As Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio attempts to reverse an 0-7 lifetime drought against the Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady, Del Rio’s best chance to win may be to force Brady to beat him again.
Ludicrous as it sounds, the Broncos’ defense must pick a poison in Sunday’s AFC title game. It can be slow death at the hands of a power running game, or a quicker demise by loading up against the run and giving the Pats no option but to throw.
Bill Belichick has employed for years a brilliantly simple defensive philosophy: Take away what the other team does best. Right now, the best thing that Patriots are doing is running the ball. Against a team like the Broncos, who have a high-powered offense that can at any given moment put the pedal to the metal and points on the scoreboard, running the ball well means longer drives and fewer opportunities for Denver possessions.
So Del Rio and company will need to force the issue, drawing extra men into the box, hoping that the players will be able to execute well enough to get to the ball carriers quickly and make tackles for short gains or none at all, and daring Brady to throw to a collection of weapons that doesn’t include Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, or Wes Welker.
With Peyton Manning running the offense, the Broncos would be able to respond to the scoring drives that may result from making Brady pass. But the drives will be shorter and the Denver defense won’t be slowly and methodically demoralized by LeGarrette Blount, who has more than 350 rushing yards in his last two games and eight rushing touchdowns in his last three.
If that’s what the Broncos do, the stage will be set for a back-and-forth, up-and-down shootout that will hinge on which defense can make the most stops and/or who makes the mistake at the worst possible time.
Still, that may be the best way for the Broncos to win. Otherwise, the man who served as the winning defensive coordinator in Super Bowl XXV will do what the Giants did to the Bills nearly 23 years ago — pound the rock, control the clock, and make Peyton Manning hold his, um, horses.