos fan, I would be more concerned about the Patriots passing attack then their running game.
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2.) With the loss of top cornerback Chris Harris and the aging Champ Bailey who will likely take on a more prominent role, can the Broncos secondary slow Tom Brady when he goes to the air? The Patriots boast a lethal play-action passing attack, as they gashed Indy numerous times last week.
A: Rookie cornerback Kayvon Webster will likely line-up in Chris Harris’s spot with the play of Quentin Jammer last week. Webster has shown flashes of potential but in the Week 15 game against the San Diego Chargers, Phillip Rivers and Keenan Allen took advantage of him. There were some rumblings of moving Champ Bailey back to his normal spot but he looks to be comfortable in the slot and would be a blow if he re-injured that foot.
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3.) Given Peyton Manning’s 0-2 record against the Patriots since becoming a Bronco and his team’s second half collapse in New England earlier this season, will he be feeling any added pressure in going up against Brady and Belichick in such key a game?
A: Peyton would be the first to say that it’s just another game against Tom Brady. Well, we know both quarterbacks would love to beat the other to be considered the top quarterback in the game. Denver has had their struggles with the Patriots over the last couple of years but this team today poses more of a threat to another Patriots Super Bowl Bid. There will be added pressure no doubt, considering the whole legacy thing floating above Manning’s head after last year’s exit in the playoffs to the Baltimore Ravens, including his postseason record. Also, the media saying Manning can’t perform well in big games. Against San Diego in the Divisional Round, he played extremely well despite the interception that bounced off of the chest of Eric Decker.
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4.) Given Aqib Talib’s ability to shutdown an opposing team’s top target and the emergence of Alfonzo Dennard, Jamie Collins, Chandler Jones and Logan Ryan as key role players on the Patriots defense, will the Broncos be prepared to face a group that is certainly more capable than San Diego’s defense?
A: It will certainly be a tough task but it will come down to Denver taking care of the ball. In their last meeting against the Patriots during the regular season, the Broncos turned the ball over four times, including three fumbles and an interception. They certainly have the weapons that can cause mismatches with Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas, Wes Welker, Eric Decker, and even Andre Caldwell. The Patriots defense in covering those players should be something to keep an eye on come Sunday.
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5. Outside of the household names on the Broncos, who are some lesser know guys that need to step up in order to emerge victorious on Sunday?
A: Besides Kayvon Webster, defensive tackle Terrance Knighton will have to be on his top game controlling the line. The 6-foot-3, 335 pound defensive tackle was a run-stopper in the regular season, combining for 31 tackles and 3.0 sacks. Defensive end Jeremy Mincey will have to step up as well. He was previously with Jacksonville and signed by the Broncos on December 17th. He played well against the San Diego Chargers on Sunday, getting pressure to Phillip Rivers for 2 tackles and a sack. Malik Jackson is another guy to keep an eye on as he currently had 6.0 sacks on the season with 42 tackles.