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The New England Patriots have already been forced to play without a few key defensive players down the stretch. They will continue their playoff run without the services of defensive tackles Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly as well as linebackers Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes.
While their defensive line seems to have been put together with duct tape and a few rubber bands, they have managed to get the job done. Against the Colts in the divisional playoff match, the Patriots were able to shut down the run, limiting both Donald Brown and Trent Richardson’s ground game to only 3.3 yards per attempt on Saturday night.
The play of New England’s secondary was solid against Andrew Luck and predominantly the reason that the Colts offense – who had just dropped 45 points on Kansas City the week before – only managed to score 22 against this weakened Patriots defense.
Limiting the huge plays to Colts biggest receiving threat T.Y. Hilton was instrumental in the Patriots win, but one must not overlook the way their no-name defensive line held it together.
The Denver Broncos have had a string of defensive injuries throughout this entire 2013 season as well. Perennial Pro Bowler Champ Bailey was out most of the season with a foot issue, defensive end Derek Wolfe has been sidelined for a large portion with undisclosed injuries, and Denver has also been without the services of safety Rahim Moore, tackle Kevin Vickerson, and linebacker Von Miller.
The Broncos have truly been operating with a next man up mentality for most of the 2013 season on the defensive side of the ball. Much like in the case of New England, they have somehow made it work. However, a new wrinkle to the plan might be too much to overcome.
Denver will now be without cornerback Chris Harris for the remainder of this Super Bowl run. According to USA today’s Lindsay Jones, the MRI results for Harris indicate a torn ACL, therefore ending his 2013 season.
The loss of Harris could pose a big problem for Denver down-field against Tom Brady and the Patriots.
In the Broncos favor, veteran Champ Bailey is back in the secondary mix however Denver will also need to rely heavily on the services of rookie Kayvon Webster and Quentin Jammer who have both had their share of struggles this season.
Everyone knows that even though Brady is not with his usual array of weaponry this season, one can never count out the mind of Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick in any game situation, especially during postseason play.
With both New England and Denver operating with such weaknesses in their defensive schemes, all eyes should turn to their offenses, not that we need any more reason to get into the Tom Brady versus Peyton Manning narrative. Both teams will rely heavily on their respective signal callers to get it done since it may not happen on the defensive side of the ball.
The AFC Championship game is setting itself up to be an epic battle and one that could be quite different from the usual playoff scenarios. Strong, solid defensive teams usually win championships; it will be interesting to see if either of these two teams can rewrite that script.
With the current state of both the Patriots and Broncos defenses, they will have to.
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