This one bares repeating because of how absolutely monumental this one is. Unless Matt Light got infinitely times better than he was in January, Freeney will likely have his way with him. Light is an above average tackle, but Freeney could be one of the most explosive ends of all time, and simply overmatches Light on the fast track in Indy. Mathis is another speed guy, and it will be tough for Kaczur to keep up with him coming around the end. What I look for is the Patriots to use a lot of sets with Kyle Brady lining up on the left side to help Light out, and also, a mixture of Maroney, Heath Evans, and Kevin Faulk to help out on the strong side with not only blocking, but being decoys to distract Mathis from getting after Brady. If the Pats can neutralize these two forces, it will allow Brady to keep having plenty of time in the pocket to read Indy's defense, and attack the middle of the field, which is what New England will be looking to do right off the bat.
New England Keys To Victory:
1. Protection For Brady: Sure, it was brought up in the "Opponents' Grades and Analysis," and in the "Matchup Of The Game," but there simply is no limit to how much emphasis can be put on this. In all the games played against the Colts, and more so at Indianapolis, the ends repeatedly get around the tackles and put pressure on Brady. Ever since Indy drafted Freeney, it has been like this. Again, if the Pats can figure out a way to at least slow the pass rush down, the Colts will be almost helpless against the pass attack of the Patriots.
2. Attack The Middle: Clearly, the middle of the field is where most of the damage can be done on the Colts' defense. This is true not only for passing, but also for running the ball. Maroney will be running most of his attempts in between the tackles to avoid the outside pressure. Also, I expect a huge day for Wes Welker, who will be targeted over the middle like he has been all season.
3. Keep Attacking Manning: The Pats had a huge lead at halftime in last year's AFC Championship game, but decided to only rush a maximum of four in the second half, and played a soft zone which Manning picked apart. If the Patriots had kept up their level of pressure on Manning from the first half into the second, who knows what the outcome could have been? In any event, New England has to keep trying to get to Manning, mixing up their schemes to try and at least give Manning another couple of seconds of indecisiveness. If you let Manning sit in the pocket and pick apart a defense, he will put up his normal, gaudy numbers that helped the Colts come back in January to go to the Super Bowl. If the Patriots want the Super Bowl to run through Foxboro, they will need to stop Manning from having a big game.
Indianapolis Keys To Victory:
1. Bob Sanders: This Indy team is a completely different one without Sanders' presence, and it showed last year. After being the worst rush defense for most of last year while Sanders was sidelined, he returned just in time for the playoffs, where he was a key figure in stopping Larry Johnson, Corey Dillon, and Thomas Jones in the Colts' three playoff victories. Sanders was integral in both Colts wins against the Pats last year, and if the Colts are going to try and contain the #1 offense in the league, Sanders is going to have to step up again and make his presence known early and often.
2. Test Richard Seymour: Seymour is obviously not back to full strength, and while Tony Ugoh, the weakest link in the Colts' offensive line, will be going up against Seymour, the Colts should still see how well the All-Pro defensive end can maneuver. I anticipate a lot of running to the left side of the line, which could also involve pulling Jeff Saturday and Jeff Scott over to drive the running game. If Seymour cannot play up to his normal, outstanding ways, then the Colts will be able to establish a strong running attack that will set up the rest of their offense.
3. Spread The Ball Around On Offense: If Manning starts only targeting one or two receivers, the defense will be able to key up on them, and it may be difficult for Manning to keep the chains moving. However, if Harrison is able to go, this should be no problem in terms of getting multiple receivers involved. What Manning likes to do is establish his outside targets right from the beginning. Even if no points come from it, Manning likes to spread the defense out to open up the middle of the field, where Dallas Clark has become so good at taking advantage of. Also, it helps the inside draw play to Addai when the linebackers are forced to keep track of the receivers split out.
Check back to read more of Rich's analysis after the Game.
Running Up The Score?