In the Week 12 matchup between the two squads, Denver backs compiled 179 rushing yards. C.J. Anderson in particular dominated with quick cuts on the slick, snowy field, going for 113 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries, including the 48-yard walk-off TD in overtime.
"It's kind of a direct correlation for us that we've got to make sure we go out there, play well in the run game and I think that will set up the rest of our defense," safety Devin McCourty said Wednesday, via the Boston Herald. "I think we've got to try and get them behind and try to play good defense on first down and not let them just pound us and be able to pound the ball."
Despite the poor showing in the first meeting, the Pats have reason for optimism this time around. Jamie Collins didn't play in the Week 12 matchup and Dont'a Hightower left in the second quarter and didn't return.
Hightower's absence in the second half in Week 12 was stark:
With Hightower: 16 Denver carries; 46 rushing yards; 0 TDs; 2.9 yards/carry
Without Hightower: 16 Denver carries; 133 rushing yards; 3 TDs; 8.3 yards/carry
Both Hightower and Collins were limited in practice on Wednesday. Collins suffered an oblique strain in the Divisional Round, but expects to play. Despite being questionable last week, Hightower played 76 of 89 snaps against the Chiefs.
Having their top two run-stuffing linebackers on the field for Sunday's AFC Championship Game could turn the tide.
The Broncos aren't like Peyton Manning-led teams of old. This is a ground-based offense that wants to ram the ball down an opponent's throat. Assuming Hightower and Collins don't suffer setbacks during the week, the Broncos will have a much more difficult time gaining traction with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.