FOXBORO The Denver Broncos said they knew it was coming. They said the tempo of the Patriots offense was something theyd worked on all week.
Yet when it came time to defend it, the Broncos got run over.
To make it short, we worked on it all week, said Broncos corner Champ Bailey when asked about dealing with the Patriots fast pace. That lets you know right there. You gotta translate things from the meeting room and practice field to the game. Coaches cant go out there and play for us. We gotta make sure we put ourselves in position to make plays and get off the field on third down. We worked on everything they did to us. There wasnt no surprises. They just hit us in the mouth and we didnt hit back hard enough.
Truth be told, Champ, the Patriots were hitting faster than Pacquiao on Sunday. This wasnt the Patriots normal hurry-up. This was turbo.
New England ran a total of 85 plays, 45 in the first half.
By way of comparison, heres what they ran in the previous four games of 2012: 76 plays, 34 in the first half against the Bills; 75 plays, 38 in the first half against the Ravens; 74 plays, 28 in the first half against Arizona and 66 plays, 27 in the first half against the Titans.
In the Super Bowl last February they ran 60 plays, 27 in the first half. In the AFC Championship they ran 67 and 38 against Baltimore; in the Divisional Round against Denver they ran 64 and 39 and in the regular-season finale against Buffalo, they ran 75 and 27.
That was fast, said Broncos tight end Chris Gronkowski (yeah, same family). I dont think Ive seen anybody play that fast before and Ive watched a lot of their games.
The Patriots ripped off a team-record 35 first downs on Sunday. In the second quarter, they held the ball for 11:09 and ran 30 plays, picking up 12 first downs six on the ground and six through the air.
It was a little bit faster for whatever reason, said Denver corner Tracy Porter. We had to adjust on the fly. They had two plays going in so it allowed them to play that much faster. We had to adjust to that but overall, they made the plays and we didnt.
What was interesting about Josh McDaniels game plan was that the Patriots threw the ball on four of their first five plays then when Denver got their nickel defense on the field full-time the Patriots ran at them over and over.
The Patriots ran the ball on seven of their next 10 plays en route to their first score. On their next drive, they evened it out more. But the speed and the playcalls were ever-changing so that Denver was completely on its heels.
Thats what they do, said Broncos safety Jim Leonhard. They go uptempo and make you have to communicate as a defense and the biggest thing is mixing up the tempo too. Theyll go fast for a couple plays and get you on your heels and then slow it down and smoke you out and see what youre coming with. Its all about the matchups and they won too many of them today.
That they did. Mainly by targeting the middle of the field in the passing attack. Weve seen games where theyve banged it to the outside receivers, but on Sunday their plan was to work Wes Welker in the middle every time he had a matchup. He won on almost all of them (13 catches on 15 targets).
Thats why hes one of the best slot guys in the game, said Broncos linebacker Joe Mays when asked about Welker. He gets in and out of his cuts like none other. He catches everything and gets yards after the catch. Hes one of the best and theyre one of the best teams. They caught us off guard. We wasnt ready for the tempo, we werent ready for the speed of it.
What this performance does is put that much more on tape for defensive coordinators to prepare for. Do they stick with their nickel package and have a Patriots running attack thats put up 498 yards in two games plow over them. Or do they stay conventional and let Welker, Rob Gronkowski, Deion Branch and Brandon Lloyd win against bigger slower players.
Theyve been stopped, said Bailey. Its not like its impossible. We just gotta do better at stopping them. We made some plays late in the game but we gotta do better at stopping them.
That will be the chore for defenses in the coming weeks and it will get harder as the Patriots get players like Aaron Hernandez back.
You prepare for it the best you can but until youre in the game and see itthey played great, said Broncos defensive lineman Justin Bannan. They did what they came out to execute and we didnt stop it. Theyve done that system for a long time. Theyre pretty damn good at it.