2015 NFL Playoffs: AFC Championship Will Come Down To Efficiency

Demarcus-Ware-1

Demarcus Ware is just one of the many defensive stars that make up the Denver Broncos number one ranked defense. They will be tested this Sunday against the New England Patriots. (Photo By: Ron Chenoy/USA Today Sports)

Last week I mentioned how important the coaches would be in determining their teams fates. In the case of the Steelers and Chiefs, that was the case. 

Andy Reid continued his longstanding trend of not understanding how to properly manage the game clock. Even if his explanation was true, he still did a poor job in that department (which was brilliantly broken down why here). For Mike Tomlin, it was a series of play calls before the fumble that confused me. (shotgun snap to Jordan Todman on 1st and 25? Sure, why not.) Personnel absences aside, given the way the Steelers defense had played all day I think the offensive play-calls could do them a little more justice than that.

But enough about who isn’t here, let’s talk about who is.

The Broncos got here on defense. There is no denying or debating the Broncos formula heading into the AFC Championship game. Keep the other team at bay and hope the offense can score enough to get through the contest. It’s not ideal, and it definitely isn’t pretty, but it’s working and that’s what counts.

The Patriots are doing it…well…like the Patriots.

For those of you not aware of how the Patriots have operated (hold your cheating jokes, please) it’s become quite simple: “We’re on to next week” means they literally figure out the flaw of their opponent and tap dance on it for four quarters. Kansas City had more first downs(27 to 21), more time of possession(37:51 to 22:09), and more total yards (378 to 340) on the day than New England. So how did the Patriots win? They challenged the secondary to the tune of 17 passing first downs and knew the real key was winning in yards per play (which they did 6.1 to 4.6).

That’s what New England does, and if the Broncos (here’s looking at you, Gary Kubiak) were smart they would look to do what successful teams against the Patriots do when they win:

Play efficient football.

rob-gronkowski-spike

Rob Gronkowski had 88 yards and a touchdown the last time these two teams met. Duplicating that will be key to what the Patriots want to accomplish against the Broncos. (Photo: The Boston Globe)

It seems simple enough, right? Average more yards per play than your opponent and you’re doing something right. That includes giving your team the best shot at a win. I looked back at the Patriots season and found that in three of the four Patriot losses in 2015, they were beaten in this statistic. The team that didn’t (the Eagles) lost that battle 4.3 to 5.0 yards per play. The Colts, Giants, Steelers and Jets tied or came within a yard of tying the Patriots in yards per play on different occasions and came within a score of winning or sending the game into overtime.

In other words, it’s a point of emphasis for the Patriots to maximize each play.

Again, it sounds simple, but a lot of teams simply try to do too much; probably in an attempt to mask obvious deficiencies. The good news for Denver is, they have all the personnel on defense to keep the Patriots from marching at will. Between their pass rush and the elite talent in the secondary, don’t be surprised if Brady and Belichick employ a strategy that mirrors what they did in the Super Bowl.

Von-Miller

Von Miller is as quirky as they come; but make no mistake about his game: he’s one of the best pass rushers in the NFL.

If the Broncos are going to have any chance on Sunday they must give their defense a chance by extending drives and not making mistakes with the football. What they also must do to keep pace is: let Peyton Manning be Peyton Manning.

A lot of Broncos fans just tuned out but hear me out.

What I mean by let Peyton be Peyton is, Kubiak has gotten pretty stale with his play calls and it really isn’t a good idea to do that against the Patriots. Allow Manning more freedom to audible out of those plays and trust that he’s smart enough not to run into a wall. It’s a risk, obviously, but it’s one you have to take on offense against the defending champions and a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. It also, in my opinion, gives the Broncos the best chance to operate as efficiently as possible.

Picking a winner for this game is bound to get me grief from whichever side I don’t pick. I can live with that, and given my luck so far this postseason (6-2) I’m going with the Broncos. I think they show up ready to play physical football defensively, and I think the offense puts together enough quality drives to keep pace.

Prediction: Broncos 24, Patriots 21

Thoughts? Let me know about’em! Follow me on Twitter @DACubbage 

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