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Scouting the Matchup: Blount key to success

The Patriots ground game will be the key for the Patriots offense in Denver.


LeGarrette Blount's career renaissance in 2016 and the return of Dion Lewis provides New England with a formidable running game heading into the long, cold winter months, and it gives the team a sizeable advantage this week against a Denver run defense that has been embarrassingly bad, especially for a team coming off a Super Bowl whose strength is its defense. The Broncos lost key players to free agency, including defensive tackle Malik Jackson and linebacker Danny Trevathan, and the end result is a run defense ranked 29th in the league. The Broncos allowed 120 or more rushing yards eight times this season. The Patriots would be wise to give Blount 20 or more carries Sunday depending on the score. Unless the Broncos play more disciplined defensively, expect another big day for Blount. Advantage: Patriots


The loss of incumbent starter C.J. Anderson to injury during the first half of the season has left the cupboard bare in Denver, resulting in a running game ranked near the bottom of the league following a strong start. The Broncos rushing attack was supposed to take pressure of their young quarterbacks, but with Anderson done for the year and Devontae Booker struggling to find a rhythm in his role as the replacement starter, Denver's yards per game and per carry have plummeted in recent weeks. The Broncos are so desperate for a spark they signed 31-year-old castoff Justin Forsett off the scrap heap. The Patriots have been solid, not spectacular, against the run. Dont'a Hightower works well behind Malcom Brown and Alan Branch, and Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty are among the team leaders in tackles. This is a bad matchup for Denver. Advantage: Patriots


Denver's pass defense is once again elite this season. The Broncos have ranked at or near the top of the league since Week 1 behind a dominant pass rush spearheaded by Pro Bowl linebacker Von Miller (13.5 sacks) and defensive ends  Shane Ray (6 sacks) and DeMarcus Ware (4 sacks), who is starting to settle into a groove after missing a month due to injury. The Broncos are remarkably better against the pass in 2016 than they were a year ago during their Super Bowl run despite playing part of the season without cornerback Aqib Talib and defensive tackle Derek Wolfe (5.5 sacks). Denver always gives Tom Brady fits, and this figures to be another tough, uphill climb for the Patriots as they continue to adjust to life without Rob Gronkowski. Rookie Malcolm Mitchell and Julian Edelman, who've both surged in recent weeks, will continue to be the focal points Sunday for New England. Advantage: Broncos


Replacing Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler has been a work in progress all season for Denver. Second-year pro Trevor Siemian was quietly efficient through the first month and a half, but once the Broncos lost Anderson and put more pressure on their quarterback to shoulder the load, Denver's offense plummeted toward the bottom of the league with Siemian becoming more erratic each week. While he's been able to complete plenty of passes and rack up some yards, the Broncos haven't been able to put points on the board consistently. Wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas remain the only two reliable targets in the passing game, which gives the Broncos the potential to explode offensively at any given moment, even if they're a bit predictable in the passing game. With the Patriots finally settling on a defensive rotation, allowing them to be more aggressive with rushing the passer, this is the perfect weekend to face the Broncos struggling offense.  Advantage: Patriots


It'd be impossible to find a special-teams unit more inconsistent than Denver's. One week after a blocked extra point and subsequent defensive two-point conversion return led to a win over New Orleans, the Broncos suffered a special-teams meltdown in their overtime loss to Kansas City. The turnaround for Denver could be the promotion of practice-squad return man Kalif Raymond, who provided a spark in the team's recent win over Jacksonville with rookie quarterback Paxton Lynch starting in place of the injured Siemian. Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski appears to be back on track after hitting a rough patch midway through the season, but return man Cyrus Jones remains an enigma following another terrible performance against the Ravens that turned a laugher into a nail-biter down the stretch. Advantage: Broncos


This current Broncos team is nowhere near as effective or dangerous as last year's Super Bowl championship team, but the Patriots don't care what the numbers say, seeing as though they never play well in Denver regardless of what year it is. New England has lost its last three games in the Mile High City, including two AFC Championship Games, which might be the only saving grace for the Broncos this weekend as they struggle to stay afloat in the surprisingly competitive AFC West. Denver is a house of horrors for New England, but this year's team matches up well based on its strength in the running game and the Broncos inability to stop the run, not to mention the Patriots recent takeaway streak against Denver's erratic passing game. This could be the year New England finally gets over the hump in Denver. Advantage: Broncos

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