After re-watching the second half of the Patriots' victory over the Broncos, passing along some observations:
1. Sort of an odd instance on the Patriots' opening drive, as quarterback Tom Brady ducked while in the pocket as if to avoid an oncoming rusher from behind him, with no rusher within arm's length. Brady's poise and feel in the pocket is unmatched, but this was an uncommon case of him sensing something that was not there. He was eventually sacked on the play, in what is best described as a coverage sack.
2. Hard to overstate the importance of pacing for the Patriots' offense, which showed up in a big way on Sunday. During the second offensive series of the second half, the Patriots induced a too-many-men-on-the-field penalty with a quick count just moments after a big run from Stevan Ridley. The Broncos' defense was caught in the middle of a change, and noticeably winded on the field too. After the game, Bill Belichick credited the conditioning of his offensive line. The fact that they can push the tempo for 60 minutes is a clear indication that they are in top physical form, and can flatline a defense in a hurry. The pace and tempo of the Patriots' offense left the Broncos at their mercy for much of the game.
3. In his "3 up, 3 down" post following the game, colleague Mike Reiss noted the exceptional blocking from the Patriots' wide receivers. The astute observation was evident on a 3rd & 17 conversion in which running back Danny Woodhead took a simple handoff for first-down yardage. Woodhead gets credit for making a quick, hard cut near the line of scrimmage, but the downfield blocking from Deion Branch and Wes Welker, who landed a pivotal block on safety Mike Adams to spring Woodhead for the final yards needed to get the first down, should not go unnoticed. Subtleties like this are crucial on offense, and both Branch and Welker are attentive to all details on the field. Those small details can add up to big results, as was the case on Woodhead's run.
4. Speaking of details and nuances, the quarterback deserves his share of praise as well. Beyond all of the calls and adjustments he makes at the line, Brady does so much more within the context of a game. As the Patriots drove for their third touchdown of the game, Brady, facing a tired (and presumably less disciplined as a result of that fatigue) Broncos' front, drew an offsides penalty with a hard count. It helped move the drive along, which was capped off by Brady with a sneak into the end zone. On the sneak, Brady was situationally aware enough to dive quickly over the line and extend the football past the plane of the end zone just for a moment, before corralling it back into his chest and falling forward into the end zone. That play polished off a 16-play drive that took just 6:24, a feverish pace.
5. The athleticism of left tackle Nate Solder was on full display during Ridley's third quarter touchdown run. Solder pulled out of his stance and into space, leading the way for Ridley and getting his hands on cornerback Champ Bailey. Though Solder didn't exactly punish Bailey, he did enough to pave a lane for Ridley to jet through. Given his massive frame and athleticism, Solder presents a unique pillar along the Patriots' offensive line, and has acclimated himself nicely into a full-time starting role.
6. An opinion on safety Patrick Chung: Too often this season, and once again during the third quarter on Sunday, he's been too late in getting over to help as a deep-field safety valve. Chung seems to be taking a slightly indirect path to the football too, running backwards and playing catch-up, rather than gaining depth and flattening out horizontally to help out. A general rule of thumb for safeties in coverage is keeping everything in front of them. It seems that Chung has evaded this rule on a couple of occasions this season.
7. The Patriots had done well to neutralize Von Miller in each of their meetings with the Broncos in 2011, but he was a force on Sunday. Not only did Miller twice sack Brady, but he was a difference-maker against the run. That continued to show up throughout the film, and it's easy to understand why he's widely regarded as one of the top young defensive players in football. His performance isn't to say the Patriots offensive line was not good on the whole on Sunday, because it was roundly successful, but it pays credence to his talents. Miller's power and ability to disrupt at the point of attack really stood out.
8. There has already been much discussion over whether Bill Belichick was right in calling for his offense to go for it on a 4th & 5 from the Broncos' 37, up by 17 points and with just more than eight minutes left to play in the game. It's easy in hindsight to say the coach was wrong, but we'd offer this counter: Facing Peyton Manning and coming off of a missed opportunity by the Broncos on their previous drive, the window was open for the Patriots to slam the door on the game and escape with an easy victory. When opportunities like that present themselves, giving your offense -- the strength of the team -- a chance to make good on it isn't without logic. The Patriots ran into the near worst-case scenario with a strip sack of Brady, but that shouldn't entirely decry the audacious decision by Belichick. His fearlessness on the sideline is part of what makes him successful.
9. One aspect to rookie Alfonzo Dennard's game that has raised some questions is his long-range speed. He didn't time out particularly well at the combine, posting a 4.55 40-yard dash, and was tested on consecutive plays in the fourth quarter by Peyton Manning, who sought a deep completion to Eric Decker on each. Credit Dennard for essentially staying in stride with Decker, who although not a burner, has downfield ability due to his route running and strong catching skills. Dennard's presence on the field Sunday didn't appear to be exclusively related to an injury situation, but rather an opportunity earned based on his own merits. It will be fascinating to see if he continues to earn reps in the coming weeks.
10. For just the second time in five games, rookie defensive end Chandler Jones was held without a sack. The Broncos boast one of the best left tackles in football in Ryan Clady, who did well to contain Jones off the edge. One note from a technique standpoint with Jones as it relates to firing out of his stance: He aligns with his inside foot back, not his outside foot. Not that Jones hasn't been very good as an explosive rusher this season, but it would seem that if he were to reverse his footwork, and start with his outside foot back, he'd had an even more lethal get-off from the snap and be able to turn the corner even quicker than he currently does.