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Bridgestone Performance Review: Broncos-Patriots

Film breakdown of New England's Week 9 matchup against Denver.


1st Quarter

...New England nearly struck pay dirt on its opening drive, on 3rd-and-10 from around midfield. Tom Brady, from the shotgun, had good protection from his o-line as he stood and delivered a downfield pass to WR Brandon LaFell. Denver CB Bradley Roby was playing outside technique 1-on-1 on LaFell – meaning the corner was positioned between the receiver and the sideline – and LaFell made a quick feint to the outside before turning his go-route back inside to the hash marks. LaFell also ran by the safety, who was playing up near the box, and was well behind the entire Denver defense, but Brady's pass sailed just a couple of yards too far from the outstretched arms of LaFell. He did a nice job trying to dive for the pass, however.

Team photographer, David Silverman, offers his best from the Patriots-Broncos game at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, November 2, 2014.

...LB Jamie Collins was lucky not to have been flagged for unnecessary roughness when he slammed into a defenseless Ronnie Hillman after a reception. The running back was coming out of the backfield and slipped to the ground as he caught a Peyton Manning pass, but was clearly down and had given himself up. Collins came racing in to touch Hillman down, which is the proper thing for a defender to do, but Collins did so with a violent diving hit that looked like it was helmet-to-helmet. No flag was thrown, though. Collins got away with one there and again later in the game.

...Both defenses did a good job of stuffing the run early, setting a tone for the rest of the game in that department. New England got good penetration from its d-line, but also had help from the secondary, which read the run very well and crowded the line of scrimmage to plug up running lanes.

...The Patriots switched up their coverage in the secondary quite a bit against Denver. Cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner flip-flopped sides of the field and receivers they were covering, apparently so that Manning wouldn't get comfortable knowing how his receivers were going to be defended on any given play.

...Browner's pass interference penalty that set up Denver's first touchdown was a tight call by the officials. I've seen Browner be much more physical with receivers and not be flagged. He was covering WR Demaryius Thomas on 3rd-and-10 from the NE 13. Thomas put a swim move on Browner at the line of scrimmage and raced for the end zone, but Browner kept up with him. As the ball arrived, Browner reached around from behind and knocked the ball away. Great play, but the officials saw Browner's left hand on Thomas' waist and threw the flag. Didn't look to me like Browner's hand on the body affected Thomas's ability to make the catch, and defenders are often allowed to keep a hand on a receiver to make plays such as these. Tough call. Browner's reputation may have gotten the best of him on this one. Didn't seem deserving, however.

...Next play, the Broncos, in a jumbo package, set the left edge of their line well for Hillman, who outraced the Patriots' secondary to the pylon for the score. It looked like safety Patrick Chung may have been held by TE Jacob Tamme, while Devin McCourty was blocked in the back by TE Julius Thomas, but no flags where thrown.

...The lone sack that Brady took came on the last play of the quarter. DE DeMarcus Ware came charging past RT Sebastian Vollmer and into the backfield, forcing Brady to step up and run. Seeing a couple of other Bronco defenders at the line of scrimmage, Brady did the smart thing and gave himself up, falling a yard short of the line. Technically, a sack, but not the typical variety.

2nd Quarter

...DE Rob Ninkovich's interception at the start of the second quarter was a classic example of a pass rusher showing one thing and doing another. Standing up at the left side of the defense, he appeared to be ready to rush Manning at the snap. However, he immediately did the opposite, dropping back into pass coverage. Manning was looking to the opposite side of the formation for Demaryius Thomas, who was crossing over the middle on a post pattern. Ninkovich read Manning's eyes the whole way and stepped in front of the pass.

...That led to a Julian Edelman touchdown, his first of the night. Edelman was wide right, but motioned closer toward the middle, still staying on the right. At the snap, he ran a short in-pattern (a dig) across the middle of the end zone. Safety T.J. Ward, in the Denver zone D at this point, was in the back of the end zone and tried to come up to defend Edelman, but Brady's pass was low and to Edelman's backside. This forced Edelman to slide to the ground and adjust his body to make the catch. Ward was shielded from the ball by Edelman, who held on for the score.



]('s next TD came a few minutes later, when Denver punted on its ensuing possession. Punter Britton Colquitt mishandled the snap, which nearly led to a blocked kick. But he got the kick away just in time, thankfully for Edelman. He admitted afterward that he improvised on his return, taking it away from the intended direction (either left or up the middle), based on what he'd seen in the Broncos' coverage. Edelman saw an opening to the right and headed laterally that way. Just as he was about to turn up-field near the Patriots' sideline, TE Tim Wright came in a delivered a block that helped spring Edelman. Wright could have been flagged for a block in the back, but no penalty was assessed. Wright struck LB Corey Nelson behind the left shoulder, which looked like it might have been a hit to the side, which is legal. But upon closer inspection, it almost certainly was in the back. Regardless, it freed Edelman to trot up the sideline, before cutting inside and all the way over to the left, eventually, as he crossed the goal line. The return unit responded well to Edelman's improvisation, forming a nice convoy for him. Exciting play overall, and a lucky break for New England.

