Broncos-Patriots: clues from Week 15 game

AP Photo/Barry Gutierrez

Tim Tebow runs against the Patriots in a Week 15 matchup, but is met by defensive back
Nate Jones. The Broncos led 16-7 early, but would go on to win 41-23.

After 15 minutes of play in Week 15 in Denver, the Denver Broncos were up 13-7 on the New England Patriots and looked poised to add more with the ball on the New England 15-yard line. Denver had gained 167 rushing yards, the highest single-quarter total of any Patriots opponent in the Belichick era.

After Denver kicked a field goal to make it 16-7, Tom Brady and the Patriots rattled off 27 straight points and finished with a 41-23 victory.

How did the Patriots turn it around, and what can the Broncos take away from that game that may help on Saturday?

What happened

• Denver stopped running. The Broncos ran 20 plays in the first quarter, 14 of which were designed runs (70 percent) with one scramble. Denver ran 38 plays over the last three quarters, 13 of which were designed runs (34.2 percent). Willis McGahee had five rushes for 59 yards in the first quarter, but had just two rushes for 11 yards the rest of the game.

• In that pivotal second quarter, two fumbles and a muffed punt led to 13 New England points, continuing two season-long trends. Only the Lions had more points off takeaways this season than the Patriots (119), and Denver ranked 23rd with 82 points allowed off giveaways.

Tom Brady

Brady• Denver sent at least five pass rushers on 46.3 percent of dropbacks this season, the third-highest rate in the league. But when the Broncos tried to blitz Brady, he made them pay. Brady finished 10-of-12 for 171 yards and a touchdown against five or more rushers. He set season highs for a Denver opponent in yards per attempt (14.3) and completion percentage (83.3) against extra pressure.

• Denver made a concerted effort to take Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski out of the passing game, and they combined for just eight catches and 94 yards. However, Aaron Hernandez posted career highs in receptions (nine) and yards (129).

• In the second half, Tim Tebow and the Broncos couldn’t move the ball. He completed only six of his 14 passes in the second half, and the Patriots mixed their pressure well. Twelve of Tebow’s 21 dropbacks came against extra pressure, and the Patriots had four sacks in the second half.

What Denver can do

• Run the ball. The Patriots moved from an even-spaced front (offensive tackles and centers uncovered, a traditional 4-3 look) to an odd-spaced look similar to a 3-4 defense, and had success stopping the run. Anticipating both fronts from New England will be important in preparing their running game.

Tom Brady vs 4 or Fewer Rushers
2008-11 Seasons

• Pressure Brady with a standard rush. New England was the only team with four 700-yard receivers (Gronkowski, Welker, Hernandez and Deion Branch), and committing extra defenders to the pass rush will make it easier for Brady to find one of them. The last three teams to beat Brady in the playoffs (2007 Giants, 2009 Ravens, 2010 Jets) all found ways to pressure Brady with four or fewer pass rushers.

• Stay in the pocket. Tebow was 9-for-14 against the Patriots inside the pocket in Week 15 for 152 yards, averaging 10.9 yards per attempt. New England had significant success when Tebow took off outside the pocket, especially against extra pressure. Tebow didn’t complete any of his five attempts outside the pocket when New England sent added pressure.