On Sunday, the Colts will face one of the best in business in Randy Moss. But, given that they already were able to shut down Steve Smith of the Carolina Panthers, this should be no challenge at all for Kelvin Hayden and Bob Sanders, right?
Well, the problem with that logic is that the Patriots also employ two other very talented receivers named Wes Welker and Donte Stallworth. Stallworth and Moss are both tall receivers with deep speed who can also make defenses pay after the catch. Welker has been used more as a possession receiver so far this season, but has also made his share of big plays. Throughout the course of the year, whoever has focused on Moss and Stallworth has given Welker a big day, while whoever has ignored Moss has given him a big day.
Since the strategy of choosing which receiver should have 9 catches for 189 yards and two touchdowns is not a sound one, it would actually behoove the Colts to focus on an area of the field as opposed to specific receivers -- one of the hallmarks of the zone defense and, by proxy, the Cover 2.
For the most part, the Patriots focus on the middle of the field -- short, intermediate, and deep -- with little attention being paid to the perimeter, especially 10 to 20 yards down the field. Tom Brady has the arm to throw a 15-yard out, but he is seldom asked to do so. Generally, when Brady is targeting a receiver, that receiver is either right in front of him -- possibly 20-plus yards down the field, but directly in his line of sight -- or right next to him in the flat, usually a screen or a pass to a running back.
New England's strategy in the passing game is actually deadly simple: If the defense shows man coverage, throw to the guy that's single-covered. If they show zone, throw down the middle of the field, where there are large gaps in the zone. If they crowd the line, throw deep. If they play way off the line, throw screens and into the flat.
Therefore, the best strategy on defense will be to make sure that Brady is constantly checking down to his running backs and tight ends. In order to contain the receivers, the Colts should play off the line of scrimmage -- but not too far off, which would invite screen passes and structure their Cover 2 defense deep, backing away from the line of scrimmage as soon as the ball is snapped.
If Brady and his talented group of receivers are to move the ball, Indianapolis should make them earn it. The Patriots passing game cannot be stopped from scoring, but they can be slowed down and forced to work.