Denver fortunate defense rose to occasion

Rick Spielman reflects on the major developments from the divisional round and offers predictions for this weekend.

Updated: January 19, 2006, 7:04 PM ET
By Rick Spielman | ESPN Insider
There were a lot of subplots and story lines that came out of the divisional playoff games. Five top story lines grabbed my attention.

Broncos change it up

It was an interesting but peculiar offensive approach Broncos coach Mike Shanahan took against the New England Patriots. This game matched two of the best X's and O's coaches currently in the league: Shanahan's offensive mind vs. Bill Belichick's defensive mind. The Broncos earned a first-round bye and won the AFC West by running the ball and using Jake Plummer's athletic ability in the passing games on boots and waggles. It cut down on the reads Plummer had to make, which led to his being more efficient.

Against the Patriots, Denver used a more conventional drop-back passing attack and did not try to establish the running game as it had in previous games. When teams enter a bye week, they will spend time self-scouting. They will discover weaknesses and tendencies that have been shown in their previous games and adjust accordingly. It is a very worthwhile exercise as long as you don't overthink the game plan.

The Broncos won the game, but their defense deserves most of the credit. Although Denver's offense struggled to move the ball consistently, its defense was able to create pressure on Patriots QB Tom Brady with blitz packages that resulted in five turnovers. The Broncos know they need a steadier performance on offense in the AFC Championship Game against the Steelers. Look for them to go back to emphasizing the run.


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Rick Spielman

NFL Insider analyst
Rick Spielman joined ESPN Insider as an NFL analyst after a five-year stint in the front office of the Miami Dolphins, first as Vice President of Player Personnel and later as General Manager. He also has worked in the front offices of the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions.

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