Which worries you more, Peyton Manning gashing the Patriots through the air or the Broncos running wild (as they did in Week 12)? That’s the topic of this week’s Hot Button question as the Patriots prepare for Sunday’s AFC Championship Game in Denver.
Here are snippets from our arguments for each one. Vote for yourself in the poll to the right.
Pats must control ground game: Patriots coach Bill Belichick often makes the point that a defense can take away something from the opposing offense by devoting significant resources to it, but it comes down to a question of, At the expense of what else?
We saw a classic example of it in the Patriots' 34-31 victory over the Denver Broncos on Nov. 24, when they prioritized pass defense by playing all 90 of their snaps with either one or two extra defensive backs on the field.
What resulted was a 150-yard passing day for Peyton Manning ... and a 280-yard rushing day for Knowshon Moreno and Co.
It makes sense to think the Patriots will employ a similar plan in the AFC Championship Game, so here's the key: When lighter in the box, they need to play better run defense than they did Nov. 24 when they were consistently blown off the ball. -- Mike Reiss
Manning has too many weapons: There are two major reasons to think the Patriots' pass defense is in better shape to hold its own against the Broncos than the run defense this Sunday: 1. Their personnel is better in the secondary than it is along the defensive line; 2. the Broncos already gashed New England once this season for 280 rushing yards.
And yet, entering the rematch, it's the pass defense that is the bigger area of concern. This isn't a lack of belief in the cornerbacks and safeties for the Patriots, a group that has been very good for much of the season; moreover, linebacker Jamie Collins will add a different dynamic to this pass defense.
But Peyton Manning and the Broncos' passing offense had a transcendent 2013 regular season, and unlike in the Week 12 matchup, Manning will have tight end Julius Thomas, a Pro Bowl pick, on the field.
Being without Thomas took away one of the Broncos' primary four weapons in the passing game, and part of their offensive success rests in the power of numbers. -- Field Yates