The New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts will face-off in what could be an epic Sunday Night Football match-up featuring two of the most dynamic offenses in the NFL. While the passing offenses will take center stage, each team is counting on their defense to slow the opponent both in the passing and running game to outscore their opponent and pull out a win in this pivotal AFC game. With game time approaching, it is time to preview how the Colts and Patriots plan to attack on both sides of the ball and then finish with the prediction for the game.
Indianapolis Passing Attack Versus New England Pass Defense:Nov 3, 2014; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (12) sets to pass during the second half against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium. Indianapolis Colts defeat the New York Giants 40-24. Mandatory Credit: Jim O
After dispatching the Denver Broncos two weeks ago the Patriots’ secondary gets no break as quarterback Andrew Luck and the high-flying Colts revitalized passing offense become the next test for Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner, and the rest of the defensive backfield. New England has mixed and matched in the secondary with Revis and Devin McCourty the two regular players in the secondary with both All-Pro players playing almost every snap.
After initially splitting time at strong safety the “prodigal son” Patrick Chung has returned and been playing like the the player many thought he could be when taken 34th overall in the 2009 NFL Draft. Always strong against the run, Chung stepped up in pass coverage against Denver in week nine with a standout performance. After seeing a mixing and matching at cornerback with Alfonzo Dennard, Logan Ryan, and Malcolm Butler (and even an odd period where slot receiver Kyle Arrington played just ten snaps over two games and was absent from the injury report) the team seems to have settled on former “Legion of Boom” big cornerback Brandon Browner opposite Revis.
The Colts have a number of targets who were not on the field last year when the Patriots beat them in the AFC Divisional round. T.Y. Hilton has 937 yards receiving on 56 catches through nine games (all stats from Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise noted) and has developed into a multi-level threat in the passing game catching passes anywhere on the field. Last year Hilton was on his own with tight end Coby Fleener and was held to four catches on six targets for 103 yards. The Patriots let Luck check down to lesser threats such as LaVon Brazill, Griff Whalen and Da’Rick Rogers.
Now the Colts have much better talent for Andrew Luck beyond Fleener and Hilton. He has a healthy Reggie Wayne (42 receptions for 504 yards), former New York Giants receiver Hakeem Nicks (21 receptions for 212 yards), and a healthy tight end Dwayne Allen (26 receptions for 374 yards and seven touchdowns). It is no small stretch to say that the addition of Nicks and the return to health of Allen and Wayne has made Luck and the Colts passing attack into arguably the most dangerous quarterbacks in the league.
The Patriots need linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Collins along with safeties Chung and McCourty ready to get in tight coverage of Colts tight ends Allen and Fleener. Expect a similar game plan like last week against the dangerous Broncos offense. Revis will likely line up opposite the Colts’ top target Hilton and let Browner beat on the veteran Wayne at the line of scrimmage with help over the top. Watch for a muted pass rush as with Luck’s running ability, the Patriots will be playing a lot of zone defense to keep the linebackers and secondary keeping an eye on Luck if he breaks containment.
Indianapolis Rushing Attack Versus New England Run Defense:
Without defensive tackle Sealver Siliga (injured reserve/designated for return) and linebacker Jerod Mayo (injured reserve), the New England rushing defense is not going to be as stout as expected earlier in the season. Siliga is one of the most underrated Patriots players of the past two seasons because he plays in the shadow of Pro Bowl nose tackle Vince Wilfork and does dirty work that usually only shows up on the coaches game tape. Siliga played just five games last season during the regular season after being signed off the Seattle practice squad and after a hand injury in training camp kept him off the field during the preseason, he provided a strong run-stopping presence in the middle of the line and some push in the pocket before a foot injury against Oakland shelved him.
The Patriots are in a sub or light package (nickel or dime defense substituting secondary players for linebackers or defensive linemen) almost 67% of the season (per ESPN.com). The key to beating the Patriots is to get a lead and then run the ball. That was what Miami, Kansas City, and the Jets did as they all topped 190 yards rushing. The only other game the Patriots gave up more than 80 yards rushing in a game was against Chicago where the Bears piled up almost 100 garbage rushing yards in the second half when they trailed 38-7 at the half.
