Patriots-Broncos matchup of the day: Friday

Posted Dec. 16, 2011 @ 2:11 p.m.
Posted By Kevin Fishbain

Here's a key matchup to watch in the Week 15 game between the Patriots and Broncos:

Patriots CBs Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington vs. Broncos WRs Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas

All anyone talks about in Denver is Tim Tebow, but in New England, outside of Rob Gronkowski, the talk isn't so positive. The Patriots' poor pass defense continues to be a story line to follow, and it has yet to show much improvement.

A big part of the problem this season has been McCourty, who is in the midst of a sophomore slump. Arrington has played well, but probably serves the team better as a No. 3 or No. 4 corner, not a starter. Arrington has had a nose for the ball this season, with seven interceptions.

The Broncos' passing game is ranked 31st in the league but it comes alive during Tebow Time in the fourth quarter, and Tebow will look to Decker and Thomas.

Decker is sure-handed and very reliable. Tebow has looked for him deep as well, and Decker has turned into a playmaker in his second season, with 42 catches for 585 yards and eight touchdowns.

Lately, though, it has been fellow second-year receiver, Thomas, who has come on strong. The 235-pound wideout has shown his physicality, with 11-222-3 receiving in the past two games. Thomas showed lots of promise last season but couldn't stay healthy. He appears to be 100 percent now and is giving corners fits.

Another problem for McCourty and Arrington is that they have not had consistent safety help, a revolving-door position for the Patriots this season. Considering the dangerous deep speed of Thomas, we might see WR Matthew Slater back at safety again.

Tebow's accuracy is one of his biggest weaknesses, and Arrington and McCourty could take advantage and turn Tebow over, something that opponents have not been able to do, save for a brilliant interception by Bears CB Charles Tillman last week. But if Thomas and Decker can get open, the Broncos should be able to get a passing game going, which would give Tebow confidence and put the Patriots on their heels.

In the fourth quarter, Tebow has been successful when his receivers find holes in opponents' zones or prevent defenses. If it comes down to that on Sunday, McCourty and Arrington cannot relent and need to keep a close eye on Thomas and Decker, who are both dangerous in the open field.