Week 7’s Monday night matchup might just prove to be the biggest game of the season. As of today, the Patriots’ record stands at a solid 3-2. That’s not a bad record. Just a game back in the division, we still have a chance to make a run.
However, fast forward past tomorrow night and the Patriots are looking at either a 3-3 or a 4-2 record. 4-2 keeps the Patriots near the front of the pack in a very competitive conference. However, 3-3 inserts them in the middle of the pack, and out of the playoff picture for the meantime.
This game however, won’t be an easy test. The Broncos have struggled the past couple of weeks, but feature a potent offense with a capable defense. However, that defense has struggled in pass defense. It will be another opportunity for Matt Cassel to shine, but if not, things might be changing a few weeks from now.
Key Injuries – Broncos
TE Tony Scheffler – Questionable
RB Selvin Young – Questionable
Key Injuries – Patriots
WR Kelley Washington – Questionable
DL Jarvis Green – Questionable
RB Lamont Jordan – Doubtful
RB Laurence Maroney – Doubtful
RT Nick Kazcur – Doubtful
Injury Analysis: Two skill players for the Broncos, tight end Tony Scheffler and running back Selvin Young, are both game-time decisions for the Broncos. This shouldn’t affect their gameplan too much. The Patriots however, are without several key players. Tackle Mark LeVoir will step in for Nick Kazcur on the right side. LeVoir played well in spot duty after Kazcur went down with an ankle injury last week. The Patriots will be hindered in their running attack for the second straight week, as bruiser Lamont Jordan and professional dancer Laurence Maroney will likely both be held out of action. Jarvis Green will likely miss the game. Look for 2006 6th round draft pick LeKevin Smith to play a few more snaps.
Keys to the Game
1. Stop the Long Ball – If you watched last week’s game, you know exactly why this is key #1. The Patriots allowed 400 yards, 200 of which came on four long throws. The Broncos will likely attack the air deep behind the arm of Jay Cutler, looking to pick on Deltha O’Neal and Terrence Wheatley.
2. Get a Pass Rush – Again, if you watched last week’s game, you know exactly why this is key #2. Against the Chargers, the Patriots got ZERO hurries on Phillip Rivers. That’s horrible. In order to stop the deep ball, and force the Broncos to put the ball in the hands of the likes of Michael Pittman, the Patriots need to generate a pass rush. Maybe we will see rookie Shawn Crable, but there will certainly be an added pressure on outside linebackers Mike Vrabel and Adalius Thomas.
3. Attack the Air in the Mid-Range Game – A big key to the Patriots success on the offensive side of the ball will be success in the air in the 10-15 yard game. Yes, we will see the usual screens and slants to Welker, but Cassel will need to be able to show the arm and confidence that he did against the 49ers if the Pats are going to have any success on offense.
Players to Watch – Broncos
1. Elvis Dumervil, DE, #92 – Explosive pass rusher who got his first sack last week. He is going to be looking to continue that success, and it will be up to a dinged up Matt Light to stop him.
2. Brandon Marshall, WR, #15 – Marshall is quickly becoming one of the top receivers in the league. The Patriots had problems with the Chargers’ big recievers last week, and it will be interesting to see if they can stop the towering Marshall this week.
3. Champ Bailey, CB, #24 – Bailey can never be forgotten on the field, and he will be doing his best to cover Randy Moss all night.
4. Michael Pittman, RB, #28 – Veteran back claims he is in the best shape of his life. With Selvin Young a game-time decision, Pittman will likely get his chances.
5. Jay Cutler, QB, #6 – Jay Cutler is quickly becoming one of the NFL’s elite quarterbacks. With a rocket arm, he will certainly look to go deep against a susceptible Patriots’ defensive backfield.
Players to Watch- Patriots
1. Lewis Sanders, CB, #29 – Sanders is healthy and he will play this week. He is the biggest and most physical cornerback on the Patriots’ roster, and will likely find himself matched up against Brandon Marshall at times.
2. Matt Cassel, QB, #16 – I see this as a possible make or break game for Cassel. He has the arm and the attitude, but has been inconsistent in putting it together. He is playing against a Broncos defensive backfield that has let up some big plays, so he will have his chances.
3. Kevin Faulk, HB, #33 – With Maroney and Jordan likely both out, the second longest tenured Patriot will once again get a lot of chances. And in the chances he’s had this season, he’s played really well.
4. Kelley Washington, WR, #15 – Slowed by injuries, Washington really hasn’t had a chance to do much on offense this season. This week the Patriots will likely go with a lot of spread sets due to the runningback injuries, so Washington may have a few passes come his way.
5. Mike Vrabel, OLB, #50 – With the lack of pass rush generated last week, the Bill Belichick and the Pats’ D will likely turn to the veteran to produce some pass rush. Vrabel hasn’t recorded a sack since the season opener.
Greg’s Prediction: Patriots 27, Broncos 24
I don’t like predicting losses, so I’m not going to, but this is going to be a very tough game. If we can pull it out, it will be a huge win for team morale. But if we’re going to win, the offense is going to have to pull through because the Broncos can strike at any time.