All Signs Point to a Colts Victory

The Indianapolis Colts travel to Foxborough with an undefeated record, and the look of a championship calibre team. The defense has improved, the offense has become more balanced, the 2005 version of the Colts looks better all around. The Patriots do not appear ready to meet this challenge. The defense looks vulnerable, the offense unbalanced, and the team has been inconsistent all season. PI takes a look at a the Monday night matchup that shows signs of a lobsided loss for New England.

All Signs Point to a Colts Victory
By John MacKenna

Were it not for the Indianapolis Colts' history of losing to the New England Patriots, expectations for Monday night's game between the two AFC powerhouses would be clear: Every expert would be picking the Colts to win.

Come Monday, that history won't mean a thing, and the 7-0 Colts likely will finally defeat Bill Belichick's team, which has won the last six matchups.

For the 4-3 Patriots to win, a number of unlikely things have to happen.

  • The New England defense has to find a new way to stop the Colts and their balanced attack, led by QB Peyton Manning and RB Edgerrin James. If Patriots DT Richard Seymour doesn't play (knee injury), it's hard to imagine the Patriots disrupting Manning or stopping James.

  • The Patriots' offense has to control the ball and score touchdowns. To do that, they will need to mount a strong rushing attack, good for at least 130 yards. The weight falls entirely on the shoulders of Patriots RB Corey Dillon, because RB Patrick Pass will likely miss the game with a hamstring injury and RB Kevin Faulk is out. Dillon's best performance through seven games is 106 yards on 23 carries on Oct. 9. While Dillon has been criticized for his slow start this season, he has averaged a solid 4.4 yards per carry in the last three games.

  • The Patriots need to win the battle of the takeaways, and that is a stretch, given that the Colts have 16 takeaways on the season while the Patriots have only five. Two of New England's five takeaways came in Sunday night's win over the Bills. The Patriots need to get another two (or more) takeaways against the Colts and cough it up no more than once themselves.

There is plenty of reason to believe that the Colts will slaughter the Patriots the same way the San Diego Chargers did in their 41-17 win on Oct. 2 in Foxboro. The Colts' offense is scoring 27.0 points a game (3rd best in the NFL), and their defense is holding opponents to a miniscule 11.0 points, which is the best average in the league.

The Colts' offense is superbly balanced and well executed. After setting a league record with 49 touchdown passes in 2004, Manning has only 11 TD throws through seven games. There is on indication that Manning has lost any skills; rather, opponents have been playing the Colts to pass, and Indianapolis has responded by favoring the run. James leads the NFL with 801 rushing yards, with an average gain of 4.9 yards.

The last time the Patriots saw James was in last year's Divisional Playoff, and they held him to 39 yards on 14 carries. In a regular season matchup in September 2004, however, James gained 142 yards on 30 carries.

New England's defense has struggled against the run at times this season and is allowing 128 yards per game, which is 24th best in the NFL. If James starts reeling off five-plus yard carries the way the Bills' Willis McGahee did last Sunday, the Colts will control the ball and the clock.

Should New England contain James, Manning will be forced to pass more. Forcing a team to pass is usually an effective plan, but probably not so against the Colts. Manning is completing a career-best 68.1 percent of his passes this year and has been intercepted only five times. The Colts have an excellent trio of wide receivers in Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and Brandon Stokley.

New England's defensive secondary has been a mess since Rodney Harrison was lost for the season on Sept. 25. Starters Eugene Wilson and Asante Samuel are back from the '04 team, but Harrison's safety spot is being manned by Arturo Freeman, who was out of the NFL when the Patriots signed him on Oct. 13. The other starter is CB Duane Starks, who has been picked on successfully in recent weeks by quarterbacks far less talented than Manning.

While the Colts have been a run-first team this year, don't be surprised to see them favor the pass from the outset on Monday night to take advantage of the mismatches that Harrison, Wayne and Stokley will likely create against Starks and Freeman.

The Patriots defense will probably get a lot better in the weeks ahead. Star LB Tedy Bruschi rejoined the team last week after missing six games, and more help is on the way with the return of Seymour and injured cornerback Randall Gay. It is doubtful, however, that the defense will play effectively enough this week to stop the Colts' attack.

The key for New England will be the play of the defensive front seven. Even without Seymour, the Patriots can field a formidable line of Ty Warren, Vincent Wilfork and Jarvis Green. And in Bruschi, Willie McGinest, Mike Vrabel and Rosevelt Colvin, New England once again has a premier quartet of linebackers for the 3-4 scheme that Belichick favors.

The big change in Indianapolis this year is the improvement in the team's defensive performance. Previously known as a soft unit, the Colts' defense has emerged as one of the league's toughest.

They are solid against the run, thanks in part to the addition of former Eagles DT Corey Simon, a 293-pound run stuffer. Behind the line are three fast linebackers, Cato June, Gary Brackett and David Thornton. Opponents are rushing for only 108.6 yards per game.

Against the pass, the Colts are even tougher. They lead the NFL in sacks with 26, led by their defensive ends Dwight Freeney (six sacks) and Robert Mathis (NFL-leading eight sacks). The Colts also have intercepted 12 passes, which is third most in the NFL. June leads the team with five picks.

