The game plan for the Patriots defense against Denver called for almost exclusively nickel packages with six-man fronts that almost dared the Broncos to run the ball. The thought was as long as the Broncos were running the ball that meant Peyton Manning wasn't tearing up the secondary with his vast array of weapons.
Manning obliged and was content to give the ball to Knowshon Moreno 37 times and watched his lead back average better than 6 yards per carry while piling up 224 yards on the ground. As a team Denver wound up with 280 rushing yards and more importantly 31 points.
While the strategy ultimately limited Manning's damage - he passed for just 150 yards - it did create quite a hole for the Patriots to climb out of. Denver's second-half turnovers allowed the Patriots to mount an epic comeback and win in overtime, but the fact remains that the run defense simply couldn't stop Moreno with just six players.
Moving forward we're trying to assess whether the poor performance was simply the result of the game plan and therefore not all that unexpected or something worthy of concern. We'll tackle that question in this week's Samsonite Make Your Case debate.
Are you concerned about the Patriots run defense?
PFW's Andy Hart says...
I understand the game plan called for the Patriots to use a lot of sub packages to protect the secondary against Peyton Manning but I don't know about any game plans that are designed to allow almost 300 yards on the ground. That was a truly concerning development to me.
Since Vince Wilfork went down the Patriots have had a difficult time stopping the run. Since then Tommy Kelly and Jerod Mayo were also lost for the year. That leaves very little depth and more importantly, size, up front for the Patriots defense. It also puts a lot of stress on linebackers Brandon Spikes and Dont'a Hightower, who are both also dealing with injuries as the stretch drive approaches.
The Patriots will see some teams in the coming weeks that might be able to take advantage of that situation, like Baltimore. Even though the Ravens haven't run it all that well this season, we all remember the damage a guy like Ray Rice can do and if the Patriots don't figure out a way to get tougher inside I'm afraid teams will be able to control the clock and move the ball effectively in the playoffs.
It may have been just one game, but the nickel defense will need to do a better job against the run if the Patriots are to get to the Super Bowl.
PFW's Paul Perillo says...
Obviously the performance needs to be better than it was against Denver, but I remember a much better effort from the defense just one week earlier in Carolina against a tough and physical Panthers running game. Aside from some Cam Newton scrambles, the run defense was rock solid that night.
The Patriots should be content to allow some yards on the ground while doing everything they can to keep opposing passers from riddling the banged up secondary. In today's NFL it's all about throwing the ball to put points on the board. Allowing some rushing yards - like the Patriots did against New Orleans and Miami earlier in the season - is not overly concerning to me because the pass defense prevented the opponent from dominating.
I would like to see Bill Belichick use some bigger personnel as part of the nickel up front, and perhaps Isaac Sopoaga or even the newly promoted Sealver Siliga can add some bulk in the middle. If they can I expect the run defense to improve and not cough up the kind of yardage that Knowshon Moreno put up in the Broncos game.
Now it's the fans turn to cast their vote in this week's Samsonite Make Your Case poll question.