...The Patriots defense registered a rare sack of Manning later in the quarter. LB Akeem Ayers, in just his second game, made the play on 4th-and-6 from the NE 34. Ayers was standing up in the right defensive end position normally occupied by Chandler Jones (he was out with a hip injury). The Patriots rushed just three defenders on the play: Ayers, DT Vince Wilfork, and rookie DL Dominique Easley. Ayers took a step forward at the snap, then stunted to the inside behind Wilfork. There was a nice alley there through which Ayers shot and dove for Manning's legs.



](/assets/images/2014/710x380-thumbs/380-vereen-rewind20141102.jpg)...Edelman's would've-been third TD was correctly overturned by the officials upon review. Brady threw a low ball as Edelman ran a perfect out-pattern in the back of the right corner of the end zone, but he wasn't able to secure the ball properly as he fell to the ground to snag the ball.

...It just postponed the inevitable, though. Two plays later, from the Bronco 5, RB Shane Vereen, in the shotgun backfield with Brady, ducked between a few linemen as he slipped out of the backfield unnoticed on the right side and settled at the goal line in the middle of the field. No Denver defenders were within five yards of him in a massive hole in the defense. Brady stepped up and softly tossed the ball to Vereen. Easy pitch and catch and a breakdown in coverage by Denver. LB Nate Irving was the closest defender to Vereen and probably should have guarded him, but instead chose to help double-team TE Rob Gronkowski.

3rd Quarter

…Brady's lone INT in the game – and his first in quite some time – was a product of a ball that he sent sailing just a bit too high for WR Danny Amendola. The receiver had to jump and raise his hands high above his head to try to make the catch, but the ball ricocheted off his hands and into the waiting arms of Roby. Hard to fault Amendola for that.

…Manning wasted little time converting the turnover into a score. On 3rd-and-2 from the NE 18, Manning was in the gun and the Patriots were in man coverage. Julius Thomas was wide right with Chung guarding him. Thomas just ran a go-route with Chung step-for-step with him. Manning's pass, though, was thrown perfectly, over Chung's head and away, where only Thomas could grab it. McCourty came over to help, but not in time. Great execution by Denver's offense.

…New England repaid the favor shortly thereafter. WR Wes Welker, in the slot left, ran a crossing pattern to the right, but Manning's pass, between three Patriots defenders, was a bit behind Welker. The ball hit him in the body on the right side of the chest and bounced up in the air. McCourty came in and drilled Welker in the back, which ensured he wouldn't have a play on the ball. Browner swooped in and cradled the ball as it fell. Browner then returned it across the field for 30 yards to the DEN 10.

…On the next play, 1st-and-goal, Brady was in the gun and the Broncos were in man. LaFell was wide left. Edelman was in the slot next to him, and Wright was next to LT Nate Solder, standing up. Both Edelman and Wright ran straight for the goal line, clearing out a space underneath in which LaFell ran a five-yard dig. Roby was again playing outside technique and this cost him as LaFell made the catch a cut toward the goal line. Nice work by all three receivers to make this scoring play happen.

…On Hillman's touchdown late in the quarter, it looked like New England blitzed Manning with five players on 2nd-and-10 from the NE 15. None of the other six accounted for Hillman as the hot receiver coming out of the backfield to the left. He made an easy catch look difficult, nearly stumbling as he caught it, but then outraced the Patriots secondary to the pylon. New England gambled on the blitz and lost.

4th Quarter

…Brady was saved again by Gronk on a bad throw when the tight end made one of the most memorable catches of his career. Gronk ran a post from the right side and was right in between the hash marks when the ball arrived. It was high and behind, so, Gronk jumped and turn counterclockwise, reaching back with his left arm (the one on which his multiple surgeries were performed) and grabbed the ball by the nose before pulling it into his body. He hit the ground and rolled over the goal line, but the officials ruled him down by contact at the DEN 1. Proper call by the refs. Ward got an arm on Gronkowski as he hit the turf.

…No matter, as Gronk easily scored on the next play. New England initially showed a jumbo package, with Gronk as the tight end in a three-point stance next to Solder. RB Jonas Gray and FB James Develin were in an I-formation behind Brady under center. Just before the snap, Gronk motioned to the wide left position, isolated with LB Von Miller. Gronkowski just stutter-stepped and cut inside on Miller. All Brady had to do was fire an on-target pass to his tight end, and Miller was in no position to make a play on the ball, being behind Gronkowski.

…New England's two-point conversion attempt was a crossing route to Edelman, who bobbled the pass, but made the catch. However, two Bronco defenders surround him and threw him down short of the goal line.

DO YOUR JOB - Jamie Collins – It's been a relatively quiet year thus far for Collins, but against Denver, he made his presence felt. Ten of his 11 total tackles were solo efforts, including a tackle-for-loss and a key third-down stop on the game's opening drive. His aggressive play was a tone-setter for the Patriots defense against Denver.

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