PATRIOTS AT BRONCOS | SUNDAY, 8:30 P.M. (NBC)
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C.J. Anderson (5 feet 8 inches, 224 pounds) is a short, stocky back with strength and deceptive quickness. He has a thick trunk and wide, muscular legs, and runs with great balance and power. Anderson has good vision and patience and will make one cut and dash through lanes. He is not overly elusive but he runs low, and it can be hard to get clean shots at him. He will grind out the tough yards and occasionally get to the edge and hit a home run despite his lack of elite speed. Jamaal Charles (5-11, 199) is a fluid athlete with excellent vision and instincts, but age and injuries have robbed him of the elite quickness and speed he flashed from 2009-14 when he put up five 1,000-yard-plus seasons for the Chiefs. He gets by more on toughness and guile now, but still can be dangerous in small doses. Devontae Booker’s time is coming. Still on the way back from knee surgery two years ago, Booker (5-11, 219) may soon break out — maybe this week. Booker has good vision, muscle, and stamina. Center Matt Paradis is athletic, physical, and savvy. He’ll shed his initial block quickly and slide smoothly to the second level to cut down linebackers. Right guard Ronald Leary (he’s athletic and strong) and left guard Max Garcia (ditto) fit well in this zone-blocking scheme. Patriots linemen Alan Branch and Lawrence Guy must stand up in the trenches, allowing Elandon Roberts and David Harris to fill the gaps.
Brock Osweiler is back at the helm of this offense after Trevor Siemian struggled mightily out of the gate. Osweiler (6 feet 7 inches, 240 pounds) is a big, gangly gunslinger who misfires as frequently as he hits his target. He has good footwork and a strong arm but is inconsistent in his reads and has a tendency to panic and force balls into windows he has no right throwing into. He is at his best as a complementary piece/caretaker and not as the centerpiece of the attack. He has an exceptional receiving tandem in the humongous Demaryius Thomas (6-3, 229) and the speedy and slippery Emmanuel Sanders (5-11, 180). Thomas is physical and sneaky-fast. He uses his size and strength to gain separation and shield his defender from the ball. Thomas can get lazy in his routes, though, and will disappear for stretches. Sanders has a lightning first step and goes from zero to 60 in a blink, though a nagging ankle ailment has limited his effectiveness recently. He finds soft spots quickly and will make some seriously acrobatic catches. Bennie Fowler (6-1, 212) has good size, athleticism, and toughness but is inconsistent and easily distracted. A.J. Derby (6-5, 255) has developed into a solid move tight end. The former Patriot is athletic, runs crisp routes, and his hands keep getting better. Backs C.J. Anderson, Jamaal Charles, and Devontae Booker all are solid contributors in the passing game.
New England’s quartet of backs includes runners of all sizes and styles and allows offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to attack defenses in a variety of ways. Dion Lewis is the top option. The 5-foot-8-inch, 195-pound ball of muscle hits the line with vision and quickness. He can squirt through creases and will twist and power through arm tackles at the second level. If Lewis is wrapped up on first contact, he will pull a Houdini and be gone. Rex Burkhead runs with instincts and power. Burkhead (5-10, 210) sees blocks develop and will zip through holes like a man on a mission. He’s a hard-charging runner and gives excellent second and third efforts. Mike Gillislee (5-11, 219) is the big banger. He has size and strength and wastes little time behind the line of scrimmage. Gillislee’s mind is made up when he takes the handoff: He’s charging ahead. This pays off when the lane is open, but when the road is clogged, this lack of patience can lead to tackles for losses. Slippery James White (5-10, 205) is exceptional in space and will shuffle to the second level on shotgun runs. He has become a stronger runner every season and will break tackles. Fullback James Develin consistently delivers heavy body blows to move people and open lanes. Denver nose tackle Domata Peko (6-3, 325) is nasty. He takes up a ton of space, clearing out room for linebackers Brandon Marshall and Todd Davis to find the ball.
Time will be of the essence, as the Broncos can really get after the quarterback. Linebacker Von Miller possesses a ludicrous combination of quickness and power, allowing him to overwhelm blockers and smash quarterbacks. Miller attacks opponents with a hypersonic first step and stunning punch. Defenders who backpedal too quickly will simply get run over. Brandon Marshall, Shelby Harris, and Shaquil Barrett also excel at applying pocket pressure. Tom Brady combats this with an encyclopedic knowledge and a quick release. Because of his tremendous presnap recognition, Brady is able to identify mismatches instantaneously and will get the ball to his receivers in a flash. There’s no shortage of targets. Rob Gronkowski, Danny Amendola, and James White have excellent hands and specialize in getting open quickly. Gronkowski is big and powerful, Amendola is slick and clutch, and White is versatile and reliable. Brandin Cooks is the home run hitter. He has great quickness, top-end speed, and is a threat from any spot on the field. Phillip Dorsett is another blazer and he’ll get some opportunities in this one with Chris Hogan on the shelf. Denver has three excellent corners in Aqib Talib, Chris Harris, and Bradley Roby. Free safety Darian Stewart is an explosive hitter with decent cover skills. Strong safety Justin Simmons (6-2, 202) has excellent size and range and is a reliable tackler.
This 6-foot-1-inch, 205-pound cornerback is a fiery competitor with the size and strength to cover the big guys (watch out, Gronk) and quickness to blanket smaller receivers.
How he beats you: With versatility and long arms. Talib can be lined up all over the defense and he’ll be effective in every spot. He uses those long arms to redirect receivers, wrap up ball carriers, and break up passes at the last nanosecond.
How to shut him down: By matching his physicality — but not his antics. Talib plays through the whistle and specializes in getting under opponents’ skin. When he starts yapping, it’s imperative to let your play do all the talking.
1. Feedbag: This is a good stable of backs, so feed C.J. Anderson, Jamaal Charles, and Devontae Booker to keep it fresh and take pressure off quarterback Brock Osweiler.
2. Heavy hunter: Domata Peko must be disruptive. Whether it’s cutting off the running lanes or preventing Tom Brady from stepping up in the pocket, he has to make his presence felt.
3. Horse blanket: Stick cornerback Aqib Talib on New England’s thoroughbred, Rob Gronkowski. He has a track record of success against good tight ends. For proof, just ask Jimmy Graham.
1. Orange county choppers: Von Miller is one destructive force. He can change the course of a game in a second, so get the big boys up front some blocking help from the backs and tight ends to keep Tom Brady off the turf.
2. Orange line: The defensive front needs to stay disciplined to combat the Broncos’ always-effective zone blocking scheme and prevent them from running wild and running down the clock.
3. Orangeade: Provided he’s healthy, Martellus Bennett can help what ails the Patriots in the red zone. He’s a big, physical target who will command attention.
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