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There are a variety of factors that are going to play a role in determining the outcome of the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos matchup this weekend, but none are more important than the New England secondary.
Quarterback Peyton Manning’s arm is just one of many dangerous offensive weapons in the Denver arsenal. Receivers Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, and Wes Welker combined for 35 touchdowns and just under 3, 500 receiving yards this season while tight end Julius Thomas added another 12 touchdowns and 778 receiving yards of his own.
With that said, we can all agree that Aqib Talib and crew can expect to be very busy all game long.
The question is, is this a challenge that the Patriots secondary is up for?
The key reason is timing.
Talib and fellow starters Alfonzo Dennard, Devin McCourty, and Steve Gregory struggled to find a rhythm in the early going as at least one of the four starters seemed to always be battling an injury.
However, down the stretch, the unit managed to hit its stride stringing together several solid performances in a row, including a three interception effort against the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens and a four interception effort in the second round of the playoffs against the highly touted youngster, Andrew Luck.
While Joe Flacco and Andrew Luck have not been playing at the same level as Manning this season, the New England secondary was excellent in the last head-to-head matchup with Manning that took place during Week 12.
In a very one-sided first half, the Broncos exploited a flurry of New England mistakes to pick up a 24-0 lead. But in the second half, the Patriots secondary stepped up and held Manning to just 68 yards passing while nabbing one of the 10 interceptions that he threw all season.
This second half performance was instrumental in allowing the Patriots to come back in the second half and force overtime. Then in overtime, it got even better.
In just under 12:00 minutes of overtime play, Manning completed just two passes for a grand total of 16 yards.
When all was said and done, the MVP frontrunner was looking at a final stat line that featured 19/36 for 150 yards, 1 interception, 1 lost fumble, and a meager 28.1 for a Total Quarterback Rating.
The final result was a huge 34-31 win for the Pats along with a tremendous step forward for the New England secondary.
Since that time, it seems that Patriots secondary has only improved.
After trying to beat the Patriots on the ground in the regular season, we may see the Broncos shift gears and unleash an aerial attack in this weekend’s AFC Championship.
The New England secondary is as ready to respond as it ever will be.