The New England Patriots will play the Indianapolis Colts this Saturday, in the first of two AFC divisional matchups. The Colts came back from a 28 point second half deficit in the Wild-Card round, and I expect them to give the Pats all they can handle, this weekend in Foxboro.
Here are three early keys to a New England win.
1. Neutralize Robert Mathis
The Colts defense is a big weakness of this Indianapolis football team, especially in the secondary, where they are extremely vulnerable. I think that if Tom Brady has time, he will find a lot of favorable matchups, with his offensive weapons, and it could lead to a big day on the scoreboard. But the key will be protecting Brady, and that starts with limiting Robert Mathis. Mathis is one of the best players in the NFL, and he is coming off one of the best seasons of his career, after he totaled 19.5 sacks in the regular season. Mathis has the ability to shut an offense down by himself, which makes it imperative that the two left tackles of the Patriots, Nate Solder, and Marcus Cannon, find him, and try to keep him off the back of their quarterback.
2. Take Away T.Y. Hilton
Like the Patriots, the Colts are a beat up football team, specifically on the offensive side of the ball. They lost their best weapon in Reggie Wayne, which has been a little like a blessing in disguise for them, because it led to the emergence of T.Y. Hilton. This speedster can really hurt a defense (as Kansas City now knows), and he is now the top target in Andrew Luck’s arsenal. If you can take away Hilton, your chances of beating the Colts goes up drastically, because Luck doesn’t have too many other solid targets. Putting Aqib Talib on Hilton seems like the best option for New England, but as Nick Underhill of Masslive.com details here, the Pats might be better off keeping him away from Hilton. Talib is one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, but he has shown in the past that he struggles with faster guys, and Hilton fits that role perfectly. Kyle Arrington is the fastest defender the Patriots have, and while it is terrifying leaving him on the outside with Hilton, that may be the best thing to do (with safety help of course). Whatever Bill Belichick and company decide to do, taking away Hilton will be extremely important for this defense, if they want to advance to the AFC Championship Game.
3. Stay Balanced On Offense
As I mentioned before, this Colts defense has a lot of holes in the secondary. I definitely think that Tom Brady and his passing offense will be able to move the ball fairly easily against them, especially if Kenbrell Thompkins, and Aaron Dobson can contribute on the outside. But the Colts are also vulnerable in the middle, which is an area where the Pats excel. To keep the Colts pass rushers at bay, New England must run the ball with LeGarrette Blount, and Stevan Ridley, not only to open up some play action passes, but to wear the defense out, and gain chunks of yardage on the ground. Another big positive that comes from running the football, is the efficiency in the red zone. The Patriots will be able to move the ball between the 20′s just fine in this game, but when it comes time to punch the ball in for six, they cannot afford to settle for field goals. By having an effective ground game, Brady will have the option of just handing the ball off near the end zone, or using the play-action to produce touchdowns.