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Upon Further Review: Broncos at Patriots

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The final result early Monday morning was one to forget. So was the fact that Denver's passing game was at its least efficient in nearly two seasons, enduring its worst game on a yards-per-play basis since the last time the Broncos played at New England in frigid conditions. That was also the last time the Broncos played without Peyton Manning as their starting quarterback.

Denver's deep passing game was ineffective in the conditions; Manning was 0-of-4 on passes that covered more than 15 yards from the line of scrimmage in the air. That leads to more throws in traffic -- and no one did better Sunday in that area than Jacob Tamme, which is one of the pillars of the game that could help the Broncos avoid a repeat of Sunday, where they put themselves in position to have the game decided by one flukish play.


A backup tight end of his caliber is a luxury that most teams do not possess, and his ability to catch passes amid a thicket of defenders was crucial to the Broncos' game-tying touchdown march in the fourth quarter.

Tamme ended up accounting for 50 yards on six plays on which he was targeted -- five receptions, and another in which he drew a pass-interference call when Rob Ninkovich hooked him as he ran his route, which led to a result that would have been the same as if he'd been allowed to proceed unimpeded.

On three of Tamme's receptions, he drew the attention of two defenders. He caught the passes anyway, including his touchdown, when he beat a pair of Patriots down the seam for his first score of the 2013 season.

Tamme kept the Patriots guessing through misdirection and the need for little separation. Not once could be considered "wide open," and yet he grabbed every pass that came his way.

With Julius Thomas expected to return Sunday in Kansas City, Tamme might not see the field as often. But his flexibility and capable work at all receiving spots -- including outside, from which point he caught a 12-yard pass to beat double coverage Sunday -- might earn him some more work in what will technically be two-wide receiver formations, but are actually three-wide packages in practical application, given Tamme's skill set.

Tamme's abilities in traffic could make him a more integral part of the offense if the Broncos face windy conditions like the ones endured Sunday at Gillette Stadium, with more passes thrown into traffic. Tamme rarely loses these battles, which is due not only to his work, but the experience and timing he and Manning possess, having worked together for all but one of the past six seasons.


Kansas City defused Von Miller in Week 11, but the Patriots had no such luck Sunday, as Miller exposed the Patriots' decision to leave a tackle alone to keep Miller from getting to the outside.

His biggest play -- the strip-sack fumble in the first quarter that Terrance Knighton recovered -- saw Miller take advantage of his quickness to the edge. Nate Solder couldn't cope with the rush, and Miller quickly beat him.

But what also made the play work was that the Broncos didn't over-commit to the pass rush. They only brought four men, opting to drop defensive tackle Mitch Unrein back into coverage. Miller lined up on the right side, which the Broncos overloaded with pass rushers. Thus, right guard Dan Connolly was effectively taken out of the play; he had no one to block, and no time to rotate over and help the left flank of the offensive line ward off Miller.

With Unrein covering the short middle, the Broncos had not sacrificed anything in coverage to muster a pass rush. The Patriots had five men running routes, but each was adequately covered, which gave enough time for Miller to work the edge for the sack.

It was tricky, but effective. With Kevin Vickerson now on injured reserve, Unrein's role might increase -- and might include more gambits like this one.


The consistency of the Broncos' running game was rare. Usually, teams do not rush for over 200 yards -- let alone 280, as the Broncos amassed -- without one explosive run of at least 20 yards.

A performance like this is often due at least as much to the offensive line as the runners, and this was the case. Louis Vasquez and Manny Ramirez had arguably their best games to date, and ensured that Moreno often had three or four yards before he was met by a defender.

The stellar blocking covered the entire line. Denver's running backs averaged 6.2 yards a carry when running to the left, 5.7 up the middle and 5.8 running to the right, and tallied 93, 68 and 116 yards to the left, middle and right, respectively.

But what was most notable was the rushing success on first down, and how it endured throughout the game. Denver running backs averaged 6.43 yards on first downs before halftime (14 carries for 90 yards) and a nearly identical 6.33 yards after halftime (15 carries for 95 yards). Most of that came from Moreno (24 carries for 155 yards), but Montee Ball and C.J. Anderson also combined for 30 yards on five first-down carries, good for a 6.0-yard average.

Denver's game-long average of 6.38 yards per first-down carry dwarfs the passing game, which averaged just 2.22 yards on its first-down plays. That figure includes the 10 yards lost on an intentional-grounding penalty that results in a loss of down.

If Kansas City tries to contain the passing game in a similar manner as the Patriots next Sunday, the Broncos might try to probe the Chiefs with their running backs again, knowing that if the need arises, they can sustain an effective ground game.

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