The New England Patriots will be playing the Indianapolis Colts in prime-time Sunday night and this game will have a huge impact for each team regarding playoff positioning. Both teams have an excellent chance at winning their division but with the Denver Broncos already have played the tough part of their schedule, it’s difficult to envision them losing so if either the Patriots or Colts wish to play the Broncos in January on their turf, it’s critical to win this game. In many ways, it’s even MORE critical to the Patriots as a loss Sunday night would likely mean the Pats would have to travel to Indy AND Denver in the quest to win that elusive 4th Super-Bowl.
So, with the stage set here is what I think that Patriots need to accomplish and how to accomplish it and how I see it unfolding:
Keys for the Patriots defense
So far, the Colts are averaging just a shade over 32 points per game, which is number 1 overall in the NFL. They are dangerous across the board with playmakers everywhere. Luck, Hilton, Wayne, Allen, Fleener, Nicks, Bradshaw, Richardson make up a group that might not have the name recognition yet, but easily could be called the deepest pool of offensive skill talent in the NFL.
More than a few times over the course of history, Bill Belichick has shown he knows how to deal with this kind of offensive skill and the key is and always has been to be the more physical team and beat the living hell out of anyone wanting to run a pass pattern. What separates this offense from other great offenses he’s stopped or slowed down enough to win over the years is Luck. He’s part John Elway, part Peyton Manning and Part Kurt Warner and Part Jim Kelly. I use those because Bill’s signature wins have all come in big games vs. those QB’s who led offenses that were thought to be unstoppable and offer my take as to how Belicheck has been able to do it.
Manning is stopped through physicality or the threat of it. Take that pick by Ninkovich 2 weeks ago. Jamie Collins, the Pats new attempt at replacing WIllie McGinest, came crashing in from the outside causing Manning make a terrible throw for the easy pick. He says he was fooled, and maybe he was but I think he got the jitters and chucked it up. Go look that mechanics of the throw and it will show you he was seeing the rush on that play. He’s done this countless times in big games vs. strong D’s. I bring this up because at this point in his career, Luck absolutely does not see the rush and stands in like no one I’ve ever seen, even Big Ben. It will take more than pressure to keep Luck from making plays.
Elway was stopped in part because at the time, he was not at all refined at playing QB and he had belief in his superior athleticism. He’d make 1 read, maybe 2 and scramble around and then chuck a bomb 50 yards downfield. Bill had arguably the greatest line-backing corp in NFL history chasing him around. While Luck is not quite John Elway, he’s closer than many would admit and is a very effective running QB. This year, the Pats do have some pretty good athleticism and should they choose to spy him could have good success.
Warner and Kelly were stopped because they did not adjust until it was too late. Sure, those D’s played great, but had either QB changed things up and forced those D’s to adjust I think the outcome would be what everyone thought it would be. Luck gets smarter every game and has shown he can and will adjust.
So, I think to stop the Colts the Patriots will have to do the following:
1) Pressure Luck with great lane and edge discipline. Hit him but more importantly, don’t get so carried away with it that he can run free to make a long completion or a big run. They need to find that balance where the rush makes him question his throws and they make significant contact but not so much he can easily make a big play with his legs.
2) Tackle Bradshaw and Richardson extremely well. Bradshaw is the key. They MUST MUST MUST stop this guy from turning 2 yard runs into 6,8 or 10 yard runs. When he gets his shoulders north and south, he’s every bit as hard to tackle as Marshawn Lynch.
3) No Big plays from T.Y. Hilton. He’s one of the most dangerous deep threats in the league and can jump start their offense.
4) Never show the same thing and attempt to disguise.
Keys for the Patriots offense:
I see this as a HUGE mismatch for the Colts D. In fact, I believe if the Patriots come in and play a clean game and by that I mean very few penalties, no turnovers and execute well they could easily put up 45 or more points. The Colts D is simply not equipped or talented enough to deal with New England as long as the biggest mis-match in football stays healthy and we all know that is Rob Gronkowski. I think New England can block their front 7, and I don’t think their back 4 can cover anyone we have consistently.
1) Deal with the crowd noise. There is the possibility that Ryan Weddell, who is a very solid if not pro-bowl level RG may be out with a knee and if that is the case, then that could effect the level of execution enough to slow them down. I fully expect the Pats to make the adjustment, but it could take some time and if the Colts offense is hot, then that could be a difference maker.
2) Play CLEAN! #1, no turnovers. #2, no unforced penalties (false starts, delay of game, non essential holds)
3) Stay upright and healthy.
Both have excellent kicking games. Should it come down to a late FG, the team defending is likely going to lose. I think where the Pats had a huge advantage vs. the Broncos on special teams this game will be much more close. Both punters are also very solid and do not often put their coverage until in bad spots. Normally I give the edge to New England but no in this case. I’ll call this a draw.
With all that being said, I believe that this game will be close because neither team is dead until it’s been killed and then killed again and again. That’s a reflection of their coaches and quarterbacks who simply do not know how to lay down. I think the Pats more or less control this one and then Luck will get hot and it will get really dicey at the end with that new and improved Patriots secondary having to make a play late to hold on.
New England Patriots 37
Indianapolis Colts 31