The Denver Broncos 2-2 record doesn’t reflect how good this team is. Both their offense and defense are in the top ten in the league and a quick look at their roster will tell you why. For the New England Patriots to get back over .500, they will need a second straight strong performance from the offensive line.
One of the big issues for the Patriots coming into this season was the offensive line. The team lost veteran Pro Bowlers Matt Light and Brian Waters during the offseason. Then, already with a makeshift line, the team has suffered injuries to starters Dan Connolly and Logan Mankins. That leaves Sebastian Vollmer as the only offensive lineman with any significant NFL experience.
Even with an offensive line devastated by injury they were able to hold together against a tough Buffalo Bills pass rush last week. The line was a worry heading into that game with a Bills defensive line that includes Mark Anderson, Mario Williams, and Kyle Williams. The young line gave quarterback Tom Brady enough time to find targets downfield and created gaping holes that helped two Patriots running backs gain over 100 yards on the ground.
The Patriots offensive line will get another tough test this week as they face a Broncos defense that ranks seventh in yards and tenth in points. Though the Broncos were expecting their defensive line to be anchored by former Patriot Ty Warren, torn triceps have forced others to step up. In addition to Elvis Dumervil and Derek Wolfe, Justin Bannan, Mitch Unrein, and Kevin Vickerson have exceeded expectations in covering for the injured Warren.
Another problem for the Patriots offensive line will be the tendencies of new defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. The Broncos blitz more under Del Rio often sending linebacker Wesley Woodyard and nickel back Chris Harris. The absence of Woodyard downfield is covered due to the presence of the Broncos other outside linebacker, All-Pro Von Miller. Miller will be expected to handle tight end Rob Gronkowski which will be easier this time around with Aaron Hernandez still injured.
Giving Brady time Sunday will be a key in this game because of the improved Broncos offense. With Tim Tebow as quarterback in 2011, the Broncos were often in low scoring affairs putting less pressure on opposing offenses to score. His replacement, Peyton Manning, is added to Pro Bowl running back Willis McGahee and receivers Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, and Brandon Stokely which makes the Broncos offense very lethal. Add the Broncos offensive improvements to the Patriots defensive struggles and the Patriots offense will likely need to put up a large number of points to come away with a win.
Last week the Patriots offensive line gave an unexpected notable performance that gave high hopes of what they can do. But this week they will face another tough test in a Broncos defense that ranks near the top of the league. If they can’t handle the pressure and keep Brady upright, the Patriots have a good chance to win but if they can’t handle the Broncos defensive rush, it could be a long afternoon.