In what is expected to be a cold, rainy, and windy divisional matchup, the 12-5 Indianapolis Colts will go to Boston to play the 12-4 New England Patriots. The Colts are playing off the heels of a miraculous 28-point comeback in the wildcard round against the Chiefs, whereas the Patriots will be playing in their first playoff match of the season. The game will also feature a great matchup between budding superstar Andrew Luck and legendary quarterback Tom Brady.
What the Colts Need to do to Win
The Colts will be playing on the road in unfamiliar conditions, and the Colts will definitely have to adjust (a lot) as the game goes on. The Colts need to go into this game knowing that their gameplan will definitely change as the game goes on. The coaches need to have a systematic approach and they'll need to have at least 3 backup plans to their original gameplan.
On offense, they'll need to have a balanced attack, Because of the tough weather conditions, the Colts will need to establish the run, but when they'll need to time it properly. Establishing it on the first few drives of the game isn't necessarily the right approach. The Colts had a 7 play drive involving pass plays only. Of course it was different weather conditions, but it showed the Colts don't need to come out and run, but rather come out and strike through the air. They could do something similar here, despite the weather. The Colts will need to adopt an efficient passing attack that is based on reading from the quarterback and finding the right levels with your receiver. To explain, as a receiver you are taught about the different types of levels. There are short levels, intermediate levels, deep levels, short to intermediate levels, etc. All represent different things. Offenses have a lot of plays where they have a receiver at the 3 main levels (short, medium and deep). Either way, the Colts need to find the levels that pick apart the Patriots the most, and from watching tape, the Patriots are exposed on the intermediate levels when they are in their zone defense. The Colts need to attack that, and they can have Fleener run a seam route, or they can have TY Hilton run an out route. They need to attack the weaknesses in their zone defense, and what I said was an example of one of their weaknesses.
They need to succeed on third downs and they can do that by making it easy for the offense. They need to give Andrew short third downs that make it easier to get the first down. They cannot be overly aggressive on early downs, because that could cause long third downs, which cannot happen in games. If the Colts need to be aggressive, they should be aggressive on third downs or on 2nd downs after a good 1st down. They should rarely be overly aggressive on 1st down.
Andrew Luck will have to have an efficient game, and MUST NOT, and I cannot stress that enough, throw intereceptions like he did last week. Luck rebounded big time in the 2nd half, or after his third interception, but there cannot be a third interception in this game, or the Colts will not be able to win. He hurt the Colts badly after that third interception. All three were on Luck, the first two were just terrible decisions and the third one was a bad throw. Luck's decision making will need to be at an all time high.
In terms of running the ball, it must be a group effort between the interior offensive line and the running backs, especially this week. The Colts run it well inside, and as we saw last week, they are capable of doing it with consitency. Last week was Samson Satele's best game of the season. Hugh Thornton had an oustanding game as well, and it was because both of them were able to successfully double team Dontari Poe. This week, they'll need to open up holes up the middle again, and both will need to be on the same page to succeed. The Colts should give the ball to Donald Brown early, but if the weather worsens and the rain starts heavily affecting the running game, the Colts should feed the rock to Trent Richardson. He had a trainwreck of a performance last week, but nothing is better than a guy who's pissed off with a goal. If I were the coach, I would give him some runs after the Colts have feed Donald Brown a decent amount of times. They should not establish the run with Richardson, but they should give him some carries as the goes on.
The offensive line had a solid performance last week, and they'll need another this week. Anthony Castonzo will have the toughest task of the game as he'll be going up against Chandler Jones for the majority of the game(Gosder too when he's faced against Jones). The interior offensive line will need to be wary of the multiple defensive front that the Patriots utilize. They'll need to watch for stunts and twists
As for the defense...
The Colts will have to face a Patriots offense that has a top 10 passing offense and a top 10 rushing offense. In what is expected to be a rough weather game, the Patriots will most certainly try to establish a powerful running game, and that running game has been hot recently. The Colts must have 2 goals on defense going into this game: Take away the running game, and take away Julian Edelman.
The defensive line will be crucial in stopping the inside runs. They'll need to win the battle of the trenches. The defensive ends will need to get inside leverage on the offensive tackles and attack the outside shoulder of the guards. Cory Redding will have a nice matchup in this game, and he'll need to get one on one matchups, and that will depend on Aubrayo Franklin and Josh Chapman (the nose tackles). Notice that when Franklin is on, Redding has a good game as well. That's not a coincidence. One feeds off the other. They'll need to get Frankin to draw double teams and clog up lanes for everything to work at a high level on the defensive line. They need to give Cory Redding one on ones. Did you see what he did when faced with one on one's last week? He killed the right guard Geoff Schwartz and Schwartz had one of his worst games of the season.
The linebackers will have be the most crucial group on either side of the ball this game. For starters, I'll just say that they are lucky to not have to face Rob Gronkowski in this game, or that would have made life difficult. Now, they can focus the majority of their attention on stopping the running game. The Patriots love to run the ball inside. For example, against the Bills in Week 17 they had 19 rushes for 160 yards (8.42 ypc) with 2 touchdowns when they ran in between the tackles. They'll definitely go for that again. That means that Jerrell Freeman, Kelvin Sheppard and Kavell Conner will need to take away inside gaps. I especially like Kavell Conner to team up with Freeman on early downs, because Conner is arguably the best downhill runner on the team and is maybe the best run stopper. When he plays in the game, he grades out positively. He has a +2.4 rating on Pro Football Focus when it comes to run defense and he's only played in 138 plays. They need to give Conner a chance this game to help eliminate their running game, and make Tom Brady start passing the ball a lot (which doesn't sound good, but it's better than having both their passing and running games going at high levels). The Colts should also bring down Antoine Bethea at times in the box, especially if the Patriots are running the ball a lot. They need to make sure they don't get their running game going.
