The perception of the New England Patriots is that they are reliant upon the strong right arm of Tom Brady to win games, in particular in the playoffs where he has guided the team to multiple SuperBowl victories. This perception was dealt a major blow when Brady went without a touchdown pass in last week divisional round win. Running back LeGarette Blount went for a ridiculous four rushing touchdowns as a steady ground game and a strong overall team running game helped ensure an easy win for the Patriots and set up the showdown this weekend.
The Broncos were led this season by the overall magnificence of Peyton manning this season as he threw for a record 55 touchdown passes. The divisional round game was not a vintage Manning performance but it was enough to get it done. He led to the offense to 24 points, which was just enough to withstand a late Chargers rally to preserve a victory. The biggest surprise may have been the Broncos defense which held a tough Chargers offense to 17 points and most of those came late in the game when the Chargers rallied to make it a one score game.
The obvious matchup is at quarterback where we have two first ballot Hall of Famers matching up in what could be a classic game. However both quarterbacks are coming off what would be considered sub-par performances. Brady’s lack of numbers may have been due to the game plan, which called for a ground attack that resulted in him throwing less passes than usual and only called for him to throw down the field on a few occasions. Blount came out of nowhere to have such a dominant performance and it leaves the Broncos defense to prepare for not only Blount but also the remaining New England running backs that prior to the emergence of Blount were the featured running backs in Steven Ridley and Shane Vereen. Bill Bellechick is a master of manipulation and it is very possible that he would use different formations and substitution packages to throw off the Bronco defense. Peyton manning is coming off a subpar game in which on at least a few occasions his weakening arm strength led to deflected or incomplete passes. Its much colder this late in the year and there will be questions about Manning’s future if he has another performance like last week and the Broncos are unable to advance to a Superbowl. Manning does not need to throw the ball on every down and the key for their offense will be to audible to running plays at the right time and get the ball into the very capable hands of running back Knowshon Moreno who has proven to be an elusive runner capable of breaking arm tackles and who rarely fumbles. The key to getting the ball to the trio of terrific wide receivers as well as Tight End Julius Thomas
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