Final Preview and Prediction for Patriots @ Colts, 11/16/2014

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.

Special teams:

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

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Injury update: Patriots @ Colts 11/16/2014

The latest injury report has a few key additions for the Patriots. Ryan Weddell, who’s been playing lights out at RG for New England has come up on the report with an unspecified (aren’t they all with the Patriots?) knee injury. That is significant because the renaissance of the Patriots offense is due to in large part to the coalescence of their offensive line. Now, in an environment that will be as loud and as proud as any fan-base in the country they may have to plug in someone who may not be in tune with Brady and the other 4 OL’s. Something to definitely pay attention to. Also, and it’s no major surprise to me Dominic Easley, he of the 2 re-constructed knee’s landed on the report and that would be yet another blow to a group that is not very deep to begin with.

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First thoughts: New England Patriots @ the Indianapolis Colts

1) If I couldn’t have Brady as my QB, I’d want Luck

2) I think the Patriots secondary is better equipped to deal with the Colts receivers than the Colts secondary is equipped to deal with the Patriots receivers

3) Slight special teams advantage to the Patriots

4) One solid advantage the Colts have over the Pats is at RB. Bradshaw is easily the best back on the field. He’s not great, mainly because he’s not that durable, but he has all the tools and if he had been able to stay healthy, he’s another beast-mode.

5) The Colts are not dead until they are killed and then killed again. If NE gets up, they must keep the pedal to the metal…they NEVER quit and that’s a reflection of Luck and their coach.

6) Besides, NE, the Colts are best equipped to deal with the Broncos.

7) Probably should’ve been first…but as always, the key to this offense remaining prolific is Gronkowski. He needs to be himself, but do whatever, if there is anything he can do, to stay healthy.

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Follow up notes from the Denver-New England game.

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With the weather really not being that much of a factor (NFL record for pass attempts in a non-overtime game) New England made all the big plays at all the critical times and came away with a resounding 43-21 victory. What surprised me the most was how effective New England was at defending the run. HUGE game by Vince Wilfork and Jamie Collins stuffing the running game and it made Denver operate in 2nd or 3rd and long all day, which plays right into Bill Belicheck’s wheelhouse.

What else can I say about Tom Brady that hasn’t already been said? He showed remarkable poise in all but 1 of his 53 drop-backs today and if not for at least 4 drops (more like 5 or 6) this game might have gotten even more out of hand.

Now, in the interests of full disclosure, being that I’m a huge Patriots fan I’m trying to be as objective as possible but one can only imagine how this would’ve went had the Patriots had a healthy Mayo and Chandler Jones. A shutout would’ve been possible the way they were playing.

Now that this game is out of the way….the hard part is coming. Colts at their place in primetime, followed with Detroit, @ Green bay and @ San Diego. With the cupcake schedule the Denver has coming up, Somehow, they must win not only all 4, but they must win out. I just do not see them winning at Mile-High…which has been the biggest house of horrors for this team since it’s inception. Give me a road playoff game at Baltimore or Pitt any day over going to Mile High.

That’s all I have for right now. Plenty of time to dissect this one over the next two weeks.

Great Job Pats!!

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Broncos at the Patriots, November 2nd, 2014

The basic skinny on how I see today’s match-up unfolding:

1) Brady vs. Manning

Of course, this is all the ‘everyfan’ is being forced fed by the major media outlets. My short take on this is that with the weather conditions that are supposed to be present at Gillette stadium today the match-up tilts solidly in Brady’s favor. Brady has consistently shown that he can throw a ball ‘through’ the wind. The reasons for this are that he generally throws a very tight spiral, and still possesses plenty of arm strength. Manning’s arm strength has declined, and he throws ducks. Wonderfully accurate ducks to be certain, but ducks none-the-less and that will be a factor because of the vastly improved back-end of the Patriots defense.

Edge: Brady

2) Coaching

No one is ever going to call John Fox a genius. He’s solid and well liked to be sure but it’s going to take more than that to beat New England up in Foxboro in bad weather. It’s going to take some surprises and new wrinkles. If Manning were the head coach, it might be a fair fight but he’s only the OC, not the HC. Last year Jack DelRio showed no ability to adjust to the weather and the momentum created by the Pats in the 3rd Q of last years regular season game. I don’t expect any genius maneuvers today. Conversely, Belicheck will be prepared AND he’ll have his troops ready for anything and ready to play hard.

Edge: New England

3) Emmanuel Sanders vs. Whomever BB decides to cover him with

I can envision Revis on Demarious Thomas, and Browner on Julius Thomas. Welker is dangerous, but not what he once was and can be covered by Dennard, Jamie Collins, Kyle Arrington or Logan Ryan. The Patriots have no one who can single cover Sanders other than Revis and he’ll be occupied. If the Pats had a heathly Chandler Jones this wouldn’t be such a huge deal but with the time Manning is likely to have, I can see Sanders getting an awful lot of short passes and using his quickness to make big plays on a slick playing surface.

Edge: Sanders

Running game:

New England will likely be pounding sand if they try and run it at the Broncos tough front 7. They are going to have to catch them off guard by using their warp speed hurry up in order to have successful runs but I don’t believe they can just line up and run it at them. Denver’s Hillman has home run speed and has shown the ability to break tackles after first contact and I can see them being able to line up and run it at us. Vince Wilfork is the X factor. He’s played like a shell of his former self since coming back from injury and he absolutely needs to be great today for the Pats to have a chance on D.

Edge: Denver

Passing game:

See Brady vs. Manning above.

Edge: Pats in inclement weather.

Special teams:

Huge apparent advantage to New England. Denver has a rookie kicker who’s never had a pressure kick in his pro career. The Pats Ghostkowski is about as good as it gets. Pats are not spectacular in the Kick return game, but can break big ones off in the punt return game. Denver is much the same, maybe a little better on KO returns than New England. With the way the wind is projected, punters also loom as potentially huge contributors to the success/failure of their teams. Both are solid with a slight edge going to Colquitt.

Edge: Slightly favoring New England

Prediction:

While snow is falling like it’s a blizzard, it is supposed to dry up but wind is still supposed to be a factor. I just can’t see New England losing a weather game that’s this important. Anywehre else, I’m taking Denver but today is New England’s day:

New England Patriots: 34

Denver Broncos: 23

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