Colts - Patriots: Point / Counterpoint
Indianapolis at New England
|From the Colts Perspective:||From the Patriots Perspective:|
|Brent Foshee, Colts Insider||John MacKenna, Patriots Insider|
COLTS: What They Have To Do (patriots)
When the Patriots Have the Ball
Obviously the primary goal of the Patriots offensive game plan will be to control the clock and limit the Colts opportunities to score. While the Patriots have one of the few teams that are capable of playing a wide open game with the Colts their defense is banged up and they would be well advised to keep Manning and company off the field.
Corey Dillon will get his carries and it will be up to the Colts to contain him. What people fail to realize is that the Colts defense has been effective in stopping the run and appears to have peaked over the last few weeks of the season in all facets of it's game. If New England insists on giving the ball to Dillon in nontraditional running situations Weis and co. had better have an effective plan for getting the ball downfield in third and long situations.
A heavy dose of running by New England also potentially
plays into the hands of the Colts defense. The Colts led the league in
takeaways and figure to aggressively attack New England when they try and pass
When the Colts Have the Ball
The Colts need to score early and often. While conventional wisdom suggests that the latter is better in this particular case scoring a few times early may be enough to ensure victory for the Colts. The first obstacle the Colts must overcome, and there are several obstacles that are not on the Patriots sideline, is to prove to themselves, the Patriots, and the fans in attendance that they belong in this game. An early score, especially one on or after a big play, will send this message loud and clear.
Second the Colts must overcome the fans in Foxboro. Playing on the road is always difficult. In the playoffs being on the road against a huge rival typically spells doom. The Colts must find a way to take the crowd out of the equation, a big play score early on is the best way to do that.
Finally the Colts must overcome a Patriots team that has owned them in recent games. Unfortunately for the Patriots they may not be the dominant team anymore. Injuries at key positions have weakened the Patriots defense to a point where even Bill Belichick will be hard pressed to field a unit strong enough to stop the Colts.
Matt Light vs. Dwight Freeney: Make no mistake this is the most important
match up in the game. Freeney embarrassed Jonathan Ogden late in the season
and is a game changing pass rusher. Should the Pats run at him he could
be a liability though and Light will be counted on to contain him.
Tom Brady vs. Colts secondary: Tom Brady will get his chances to make
some plays. What separates Brady from every other quarterback in the NFL
today, including Peyton Manning, is that he rarely makes mistakes in critical
situations. Should he continue to be effective in this regard the Colts
job will be much more difficult.
This game will be dictated by who has the momentum going into the fourth quarter. Whether it's a turnover or even the absence of turnovers someone will have the momentum and will carry it through to victory.
The Patriots will start off conservatively, the Colts will not. Both teams will try and generate turnovers, possibly at the expense of proper defense. At the end of the day the Colts are a much better team now then when they barely lost at New England to start the year. The Patriots are not quite as good as they were. And in this year of record setting Colts performances why should the Peyton Manning show end without his winning a huge playoff game.
Colts 24, Patriots 23
When the Patriots Have the Ball
Count on New England Offensive Coordinator Charlie Weis to come up with an innovative game plan complete with a wrinkle or two. Conventional wisdom says the Patriots should run, but Weis thrives by defying convention, so look for plenty of passing. Only three NFL teams surrendered more passing yards this year than the Colts did.
The Patriots have a tough balancing act: They must avoid turnovers, but they also need to score touchdowns whenever possible. In Tom Brady, they have a quarterback who manages risk superbly and whose team has won every playoff game he has started. Look for Brady to play with fire all game long, throwing into tight coverage for big gainers. As long as he doesn't get burned, the Patriots have an excellent chance to win.
Look for Weis to mix in more short passes than usual, especially some screens to RB Corey Dillon. In G Stephen Neal and C Dan Koppen, the Patriots have agile blockers who can get out on the Colts' undersized linebackers.
