The Indianapolis Colts have been asking themselves this question for a while now.
How do they beat the New England Patriots?
As the AFC rivals prepare for another installment of their heated rivalry on Sunday night at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, it's fair to say the Colts have yet to figure out an answer to that question.
The Patriots (4-0) added an extra offensive lineman and ran over the Colts (3-2) twice last season, including 45-7 in January's AFC Championship Game. The Colts have revamped the defensive line in their 3-4 scheme with three new starters. Can they stop ground-and-pound history from repeating itself?
If so, what will the Colts do against Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who leads the NFL's No. 1 offense in total yards and passing? The Colts have just six sacks in five games. No pressure on Brady means he will undoubtedly pick the home team apart.
And then there's the matter of what the Colts will try to do on offense, and who will be the quarterback? Will injured Andrew Luck return from his two-game absence due to a sore right shoulder? He was limited in practice this week. Or will the Colts turn again to backup Matt Hasselbeck? The 40-year-old backup lead the Colts to back-to-back wins against Jacksonville and Houston.
So many questions. Leave it to Hasselbeck, a 17th-year pro, to simplify what will make the difference in this game.
"You need to out-execute them, in my mind," Hasselbeck said Wednesday, admittedly a task easier said than done. "If you could pick one thing, that's the thing."
In the interest of keeping a complicated game simple, he said it comes down to the Colts winning more of their matchups than the Patriots. Again, much easier suggested than done.
"They are real physical, they are real tough, they are real smart," Hasselbeck said. "But at the end of the day, there's going to be a ball in the air, tight man coverage, someone has got to make a play. Same thing goes in the running game. At the end of the day, there's going to be an unblocked guy, a guy with the ball in his hands, you've got to make the guy miss."
In the past four meetings, the Patriots have won more than their share of these matchups. They've beaten the Colts by an average of 29 points. That's why the Colts are 10.5-point home underdogs.
“He’s made it difficult on a number of people I think," Pagano said. "His record would actually indicate that, not only us, but I think a majority of this league for a long time. Got a bunch of rings (six) to show for it. Great coach, it’s a game plan defense. Right when you think you know exactly what he’s going to do, he defends you a different way. Not only him, but Matt Patricia, the defensive coordinator, they do a great job, and they do a great job of making you beat them left handed. They’re going to take away what you do best and make you beat them different ways.”
In the past, the Patriots have locked down Colts No. 1 wide receiver T.Y. Hilton. But Hilton is confident the offseason additions of running back Frank Gore and wide receiver Andre Johnson as well as the emergence of wide receiver Donte Moncrief won't allow the Patriots to key on only one target.
"We're way better," Hilton said Thursday. "We're more experienced now. We've added a lot of pieces that can help me and help this team. We feel like this should be the year."
As the saying goes, seeing is believing. The Colts have a lot to prove Sunday night.
Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.