NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger joined the Mut & Merloni show Wednesday to talk about the Patriots' matchup with the Broncos and Tim Tebow.
Baldinger said Tebow present a real threat to all opposing defenses, and he doesn't expect him to hit a wall anytime soon.
"First of all, he's a great running back," Baldinger said. "If you just strip everything else aside, the guy's a 240-pound running back, and there's not that many of them in the league. And if you watch him against the Bears -- and I mean elite defenders in [Brian] Urlacher, [Lance] Briggs, [Julius] Peppers, [Charles] Tillman -- he either ran around them or through them last week. That was a great test for him, and he passed that test.
"Even though they only put up 13 points [and needed] overtime to get it, they still moved the ball throughout the game. And then when they were down 10-0 they said, 'OK, let's spread it out. We have to throw it.' And he spread the Bears out and he threw it, and he threw it pretty well. They had seven drops by wide receivers, but he extended plays, he played a style of offense that's difficult to defend. He breaks your defense down. It's more than a gimmick, it's more than a wildcat.
"But can he stay healthy taking as many hits? Because the Chicago Bears whacked him. For whatever reason, he just keeps getting up like nothing happened to him, like his armor is just made of steel. … He's indefatigable. You get to the fourth quarter, he's the only guy that looks fresh on the field. He never wears down."
Denver has the league's top ground game, and Baldinger said running back Willis McGahee has a lot to do with that.
"I've seen Willis McGahee run away from the Oakland Raiders and run away from a lot of defenders this year, where it looks like he'd got a new lease on life," Baldinger said. "Teams are having a tough time -- I don't care if it's the Chicago Bears or whatever good defense has been out there, teams have a hard time handling it.
"Not every running back in the NFL could adapt to the read option and what the reads are. … It's different. I'm not so sure every running back could adapt to it, the way that the plays break and what to look at. Willis McGahee, a lot of people thought that he was done and cooked, this is the best year he's had in years, maybe since he left Buffalo. It certainly has worked for him.
"Now, I do think there's going to be a time when it catches up to them, when they're not going to be able to run the ball, but I haven't seen it yet. They were very effective against the Bears, Not all game long, but in a lot of key spots where they were a difficult team to defend. I think the Patriots will have their hands full this week."
The Patriots come in with a high-powered offense led by Tom Brady, but Baldinger cautioned not to sell the Denver defense short.
"The Pats haven't seen two pass-rushers like [Elvis] Dumervil and Von Miller yet," he said. "If you put Nate Solder or Matt Light on a short corner and think you can just spread this team out and go find [Rob] Gronkowski or match up Aaron Hernandez or put Wes Welker against a rookie corner in Quinton Carter or somebody and just think that Brady can just stand there and deliver the ball, you're also crazy as well. These guys off the edge, you've got to have a game plan for these guys. You've got to put a tight end over there, you've got to put a back over there to slow these guys down.
"Even Von Miller with the cast on his hand, from a broken thumb, was incredibly effective last week. And if you look at some of the quarterbacks they've faced, including the Green Bay Packers and mighty Aaron Rodgers, Aaron Rodgers required to have his elite mobility and movement to escape a lot of rushes. Brady doesn't have that. He's got to beat them with speed and decision-making, as we know, and with the accuracy of the ball. That will be tested.
"I'd be surprised if the Patriots take the ball on the first three series and march down the field and score three touchdowns and really take Tim Tebow and Denver out of their offense completely. I don't think it's going to be that easy."
Following are more highlights from the conversation.
On the struggling Patriots defense: "They went to a 4-3 and that didn't work. Now they're back to running some 3-4 but they can't keep linebackers healthy to run it and they don't have good edge pass-rushers. So, they just keep constantly changing right now trying to see who's healthy and putting the right defense on the field to make it work. Meanwhile, guys that looked like they were going to be a cornerstone for the defense for a long time like Devin McCourty, here he is in Week 14, he doesn't have an interception and he's getting beat repeatedly, because he doesn't know who back there helping him over the top from the safety position. Suddenly, he doesn't look like a lockdown corner anymore and a guy that you can build with.
"Injuries have played a part, changing the schemes have played a part. But the basic foundation is they don't have good safeties, which are hard to find in this league, and they don't have good pass-rushers. I don't care what scheme you put in or who's coaching it, you're going to break down at key points of any game."
On if the offense can carry the Patriots to the Super Bowl if the defense doesn't improve: "I don't think so. We saw it when we go back to 2007 with the Giants. If you're asking Tom Brady just to be Superman every single week -- you saw the frustration last week on the sidelines. You saw the frustration against the Buffalo Bills in Buffalo this year when he threw four interceptions. If he's got to be pinpoint throws all game long to put the score into the 30s and sometimes into he 40s to win, that's a lot of pressure on anybody. ...
"If your quarterback has to do it all and cover all of your flaws the way Peyton Manning had to do in Indianapolis, then I think eventually it catches up to you. Because every single step that you go in the food chain through the playoffs, you're running into a less and less flawed team, and your flaws get more and more exposed. That's what happened, in my mind, to the Patriots here in the playoffs over the last few years."
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