AFC Championship Preview: Manning V Brady XVII

Andrew LewisPreviewLeave a Comment

16 times these giants of the game have come head to head, and unfortunately Brady and Belichick have had the better of with 11 wins compared to Peyton’s 5; the playoff picture makes better reading for Broncos fans with two wins apiece for the future Hall of Famers. On Sunday they face for what will more than likely be the last time, but don’t let the billing fool you this matchup is unlike any they’ve ever had before.

This isn’t the same Patriots team that Brock Osweiler heroically beat in Week 12 of the regular season: they’re not the same Patriots team that slumped to a loss against the woeful Miami Dolphins in Week 17. Battle hardened and playoff ready the Pats now have their top playmakers back and healthy on both sides of the ball. Tom Brady continues to be annoyingly talented lifting the play of middling receivers through the second half of the season. With LaFell, Amendola, and White the Patriots are a shadow of the team they were for the first 10 games of the season. However with the pro bowl talent of Gronkowski and Edelman now back on the field, the Pats are as dangerous as ever. Much has been made of the Patriots lack of a running game; it’s true that with the loss of Dion Lewis, and more recently LeGarrette Blount, the Patriots ground attack has struggled mightily: against Kansas City they only attempted 14 rushes for a total of 38 yards, I thought you had to run the ball in the postseason?

Much of this is negated by Julian Edelman: with Edelman on the field, Brady’s well renowned quick release is taken to superhuman levels. Over the course of the season from snap to release it took Brady 2.34 seconds to get the ball out of his hands and to one of his play makers. Against Kansas City with Edelman back on the field that number came down to 2.19 seconds, with some media outlets recording it as low as 1.9 seconds at points in the game. Why does that matter? Because Brady is getting the ball out his hands quickly, it prevents even our ultra talented pass rushers in Von Miller and Demarcus Ware from getting to the quarterback: it replaces the need for a run play to take the stress off the offensive line. Add to all this on defence, the talents of Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins among others are likely to be back on the field for what is a sneaky good Pats defence, and Peyton Manning and crew are going to have their work cut out.

So how do we win? To win this game the Broncos will have to build on what we did in Week 12. We have to continue to run the ball well and aim to replicate, if not beat, the 172 combined yards and 3 touchdowns from CJ Anderson and Ronnie Hillman. Peyton Manning is going to have to have a clean game, turnover free, and make the right throws when needed. As much as I advocate for Brock, Manning’s experience will be vital to read and audible the different looks Belichick and the Patriots defence will show him. Manning will need the help he didn’t receive last week from his wideouts, tight ends, and running backs, in this game; we can’t afford to drop as many passes as we did last week. It’s not just detrimental to that down, but to the entire series, and to the game plan. Look for big games from Emmanuel Sanders, who will bounce back from last week’s drops, and tight end Owen Daniels who I believe will be a persistent annoyance for New England all night.

On the defensive side of the ball we need to slow down Julian Edelman, jamming him up at the line of scrimmage. This won’t be easy: Edelman is one of the most elusive receivers in the league: his footwork and burst of speed can be mesmerising but don’t expect to see Chris Harris lined up against him. With his injured shoulder he won’t be able to do enough with his hands to stop Edelman at the line: I’d expect Bradley Roby to line up against Edelman. It’s time for Roby to step up and truly show what he’s made of, displaying to all the world why he was worth that first round pick in the 2014 draft. The pass rush is going to have to show it’s early season form in this game: we need to see Wolfe feasting on Tom Brady just as he did in Week 12, and Von Miller to rise up and earn the big money contract he no doubt will receive this off-season. Go get yourself paid Von. As for Gronk, how do you stop a problem like Rob Gronkowski? That’s a problem the defence will need have to solve.

With all that said, you only have to look at the title of this piece to see what everyone will be fixated upon, but if Manning can do what nobody else believes he can and prove his doubters wrong, (myself included) this would be his greatest triumph over his arch rival. Not just because of the individual glory it would most definitely bring but because it will be, it will have to be a true team effort: a massive team win from both sides of the ball. We have to stop Tom Brady. Finally, consider this, Tom Brady has played 26 different NFL teams on the road more than once in his career, his record at Mile High is the worst of all at 2-6.

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