To pass effectively, the Patriots will need to establish the run with Dillon. And when they pass, Brady will need to get rid of the ball quickly before Freeney and Mathis close in. Look for a lot of short, quick passes. New England will have two or three tight ends on the field for most plays, and they might wind up catching a lot of balls.

Passing against the Colts will be tougher this year because the Patriots are playing two rookies, guard Logan Mankins and tackle Nick Kaczur, on the left side. If they don't create opening for Dillon and keep the pass rush off Brady, it will be a long night in Foxboro.

The Colts have had an easy schedule through their first seven games, leading some observers to suggest that they are untested. That may be true, but their average margin of victory has been 16 points, and they have held five opponents to 10 or fewer points.


John MacKenna is a regular contributor to Patriots Insider. You can also find archives of his columns on the Insiders by searching for "John MacKenna" or


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By John MacKenna

Were it not for the Indianapolis Colts' history of losing to the New England Patriots, expectations for Monday night's game between the two AFC powerhouses would be clear: Every expert would be picking the Colts to win.

Come Monday, that history won't mean a thing, and the 7-0 Colts likely will finally defeat Bill Belichick's team, which has won the last six matchups.

For the 4-3 Patriots to win, a number of unlikely things have to happen.

There is plenty of reason to believe that the Colts will slaughter the Patriots the same way the San Diego Chargers did in their 41-17 win on Oct. 2 in Foxboro. The Colts' offense is scoring 27.0 points a game (3rd best in the NFL), and their defense is holding opponents to a miniscule 11.0 points, which is the best average in the league.

The Colts' offense is superbly balanced and well executed. After setting a league record with 49 touchdown passes in 2004, Manning has only 11 TD throws through seven games. There is on indication that Manning has lost any skills; rather, opponents have been playing the Colts to pass, and Indianapolis has responded by favoring the run. James leads the NFL with 801 rushing yards, with an average gain of 4.9 yards.

The last time the Patriots saw James was in last year's Divisional Playoff, and they held him to 39 yards on 14 carries. In a regular season matchup in September 2004, however, James gained 142 yards on 30 carries.

New England's defense has struggled against the run at times this season and is allowing 128 yards per game, which is 24th best in the NFL. If James starts reeling off five-plus yard carries the way the Bills' Willis McGahee did last Sunday, the Colts will control the ball and the clock.

Should New England contain James, Manning will be forced to pass more. Forcing a team to pass is usually an effective plan, but probably not so against the Colts. Manning is completing a career-best 68.1 percent of his passes this year and has been intercepted only five times. The Colts have an excellent trio of wide receivers in Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and Brandon Stokley.

New England's defensive secondary has been a mess since Rodney Harrison was lost for the season on Sept. 25. Starters Eugene Wilson and Asante Samuel are back from the '04 team, but Harrison's safety spot is being manned by Arturo Freeman, who was out of the NFL when the Patriots signed him on Oct. 13. The other starter is CB Duane Starks, who has been picked on successfully in recent weeks by quarterbacks far less talented than Manning.

While the Colts have been a run-first team this year, don't be surprised to see them favor the pass from the outset on Monday night to take advantage of the mismatches that Harrison, Wayne and Stokley will likely create against Starks and Freeman.

The Patriots defense will probably get a lot better in the weeks ahead. Star LB Tedy Bruschi rejoined the team last week after missing six games, and more help is on the way with the return of Seymour and injured cornerback Randall Gay. It is doubtful, however, that the defense will play effectively enough this week to stop the Colts' attack.

The key for New England will be the play of the defensive front seven. Even without Seymour, the Patriots can field a formidable line of Ty Warren, Vincent Wilfork and Jarvis Green. And in Bruschi, Willie McGinest, Mike Vrabel and Rosevelt Colvin, New England once again has a premier quartet of linebackers for the 3-4 scheme that Belichick favors.

The big change in Indianapolis this year is the improvement in the team's defensive performance. Previously known as a soft unit, the Colts' defense has emerged as one of the league's toughest.

They are solid against the run, thanks in part to the addition of former Eagles DT Corey Simon, a 293-pound run stuffer. Behind the line are three fast linebackers, Cato June, Gary Brackett and David Thornton. Opponents are rushing for only 108.6 yards per game.

Against the pass, the Colts are even tougher. They lead the NFL in sacks with 26, led by their defensive ends Dwight Freeney (six sacks) and Robert Mathis (NFL-leading eight sacks). The Colts also have intercepted 12 passes, which is third most in the NFL. June leads the team with five picks.

To pass effectively, the Patriots will need to establish the run with Dillon. And when they pass, Brady will need to get rid of the ball quickly before Freeney and Mathis close in. Look for a lot of short, quick passes. New England will have two or three tight ends on the field for most plays, and they might wind up catching a lot of balls.

Passing against the Colts will be tougher this year because the Patriots are playing two rookies, guard Logan Mankins and tackle Nick Kaczur, on the left side. If they don't create opening for Dillon and keep the pass rush off Brady, it will be a long night in Foxboro.

The Colts have had an easy schedule through their first seven games, leading some observers to suggest that they are untested. That may be true, but their average margin of victory has been 16 points, and they have held five opponents to 10 or fewer points.

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