When the Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots both try to make their mark on the 2012 NFL Playoffs on Saturday night, Tom Brady and Tim Tebow will both be center stage. For the Broncos, they needs to focus on protecting the football and controlling the clock to keep the Pats offense out of rhythm and on the sidelines as much as possible. Meanwhile, the Patriots should think about establishing the running game to set up play-action passes and force the defense to play something other than deep zone coverage. These are the keys to the game, at least according to Joe Fotenbuagh of the National Football Post. Here is a bit of his analysis for both teams:
Establish the running game, aim for 27 rushing attempts. In their 13 wins this season, the Patriots averaged 28.9 rushing attempts per game. In fact, New England went 7-0 in games in which they ran the ball 27 or more times. But in the Patriots' three losses, the team averaged only 20.7 carries per game and failed to top 27 attempts in each of those three defeats.
...New England ran the ball an average of only 3.25 times more in the second half this season then they did in the first. That's not a big discrepancy for a team that finished the year ranked second in the NFL in total offensive plays per game (67.6).
Protect the football. Tim Tebow and company went 0-5 this season when committing three or more turnovers, but went an impressive 5-1 when giving up the ball one or fewer times. In their wildcard round upset of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Broncos turned the ball over only once.
For as shaky as the Patriots defense has looked in 2011, this unit finished the season ranked third in the NFL in takeaways (34).
For updates, stay tuned to SB Nation Denver. For more on this game, visit Broncos blog Mile High Report and Patriots blog Pats Pulpit. Head over to SB Nation NFL for more coverage of the 2012 NFL Playoffs.