The New England Patriots are set to take on the Denver Broncos — and media darling Tim Tebow — in Foxborough on Saturday.
The Broncos, of course, are coming off a shocking upset of the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night, having won the game on the first play of overtime.
So, how will the Patriots fare in this matchup? It's instructive to look at how Denver beat the Steelers.
As has been noted, the Steelers ran a defense that essentially sold out against the run, putting their safeties in the box to stop the Denver ground attack. This was to Pittsburgh's detriment, however, as Denver's receivers won their one-on-one matchups to catch deep passes down the field. When the Steelers failed to put pressure on Tebow on passing downs, they lost the game.
Does this herald a vast improvement in Tebow's game? I don't believe so. His arm strength was not (or should not have been) in contention — it's his accuracy, and he did not see a substantial jump in that Sunday night (he went 10 of 21).
The Patriots defense, in contrast, is geared almost entirely to stopping the big play. Coach Bill Belichick's strategy is avoid (metaphorical) home runs and force the other offense to beat him with singles and doubles. This is where Tebow struggles.
What we see out the Patriots defense will likely be what we saw the last time these two teams faced off — stop the run with the front seven, drop players in coverage, keep Tebow from rolling to his left.
The Patriots defense might be slightly better than it was in the last matchup. Safety Patrick Chung is back from injury, and Devin McCourty has looked comfortable at safety after struggling all season at corner.
The Pats offense is the Pats offense. It performed well against the Broncos last game, despite some early troubles. They should be able to score enough points to put pressure on Denver's passing game.
Can the Broncos win? Certainly. The Patriots defense, despite recent improvements, is still not very good. Though the strategy is to avoid the big play, there can be a vast gulf between scheme and execution. It remains to be seen if cornerbacks Kyle Arrington, Sterling Moore and Antwaun Molden can consistently stop the deep pass, especially to Demaryius Thomas. If Willis McGahee can gain regular yards through the running game, the Pats will be in trouble.
So, Wrentham, who wins: the Patriots or the Broncos?