The Patriots' receivers have been overlooked this week, but they won't be on Sunday. If Deion Branch, David Givens and David Patten all find openings, the Patriots will have a big day in the passing game. Branch and Givens are likely to combine for more than 200 receiving yards against the Colts suspect defensive secondary.
Look for the Patriots to cross up the Colts early with sideline passes, as the Colts will expect them to favor the middle of the field for clock-burning purposes.
The Patriots should be able to control the Colts' fine pass rush, particularly if DE Robert Mathis (10.5 sacks) does not play. Left tackle Matt Light will get a lot of help containing NFL sack leader Dwight Freeney.
And, of course, Dillon will get the ball plenty. He should have a field day against the Colts' soft run defense, often running straight at Freeney.
When the Colts Have the Ball
The Colts should score plenty, as QB Peyton Manning and the Colts' receiving corps have a major edge in talent on New England's patchwork secondary. It doesn't matter how well New England disguises its schemes; once the ball in snapped, Troy Brown has to cover Brandon Stokley.
The pressure will be tremendous on New England's four starting defensive backs. Defensive Coordinator Romeo Crennel has had great success with jamming receivers at the line of scrimmage, but there is great danger in having Reggie Wayne, Marvin Harrison or Stokley get past a defender, even by a step. CBs Asante Samuel and Randall Gay cannot afford many mistakes. Safeties Rodney Harrison and Eugene Wilson will probably play deep on most plays.
With MLB Tedy Bruschi limiting opportunities for short passes over the middle, Manning will probably make a lot of throws 15 to 25 yards downfield. Don't expect the Patriots to play it safe on those passes; they have beaten Manning by disrupting him and picking him off. Look for Gay, Samuel and Brown to break on routes and go for interceptions.
Crennel will probably gamble much less at the line of scrimmage, instead counting on only three or four linemen and linebackers to pressure Manning. The presence of DE Richard Seymour is critical; if he misses the game or is slowed by his knee injury, Manning will get too comfortable and pick the Patriots apart. Absent Seymour, the Patriots would probably gamble more with blitzes-a risky strategy.
The Patriots might tempt the Colts to run the ball because small chunks of running yards are less threatening than long touchdown passes. Colts RB Edgerrin James gained 142 yards in the season opener against New England, but he also fumbled twice. The Patriots would love to see him put the ball on the ground again.
Brown vs. Stokley: Manning might look for Stokley a lot if he is covered by a converted wide receiver, but Brown has picked off three balls this year, and Crennel might cut his DBs loose to try for interceptions. If Stokley has a big day but Brown picks Manning off once, it's advantage Patriots.
Givens and Branch vs. CBs Nick Harper and Jason David: With all the talk about Manning and his receivers, the Patriots' potent passing is getting short shrift. If the Colts leave Harper and David in man-to-man, it might be the Colts who are scrambling to keep up with the high-scoring Patriots.
Manning vs. Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick: There's good reason why everyone is talking about this matchup: Manning keeps coming out on the short end. But as Belichick is quick to point out, it really comes down to how the players perform. If Seymour is absent or diminished by injury, Belichick is less of a genius, and the edge goes to Manning.
Possible Turning Point of the Game
The game will almost certainly be decided by a turnover, and the prediction here is an interception by Brown, a consistent big-game performer.
Patriots Red-Zone Defense: The shorter the field gets, the bigger a factor New England's elite linebacking corps becomes. If the Patriots can force a few field goals, they will have an advantage.
The return game: Patriots KR Bethel Johnson has burned the Colts before, and the Patriots sprung him for a score on the first play of the Dec. 5 game against the Browns.
The conditions: If the field is slick, someone will slip on a pass play, with a big play resulting. It could be a touchdown pass. It could be an interception. And it could go either way.
Expect an offensive bonanza reminiscent of Super Bowl XXXVIII. Manning and Brady will both find open receivers all night long. The passing games will offset each other, but the Patriots will have the edge in run defense. New England will pick Manning off once while committing no turnovers of its own.
Patriots 42, Colts 35
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