Inside Skinny: Belichick Must Be Creative

Can the Patriots at least make the Colts punt? They certainly hope to do more than that this weekend when Peyton Manning, Edgerrin James and Marvin Harrison bring their offensive fireworks to Gillette Stadium in Foxborough for Sunday's AFC Championship game.

Indianapolis comes to town hotter than a smoking gun. The Colts have scored touchdowns on 10 of their 17 postseason possessions, including the first three of both playoff games. They have scored 79 points in two games, 11 points more than New England allowed during all of its eight regular season home games. And they have not punted once in two playoff games -- one home, one away.

But the Patriots are hot themselves, even if it's a different kind of hot. They have won 13 straight games and all nine home games this season, where they allowed an average of 9.1 points per game. They haven't all been as pretty as the two games the Colts marched out in the last two weeks, but they have found a way to win.

Now they hope to find a way to do something that neither Denver nor Kansas City could do -- slow down Manning and the Colts high-flying offense.

"I don't think I've ever seen a team run through the playoffs like they have," Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said. "(Their offense has been) spectacular. It's almost like if they get a 20-yard completion, you held them. Manning is on a tremendous roll. You throw Harrison and James in there with him and they have all-time numbers. I don't think anyone can play better than (Manning's) been playing -- 40 points a game in the playoffs? That's pretty good."

But the Patriots have been pretty good themselves, especially at home where the 14 points they allowed last week to Tennessee falls on the high side. And while New England's defense has marveled at what the Colts have done the last two weeks, the players also look forward to the challenge they face Sunday afternoon.

"Manning makes adjustments and gives his team the best chance to win," defensive lineman Richard Seymour said. "He's hot right now. They're a pretty good offense, but we're supposed to be a pretty good defense too. They're going to do what they do and we have to do what we do. This is what it's all about."

What the Patriots have to do is contend with an array of offensive weapons, all of who can make big plays. Whether it be Harrison, James, Brandon Stokley, Reggie Wayne or Marcus Pollard, Manning will throw to all of them or simply let James pile up yards on the ground before going to his effective play action passes that often rip a defense apart.

"They mix it up and keep the defense off balance," Seymour added. "They put together first downs and we're aware of that. They play smart football."

"You can't load up on one thing," Belichick stressed, "because they hit you so many different ways and they can make a lot of yards in a hurry. They've put up a lot of points against quality teams, teams that I have a lot of respect for."

They also do it out of a no-huddle offense that forces a defense out of its comfort zone and limits substitutions.

"It's a big challenge. You have to be ready to play the game at their pace. If they get a matchup they like, they try to up the tempo to keep you from subbing," Belichick said.

That means New England could get stuck in a difficult personnel grouping that Manning, who makes so many adjustments and calls at the line of scrimmage, could take advantage of. But the Patriots did beat the Colts in Indianapolis this season and have seen the offense firsthand.

"You can't get caught up in what he's doing," linebacker Mike Vrabel said of Manning's line theatrics. "You just have to understand what they're trying to do and then execute your plan. They want you to press the panic button and feel uncomfortable. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it works against us. You have to play good to great against them and we expect to do that. It's a great challenge, but we welcome the challenge."

The Patriots do have some history in their favor when it comes to hosting Manning and the Colts. He is just 2-7 all-time against New England and is 0-4 in Foxborough. He is 1-4 against the Patriots since Bill Belichick took over in New England.

Consider that his numbers against the Patriots in Foxborough are markedly lower than those in Indy. He has completed 90-of-151 passes (59.6 percent) for 941 yards with six touchdowns and 11 interceptions in New England for a 60.6 passer rating. At the RCA Dome, however, Manning is 111-of-182 (60.9 percent) for 1,345 yards with 12 touchdowns and three interceptions for a 98.8 passer rating.

Belichick refuses to admit the Patriots may have an advantage at home where the weather could again be a factor. Forecasts for Sunday vary, but temperatures are expected to be in the mid-20s.

"There's no advantage. They've won at home and they've won on the road convincingly," Belichick said. "This will be about the team that makes the most plays."

This is the 65th meeting between the Patriots and Colts. The Patriots lead the series 40-24 and have won the last three and four of the last five. This is the first time the former division rivals will meet in the playoffs. New England has won the last six meetings in Foxborough by an average of 17.3 points.

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