By Mary Paoletti
The Patriots had better hope their Week 10 showing was no fluke. Bill Belichick said on Tuesday that his team will have zero margin for error against the Colts this weekend.
"They don't beat themselves,'' he said. "They force you to play a good football game against them. They're sound, they're tough. They have their own style of play and it's very effective. And we'll have to make adjustments to get in the mode and be able to handle that."
As for what that style is, Belichick credits the Colts' penchant for no-huddle offense, and their fleet-footed defense, as major strengths.
"They do a good job of checking and making changes," he said. "And defensively they're as fast as any team in the league, faster than most. They have a good mix of man and zone coverage with a real good pass rush. You've got to block speed and quickness compared to what we have to do a lot of other weeks."
New England ball carriers did just fine last Sunday. In Pittsburgh, the Patriots ran 24 times for over 100 yards against the Steeler's stifling rush 'D.' Indianapolis defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Jerry Hughes aren't putting up the kinds of numbers that some of the Steelers were. But Belichick is unnerved by the Colts in an interesting way.
"All their defensive lineman are pretty disruptive.'' the coach said. "It's kind of scary when you're watching film; their jerseys are on real tight, sometimes you can't get a good look at the numbers, and when you're my age your eyesight isn't so good. It's kind of scary when they're all that good and they all look the same.''
It wasn't a joke. Belichick knows exactly what he sees from the Colts and his Patriots have their work cut out for them.
"It's a real fast, athletic group. You certainly have to be aware of those guys. They can strip-sack you and ruin the game on one play if you aren't careful."
BenJarvus Green-Ellis, please step forward.
The Pats running back is far and away Tom Brady's go-to guy on the rush: 6 touchdowns and 112 carries for 472 yards. That's 64 more opportunities and almost twice the total gain as the next guy on the chart. But he's going to have a tough time racking up mileage against Indy.
BenJarvus should feel encouraged that he has his coach's confidence.
"He's been, three years, really consistent for us,'' Belichick said. "He's tough, makes positive running yards. I don't think it's been any one big thing or one day where the light came on, he's just been a consistent player who works really hard for us. He's got a great attitude and a great work ethic."
Too bad Peyton Manning's a pretty hard worker, too. There was no chance that Belichick could escape a conference call about the Colts without lauding the Super Bowl, Pro-Bowl, and MVP winning quarterback.
"It all starts with a great quarterback and Manning does an excellent job of getting them into good plays and keeping them out of bad plays. He doesn't turn the ball over,'' Belichick said.
He didn't care about Peyton's subpar performance (185-yards, 0 TD) on Sunday. Belichick's respect for the Colts QB couldn't even be swayed by stats. When asked about the fact that Manning has been sacked more times this year through Week 10 than the entire 2009 regular season, Belichick stood pat. You could imagine the coach shaking his head on his end of the phone call.
"Defenses don't get to him very often. sometimes plays happen where somebody comes free . . . but for the most part, when he has the chance, he doesn't take many bad plays," Belichick said. "I don't know about all those numbers but he's got to be one of those hardest quarterbacks to sack in football. Somebody might miss an assignment or something happens but I'm telling you, not very often.''
And look out if Peyton does get a pass off. Reggie Wayne, just one of Manning's targets, was tagged by Belichick as "one of the best wide receivers in football." The list didn't stop there.
"Tight end Jacob Tamme stepped in and has done a good job and they've gotten production from other receivers,'' Belichick continued. "Wideout Blair White has done a good job for them. They're definitely able to use their other tight ends. They're able to still continue to make the defense defend everything.''
It wasn't hard to figure out what's on Belichick's mind this week. It all came back to the phrase he kept repeating over and over: "They make you beat them."
Despite that big win over the Steelers on Sunday, practice might not be fun this week. There are dropped balls, missed coverage, and unnecessary penalties to go over. The Patriots won't be able to take their foot off the gas for a minute as they did in Pittsburgh.
"They don't make many mistakes,'' Belichick reiterated. "It doesn't take much of a slip up before they'll make you pay for it."