PATRIOTS vs. COLTS
FOXBORO – It isn’t just that every play matters in the playoffs, it’s every read, adjustment, angle and split-second decision made on the fly that determines who moves on. The Patriots have had two weeks to prepare for a Colts team that’s beaten some of the NFL’s best – Denver, Seattle, San Francisco and Kansas City. They have the game at their place and the nasty weather should play to their strengths. But if any quarterback in the final eight has a will and competitiveness similar to Tom Brady it may be Andrew Luck. It will take a lot to kill the Colts.
WHEN THE PATRIOTS HAVE THE BALL
The Colts have one of the league’s most disruptive defenders, Robert Mathis moving around in their 3-4 scheme. He did it well enough to record 19.5 sacks this season. Expect the Patriots and Tom Brady to take special care to make sure he doesn’t ruin things and that may mean chipping him or – if he’s lined up in hard-to-chip spots – keeping a back in. Chuck Pagano’s defense will be aggressive with the Patriots wideouts. But they are working without starting corner Greg Toler and Darius Butler will start in his place. While Butler had his issues in New England, he’s a ridiculously talented athlete who can jump as well as any player in the league. On the other side is big corner Vontae Davis. Short, quick slants and ins that exploit Davis’ lack of quickness will be in order on him. The Patriots need to establish the ground attack and should be able to against a Colts defense that has been below-par against the run. The Colts’ safeties are not exceptional in coverage but are decent in run-support.
WHEN THE COLTS HAVE THE BALL
Indy is a pass-based team. Andrew Luck hasn’t had fewer than 30 attempts since September 22. The most carries in a game by their running backs this year was 26 between Donald Brown and Trent Richardson. Brown’s got some shake to him. Richardson is a bit of a plodder. The biggest running concern is Luck on scrambles. He’s a definite threat to take off on third-and-long if nothing shows open in the passing game. Employing Dane Fletcher as a spy on Luck might not be a bad idea. In dealing with Luck’s targets, there’s TY Hilton then everyone else. He’s been targeted 52 times in Indy’s last four games. He’s a nice combo of speed, quickness and toughness. The Patriots may opt to put Aqib Talib on him for stretches. They can’t lose track of him. Tight end Coby Fleener will be the other primary option for Luck. The Patriots’ linebacker level is always a bit of an adventure in coverage so Fleener could be a big factor, especially in the red zone.
THE KICKING GAME
The Colts coverage teams were not remarkable. They allowed 13.7 yards per punt return and 25.2 on kickoff returns. Punter Pat McAfee had a net of 38.5 and had a punt blocked this season. Adam Vinatieri keeps kicking brilliantly. He was 19 for 23 outside 40 yards, 4 for 6 outside 50. The Patriots were very good in kick coverage this year, allowing 7.6 yards on 29 returns. Julian Edelman may have a chance to make a big play in the return game. The Patriots have benefited from special teams efficiency this year. Look for there to be a big play on teams in this one.
PATRIOTS SICK BAY
OUT: WR Aaron Dobson (foot) .QUESTIONABLE: CB Alfonzo Dennard (knee, shoulder), WR Kenbrell Thompkins (hip). PROBABLE: WR Danny Amendola (groin), CB Kyle Arrington (groin), QB Tom Brady (right shoulder), LB Dane Fletcher (groin), S Steve Gregory (finger, knee), G Logan Mankins (ankle), S Devin McCourty (concussion), T Will Svitek (ankle), RB Shane Vereen (groin)
COLTS SICK BAY
OUT: WR Darrius Heyward-Bey (hamstring). PROBABLE: DT Aubrayo Franklin (not injury related), C Khaled Holmes (calf), S LaRon Landry (concussion), LB Josh McNary (concussion)
GAME WITHIN THE GAME
The weather. The Patriots are all-weather tough. The Colts, obviously, are an indoor team. They’re not as susceptible to the conditions as they were in the ‘00s when Peyton Manning played like a housecat in shoulder pads whenever it got a little inclement. Still, the Patriots’ experience in the elements is a checkmark in their favor.
PATRIOTS GOTTA STOP
Donald Brown/Trent Richardson. If Indy is in second-and-medium or third-and-short thanks to their running game, they can be diverse in their passing attack. If the Patriots hold down the run, they can put the vise on TY Hilton.
COLTS GOTTA STOP
LeGarrette Blount. The Patriots running game is going to be the key to this game. If they aren’t able to make the Colts commit to stopping the run, play-action isn’t going to scare anyone. The last time Blount played in a downpour he ran for 189 in the regular-season finale.
DON'T BE SURPRISED IF
A kicker decides it. The Patriots have gotten separation in precious few games. More commonly, they start slowly and have to methodically climb back in.
THAT SUMS IT UP PATRIOTS STYLE
“Everyone wants to get there and win one, if not more. You’d like to win every year, but it’s not an easy thing to do. The longer you’re in this game, the more you realize how hard it is just to get to a Super Bowl let alone win one. So, it takes a lot of team work and a lot of individual work to do that.” – Logan Mankins on winning a Super Bowl.
THAT SUMS IT UP COLTS STYLE
“We had the fewest amount of turnovers in the league this year at 14, and I know we had a couple last week, but he does a great job of putting that behind him. He figures out, OK, where he made the mistake and what he missed, and he’s got recall. He studies so much tape and prepares himself so well that he’s able to identify and see things even if it was a year ago. He’s got that, probably what Tom [Brady] has and what Peyton [Manning] has and all the great ones have, is the ability to identify and see things and put things behind him and move on.” – Chuck Pagano, Colts head coach, on Andrew Luck.
THE WINNER IS
Patriots 27, Colts 17