Jon Scott: AV will be booed. There's no doubt he's seen as a traitor at this point by many fans, even some of the guys in the locker room. While the front office of New England is as much to blame for how things turned out, the fact that AV left town without saying anything (until he was cornered in the airport), left a bad taste in many people's mouths. I think a lot of people still remember Vinatieri as a good guy, and a clutch kicker, but the fact that he left for the Colts of all teams is the part that will get him booed.
ET: What do you expect the Patriots' strategy to be to try to exploit the Colts' struggles with the run defense?
JS: The Patriots will most certainly try to get their running game going
against the Colts porous rush defense, mainly because they want to chew up the
clock and keep the ball out of Peyton Manning's hands. Bill Belichick is no
dummy; the less time Manning has the ball, the fewer opportunities he has to
score. The other thing to remember is that New England has three running backs
they use to drive their play-action. Laurence Maroney and Corey Dillon are
solid, but Kevin Faulk is the change-of-pace back New England uses on draws and
other situations to keep the defense off balance. In order for any ground game
to be effective, it cannot just be 3-yards and a cloud of dust, it has to have
some element of misdirection or surprise to it. I wouldn't think the Colts
defense is THAT bad where they can't stop a run when everyone knows it's 3rd and
2 or another obvious running situation.
ET: With the Patriots' huge success passing the ball against the Vikings, do you think they'll be tempted to use a similar approach against Indy early in the game to throw them off a bit?
JS: The thing about the Vikings game, and we talked about this before it happened, was that TE Ben Watson, as well as the other Pats TEs, are a big mismatch for opposing defenses. Watson is similar to Dallas Clark in that he is as much a threat to catch the ball to make a big play as he is to come up with a clutch third down catch. Minnesota was so slow to adjust to the Pats approach that the game was well out of hand before they slowed Brady down. I'm not so sure Tony Dungy will have the same trouble adjusting. So if New England does take a similar approach, it's because of the mismatches Watson, Kevin Faulk and others have more than a decision to throw the ball to throw the defense off. For New England its more about the best mismatches, than a particular strategy.
ET: The Patriots' leading receiver at this point is a tight end. Tell us a bit about him and why he's doing so well in this offense.
JS: Great question. Most people don't know who Ben Watson is because the Patriots don't have superstars and don't hype their players. The thing with Watson is he's fast (he ran a 4.48 forty), he's big -- 6-foot-, 255 pounds -- and he's in amazing shape. Watson can use his speed and quickness to beat most linebackers, and even some safeties. He creates such a mismatch against most defenses. Watson and Brady have had three seasons together, limited by a knee injury that derailed Watson's rookie season before it began. He's not noticed because he blocks a lot more than many of the other notable tight ends like Tony Gonzales and Anotonio Gates, mainly because the Patriots offensive protections dictate that requirement.
It might sound like I'm gushing over the guy, but in all the time I've been watching football and covering the Patriots, they haven't had a guy like this who is an obvious offensive weapon who is underrated by many defensive coordinators. He won't be underrated for long, because he's become Brady's favorite target with 28 catches for 366 yards. Many fans remember the days of Big Ben Coates who led New England in receptions in 1994 with 96 catches, 1995 (84), 1997 (66) and 1998 (67) and was second in 96 (62). When Drew Bledsoe needed to make a completion, Coates was his man. Belichick was in New England during the Coates era, and he was familiar with how a big pass-catching tight end can help an offense. It's no coincidence Coates success enabled Bledsoe to post a career season in 1994 setting the current franchise passing record for the a season.
The Brady - Watson connection is going to give that Bledsoe-Coates connection a run for the money if the team can keep these guys together. They're only in their second full season together and Watson has barely scratched the surface of what he can do.
ET: Who is this year's starter in New England that Colts fans aren't
likely to know, but will notice by the time this game is over?
JS: If you already knew that Ben Watson can be a big-play threat, then the No. 2 receiver is the next likely unknown… Doug Gabriel. He was acquired from the Raiders, but has had trouble getting on the field due to hamstring issues. When he's on, he can really be on.
As a bonus, let me thrown the name Ryan O'Callaghan into the mix. When the Patriots let OT Tom Ashworth go to Seattle in free agency and they traded OT Brandon Gorin to the Cardinals people wondered what they were doing. New England went from having an experienced and deep roster at offensive tackle to an inexperienced and thin group that got thinner when last year's starter Nick Kaczur continued to be limited by a shoulder injury he suffered last year. O'Callaghan has not been spectacular, but he's been very solid for most of the games. The rookie fifth-round pick out of Cal was probably one of the most underrated draft picks the Patriots made that no one is talking about. And he's only going to get better.