The Colts rushing attack has been revitalized not by 2012 first round (#3 overall) draft pick Trent Richardson who they gave up a first round draft pick to acquire, but former Giants big back Ahmad Bradshaw. Bradshaw is a tough runner who finds a way to convert tough yards and carry linebackers downfield. However, the Colts have yet to give him more than 15 carries in a game as he continues to split carries and playing time with Trent Richardson (who has rushed 14 or more times in five games so far in 2014).
The Colts rushing attack is similar to that of the Patriots: they run to set up the play action. The running backs usually are catching short passes out of the backfield as the Colts use the short passing game as a rushing attack. If the Colts get ahead early, they will send Bradshaw and Richardson over and over again at the Patriots to wear them down and control the clock. In a close game or behind, the Colts are using those backs as a check-down option and nothing else.
New England Passing Attack Versus Indianapolis Pass Defense:Oct 26, 2014; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) gestures after catching the ball against the Chicago Bears during the first half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
Indianapolis cornerback Vontae Davis has been fantastic in coverage for the Colts, but with Brandon LaFell, Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, and Shane Vereen all non-conventional targets (large wide receiver, small and quick slot receiver, gigantic tight end, and shifty running back) finding a consistent match-up for Davis to take away a top target is difficult. The Colts are likely to move him around and have him take on LaFell and Edelman much of the time.
Behind Davis the Colts have free safety Mike Adams who has quietly been fantastic in defending the deep middle of the field. Former Patriot Sergio Brown has seemingly cemented the strong safety role opposite Adams. Adams is five-foot-eleven and 185 pounds and Sergio Brown is…not someone who will likely excel in coverage of Gronkowski. Inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman or former Browns linebacker D’Qwell Jackson could find themselves chasing Gronkowski much of the game.
The matchups for wide receivers Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola are veteran Greg Toler and former Patriots second round draft pick Darius Butler. Neither has been a standout in coverage and both could have problems with the shifty Edelman and Amendola on the fast turf of Lucas Oil Stadium. The Colts do not have much behind them with Josh Gordy as the top backup.
To slow the Patriots’ passing attack the Indianapolis defense has to find a way to generate pressure. Cory Redding has been the Colts best pass-rusher so far this season with Robert Mathis and former Ravens defensive end Arthur (brother of Chandler) Jones missing much of the season due to injury. Jones is out again with an ankle injury and Mathis has not played due to a torn Achilles tendon. Rookie outside linebacker Jonathan Newsome had a strong performance last week against the Giants jumping off the game tape with his ability to get in the backfield. If the Colts are unable to find a way to pressure Brady, the game could turn into a track meet.
New England Rushing Attack Versus Indianapolis Run Defense:Oct 26, 2014; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots running back Shane Vereen (34) runs the ball during the second half of New England
Like the Patriots run defense, it is difficult to determine if the Colts are good, or just untested. Due to having to keep up with quarterback Andrew Luck and his explosive passing offense. Teams have run against the Colts, but for the most part it has been part of the game plan to make room to throw the ball on play action. For the season, the Colts have the second fewest rushing attempts against them, but are allowing 4.4 yards per carry.
Redding and Ricky Jean-Francois are big bodies who are difficult to move in the running game. These two can eat up blockers and bounce running backs wide into the arms of sure tacklers Bjoern Werner and Erik Walden. Safety Sergio Brown is best getting involved near the line of scrimmage and contributing in the run stuffing efforts.
The Patriots are without starting running back Stevan Ridley and have had to go to rookie Jonas Gray the past two games as the big back. Gray had just 12 carries against Denver in week nine and short of the Patriots having a big lead do not expect him to have many more carries than that. The game plan versus Denver had receiving back Shane Vereen on the field for 63 of the 86 snaps on offense, a trend that is likely to be repeated this week. Expect the Patriots to rush the ball just enough to set-up the play action passing game and focus on looking for mismatches in the passing game.
As difficult as it will be to slow the Colts passing offense, the Patriots secondary should be up to the task. Look for another 300+ yard game from Brady and a big game from Edelman and maybe a few big plays from Danny Amendola on special teams and on offense. It may be close early, but the Patriots should pull away late.
New England 38 – Indianapolis 27