Patriots ground game could be headache for Colts

Patriots ground game could be headache for Colts
January 7, 2014, 5:00 pm
Share This Post

FOXBORO -- The Kansas City Chiefs’ running game was without Jamaal Charles for most of their Wild Card loss to the Colts and they still ran for 150 yards.

Saturday night, the Patriots will bring a healthier contingent of running backs onto the field, and the Colts expect to be dealing with all of them.

“They’ve got a stable of guys that are all more than capable, and you look at the one-two punch LeGarrette (Blount) and (Stevan) Ridley have been, and you look at almost identical numbers across the board, it’s a huge challenge,” Colts head coach Chuck Pagano said Tuesday.

Blount and Ridley rushed for 393 yards between them in the Patriots’ final two regular-season games. The Colts run defense allowed 4.5 yards per carry this season. If you look for favorable matchups the Patriots might enjoy, that could be one.

Pagano seems well-acquainted with the threat.

“LeGarrette is a big, strong, physical, downhill runner that if you don’t tackle this guy and you don’t get a number of hats on him, he’s always getting positive yards, he’s always falling forward, he breaks a ton of tackles, he’s got a lot of yards after contact, and Ridley is the same way,” Pagano agreed. “He’s strong and can make the jump cut, good vision, all those things. Then a guy like Shane Vereen comes in, and he’s so dynamic, it’s almost Marshall Faulk and Kevin Faulk, and you go back to all the great ones, third down guys that – splitting them out in empty [formations] and throwing them deep balls and throwing them the screen game, it’s going to be a huge challenge for us.”

The diversity of the Patriots offense in 2013 -- a necessity caused in large part by the injuries to Rob Gronkowski and the arrest and release of Aaron Hernandez -- makes them more unpredictable in terms of game plan than in past years.

Indy will be forced to adjust initially on Saturday because the Patriots are bound to have new wrinkles ready (remember Hernandez lining up as a running back in 2011 against the Broncos in the Divisional Playoff). Then the Colts will probably have to adjust again as Tom Brady processes how Indy addresses the Patriots’ initial plan.

The Colts haven’t seen a quarterback of Brady’s smarts since late October when Indy beat the Broncos 39-33.

“They still do a great job of finding ways to move the ball up and down the field and score points and score touchdowns (despite personnel changes),” said Pagano. “I think they’re averaging a little over [27] points per game, so they’ve still managed to do a phenomenal job on offense. I think they finished [ninth] in the league in running the ball for almost 130 [yards] a game and [255 yards] through the air and all that stuff so, like I said, they’ve done a tremendous job. The system has been in place, and they do a great job of bringing guys in and plugging them in and putting them in the right spots. Josh [McDaniels] does a phenomenal job with them, and they put them in a position to make plays. I think with all those other guys, it’s a matchup nightmare across the board.”