The secondary will have a couple of playmakers to worry about. The big one is Julian Edelman, who funny enough, was the one this season that best replaced Wes Welker, with his 100+ catch, 1000+ yard season. He's a scary guy in the slot. To help take away Edelman, the Colts need to put Darius Butler against him. Butler is the Colts' best option at nickel cornerback and he could help at least contain Edelman. On third downs, the Colts can also play their linebackers over the middle to eliminate the middle or the "flat" of the field. What the Colts also must watch out for are the quick arrow routes the Patriots like to utilize. To eliminate those types of routes, they'll need to have the slot cornerback have an outside approach (line up to the receiver's outside shoulder) and jam him. It leaves going inside open, but if the linebackers are in good positions, the inside shouldn't be there. Vontae Davis seems healthier this week and he should go up against the outside wide receiver on the Patriots, whether that be Thompkins, Amendola, or even Edelman. He needs to play aggressive against these guys. They can beat you with their feet, but they aren't very scary deep threats, so the Colts should try and jam them at the line. They could also have Landry and Bethea play over the top.
To recap on defense, the Colts will need to take Edelman by putting Darius Butler on him, and to eliminate those sneaky little arrow routes, Butler will need to have an outside approach and have the linebackers take away the inside of the field. They should play aggressive with their receivers by jamming them at the line and having the safeties cover over the top. As for stopping the run, the Colts need to unleash Kavell Conner as he's perhaps their best run stopper, and they need to eliminate the Patriots' running game, and they can do that by stacking the inside and the box (by bringing down Bethea on certain plays).
What the Patriots Need do to to Win
On offense, the Patriots need to establish the run early and continue to pound it as the day goes on. It's expected to rain heavily in New England on Saturday night, so getting going on the ground will be extremely important, because passing the ball will be very difficult. When they're running the ball, the Patriots should definitely try and utilize the trio of LaGarrette Blount, Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen. Vereen should be used especially in passing situations, and not as much in running stiuations. The Patriots should mix up running the ball with Ridley and Blount, and utilize the different styles of running that each possess. Blount is a big powerful runner, which is perfect for rainy weather, and Ridley is more of a speed back, where although it's not a strength to have in the rain, it's good to mix it up. They need to establish the run early in the first half and early in the 2nd half. They need to take time off the clock, keep Luck off the field, and get some valuable points on the board. This should not be a 89 point game like the Colts-Chiefs game from last week.
In terms of passing the ball, Tom Brady should try to establish a short, conservative passing game, where it does not require to take a lot of risks. The Patriots have the right personnel to utilize this type of system thanks to Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, and even Kenbrell Thompkins. They need to efficiently move the ball and they can do that with short passes that assures completions and small gains. Tom Brady is a great quarterback to command this type of offense, and if they get a good balance between running the ball, and efficiently passing the ball, the Patriots should be able to put up a sizable amount of points, even in the rain.
On defense, the Patriots must take away TY Hilton in the passing game. Last week, TY Hilton was the MVP with a 225 yard performance that included a huge game winning 64 yard touchdown. He has changed plenty of games in his career, and the Patriots need to take him away. The Patriots should NOT put Aqib Talib on him. Talib is a physical corner who lacks great agility and explosiveness, which are two things you need against TY Hilton Rather, the Patriots should put Alfonso Dennard, because he has good agility and can stay downfield with him. He is the better matchup for Hilton. Dennard is questionable, and if he is unable to go, Kyle Arrington could be a suitable replacement. Also, on obvious passing down situations, such as long third downs or third downs beyond 5 yards, or even long 2nd downs, the Patriots should have Devin McCourty play over the top. Remember, McCourty was an All Pro this year because of his play as a safety. Finally, the Patriots should try and find ways to get Andrew Luck under pressure. This means giving Chandler Jones one on one matchups as well as blitzing the linebackers and even the nickel cornerbacks.
The Patriots should also worry about Donald Brown and Trent Richardson in the running game. Donald Brown is the better running back right now, but the playing conditions better suit Richardson, which is why he should be taken into account. In terms of Brown, they were able to pound it up the middle in the 2nd half last week, and it worked to perfection on certain. The Colts will certainly run the ball a lot this week, and with the Patriots ailing at linebacker, they'll probably want to pound it up the middle. The Patriots should try and either stack the box with Steve Gregory or McCourty, or they can put an emphasis on having the linebackers play at the line and attack the inside run. The Patriots should try and force the Colts to pass the ball heavily. They can do this two ways: by taking the early lead, or by putting emphasis on stopping the run early in the game. Either or have its benefits and its faults.
Although there are some intriguing matchups featuring the Patriots' defense and the Colts' offense (especially the offensive line), the biggest matchup has to be between Andrew Luck and Tom Brady. Both will be featured in a game that many view in a "passing of the torch" kind of matchup. In many ways, the better performer in this matchup may be the deciding factor in who wins this game. Whoever shows up at the right time will most likely take his team to victory. It should be fun to watch a legend and an upstart.
TY Hilton and Robert Mathis will no record more than 50 yards receiving and 1 sack (respectively).
Indianapolis Colts 23 vs New England Patriots 20