What the Patriots
have to do on Monday
An Insiders perspective from Indianapolis
By Ed Thompson, ColtPower.com
1) Create turnovers.
This won't be easy since the Colts have only turned the ball over eight times this season, tied for the second-best in the NFL in that category. Edgerrin James has only fumbled twice, losing just one. And Peyton Manning has thrown just five interceptions as he's been more than willing to throw the ball away in tough situations now that he knows he has a defense that will get the ball back for him. The other Colts turnover came on a fumbled kickoff return. But finding a way to create turnovers is the Patriots' best chance for slowing down the Colts -- and perhaps to get them to press a bit -- making them even more likely to create more turnovers. New England needs to spend the night ripping at the ball at every opportunity, tipping every pass that comes nearby in hopes that a teammate can catch the carom.
If the Patriots focus on stopping the NFL's leading rusher, Edgerrin James, Manning will carve up the secondary with a game reminiscent of last year's 49-touchdown style of play. If the Patriots drop seven or eight into coverage instead, James will dominate. He has posted over 100 yards in five games, and had 88 and 90 in the two others. He's scored six rushing touchdowns in the past three games. So as the Colts have been saying to defenses this season, "pick your poison".
But what if the Patriots focus on James and play physical with the Colts' receivers, bumping them at the line to throw off their timing? That seems to have worked before. Well, if that happens, don't be surprised to see the Colts go to a two-tight end set like they used against the Titans in week four to respond with a pair of receivers who can handle that style -- Dallas Clark and Bryan Fletcher. And that created all kinds of problems for Tennessee as the Colts sometimes lined them up next to the tackles, sometimes with one in the slot. And they even lined Clark up as a wide receiver at times or brought Wayne in motion, making him the slot receiver. The Titans were totally confused by the number of looks the Colts presented out of these formations. It really put them on their heels as they couldn't figure out when the tight ends were blockers, receivers, or simply decoys to open up passing lanes for Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison..
By creating turnovers -- something the Colts offense hasn't had to deal with much this season -- the Patriots could throw them off their rhythm and perhaps even rattle their confidence a bit. And that could keep them in the ballgame.
2) Be patient and unpredictable on offense.
Both the Rams and the Texans in the first half of their games did this well, and both went in at half-time very much in the game. But they couldn't sustain it in the second half. The Patriots need to use quick passes when a run is the obvious call. Then use the run when it's more likely a passing down. A key to the Colts' success defensively is their speed. If they know the rush is coming, you'll be shocked to see how quickly they swarm to the ball-carrier this year. They've only allowed eight touchdowns (5 passing, 2 rushing, 1 return) this season, second-best in the league and a league-low 11.0 points-per-game.
If they know it's going to be a pass, the Patriots better get it off quick and short -- or forget about it. The Colts lead the league with 26 sacks in just seven games. And that pass rush has been key to them forcing fumbles and in creating interception opportunities. The Colts have grabbed 12 interceptions (five by linebacker Cato June, seven total by their linebackers) this season. And their defensive line has created 12 of the team's 14 forced fumbles, including five by left defensive end Robert Mathis. Both he and right defensive end Dwight Freeney (4 FF) make it a point to grab the quarterback's arm or slap at the ball once he is within their reach.
If the Patriots can stay unpredictable on offense to neutralize that pass rush, and the Patriots can avert some disastrous turnovers possibilities and improve their third-down conversion odds.
3) Pray for snow. Or even rain.
No one is more familiar with the impact that snow in Foxboro can have on this Colts team than Patriots fans. And while snow is highly unlikely at this time of year, even a good drenching would help.
Even if the Colts don't have to play in a downpour, having a muddy field would be a huge advantage for the Patriots. The Colts' success is built on team speed on both sides of the ball. If the defense is slowed by sloppy conditions, New England fans are going to be surprised to see how hard these Colts players are hitting this year. But they do it by getting up a full head of steam prior to the hit, not because they are physically big (other than DT Corey Simon). Against the Colts offense, the muck would help the Patriots' secondary immensely by making the Colts' receivers a step or so slower and a bit less precise with their routes. The secondary could afford to drop back -- rather than be forced to battle the receivers at the line of scrimmage -- keeping the Colts in front of them while gaining help from the linebackers to minimize gains.
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