FOXBORO -- Listen to the typically tight-lipped Patriots long enough, and they'll give away one of the tenets of this week's offensive game plan: Don't allow Colts pass rusher Robert Mathis to take over.
"They have one of the most explosive players in the league in Mathis," Logan Mankins said. "He can change the game at any moment if you let him."
"I think it’s rare that you get a guy that has that much talent and then plays so hard every play and that’s him," said left tackle Nate Solder. "That’s the challenge of him I think."
"You try to put guys around him and double team him, but he still seems to be making all the plays," Tom Brady explained. "I just know I don't have a lot of time back there in the pocket to sort things out. We got to try and get the ball to our guys as quickly as we can so he's not ruining the game."
"He's an outstanding player, one of the most disruptive players in the league," Bill Belichick added. "Not only does he hit the quarterback a lot, but he causes the turnover, game-changing plays. Very good at stripping the ball from the quarterback. He's also hit the quarterback a number of times, which has caused interceptions or tipped balls as part of the rush, that kind of thing. So he's a very disruptive guy. Quickness, tremendous motor. Has great speed, but he has great effort in his pursuit, chase."
Mathis has 19.5 sacks this season, the most he's compiled in his 11-year NFL career. He also tied a career high in forced fumbles with eight. Brady dubbed him the "Defensive Player of the Year, basically," when he spoke to WEEI's Dennis and Callahan Show on Monday.
What makes Mathis even more difficult to defend than when he was lined up opposite former Colts pass rusher Dwight Freeney from 2003 until last year is that Mathis now bounces to either side of the defensive formation depending on the play.
Solder should expect a heaping helping of No. 98 in blue and white on Saturday night, but the task of blocking him may also fall to right tackle Marcus Cannon and others. Tight ends Michael Hoomanawanui and Matthew Mulligan, fullback James Develin and all of the Patriots running backs -- Shane Vereen on third down perhaps -- can expect to take a shot at Indy's most dangerous defensive weapon at some point.
"We’ve certainly seen every play that they’ve had on defense this year, and he’s as disruptive a player on the edge as we have played or will play," Pats offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said. "He’s got great speed and acceleration. He certainly does a great job of turning the corner. He is very rarely on the ground and his motor, his effort are incredible. You can’t ever assume that, ‘Well I did enough,’ because if you assume that then usually he ends up finishing the play better than you did and a lot of times that ends up in a bad situation for the offense."
The offense may also end up in trouble if the Patriots just automatically dedicate an extra blocker to Mathis' side on passing downs.
"They do a good job of blitzing enough to make sure that you can’t just stand there and help on him all day," McDaniels said. "It would be great to say, ‘Well, why don’t we just put a guy over there to help.’ Well, they pressure enough with enough people, use the secondary, use the linebackers, that some of those people that you would like to use in help on a guy like him may have to be blocking blitzers as they send them."
One way to keep Mathis' pressures to a minimum? Don't give him an opportunity to pressure. That is to say, run the thing.
Mankins said on Thursday that that kind of game plan wouldn't bother him.
"I think that just helps your offense so much," he said. "If you run the ball you control the clock. You set up play-action passes. They're just not pass rushing every single play. It just makes your whole offense better I feel."