Patriots-Broncos matchup of the day: Wednesday

Posted Jan. 11, 2012 @ 1:51 p.m.
Posted By Kevin Fishbain

Here's a key matchup to watch in the divisional-round game between the Patriots and Broncos:

Broncos defense vs. Patriots TEs Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez

The Broncos did something that no team had done for six weeks — they kept Rob Gronkowski out of the endzone.

But they also allowed Aaron Hernandez to have a career game.

Gronkowski entered the Week 15 matchup in Denver having scored in each of the team's previous six games — totaling 10 touchdowns. He was coming off a 6-160-2 performance against the Redskins. The Broncos held him to four catches for 53 yards, his third-least productive game of the campaign.

With the Denver "D" concentrated on Gronk, Hernandez took advantage, catching nine of the 11 balls targeted at him for 129 yards and a touchdown.

If they want to upset the Patriots in Foxborough on Sunday, the Broncos will have to find a way to stop both of the talented, second-year tight ends, who combined for 169 catches for 2,237 yards and 24 touchdowns this season.

The Broncos start two rookies at safety — Quinton Carter and Rahim Moore. Carter has good size at 6-1, 200 pounds to challenge the tight ends and he had an interception against Pittsburgh last week. Denver also will use LBs Joe Mays and D.J. Williams to try and jam Gronkowski and Hernandez at the line to throw them off their routes.

But that's what makes the Patriots' offense so hard to stop — Tom Brady has plenty of weapons. Denver put an emphasis on stopping Gronk in Week 15 and was torched by Hernandez. Bracket and double-team both? Then a receiver named Wes Welker will have more room in the middle of the field.

For Brady, it's important to do what he did in Week 15, which is simply find other targets should Gronkowski be covered, as opposed to trying to thread the needle.

An overall theme in this game for the Patriots will be putting the pedal to the metal on offense, which would add pressure on Tim Tebow to score points, and that undoubtedly will involve Gronkowski and/or Hernandez.

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