Three Key Questions for the AFC Championship Game: New England Patriots vs Indianapolis Colts

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ONE: Is the New England Running Game Going to Be Able to Bring Balance Back to the Offense?

Dec 28, 2014; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots running back Shane Vereen (34) and running back LeGarrette Blount (29) warm up before the start of the game against the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Few teams in the NFL are capable of game-planning like offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and head coach Bill Belichick are able to do each week tailoring their offense to best match-up against their opponent. Last week against Baltimore and their strong run defense, the Patriots running backs rushed the ball just seven times for the entire game while throwing 51 passes. Falling behind by 14 points twice in the game also contributed to the Patriots game plan.


Against the Colts in week eleven the Patriots rushed the ball 44 times against just 30 passing attempts. Punting just once and turning the ball over twice, the Patriots scored six touchdowns with four coming on the ground. With 33 first downs, 82% on third down conversions, and 5 for 5 in the red zone, the New England offense looked as balanced as it ever has as they topped 500 total yards against the Colts.


Dec 7, 2014; San Diego, CA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) reacts after having to call a timeout behind tackle Sebastian Vollmer (76) and guard Ryan Wendell (62) during the second quarter against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

With Indianapolis holding opponents under 150 yards rushing in each game after their loss to New England, the Patriots are likely going to continue to throw the ball more than they run it. With the loss of center Bryan Stork throwing the offensive line into some disarray having to slide Ryan Wendell back to center and insert Josh Kline at right guard, New England’s offensive line is going to be a little less stout up front. Look for plenty of calls with Shane Vereen or Brandon Bolden in the backfield to help the interior line picking up blocks inside to help keep the pocket clean for Brady.


After the success of the running game against the Colts in November, however, expect to see the Patriots run out the jumbo package with LeGarrette Blount at running back and an extra tackle in Marcus Cannon or Cameron Fleming. If the Patriots can gain chunks of yards on the ground, the play-action becomes even more potent and tight end Rob Gronkowski can get free for a few big plays. The Baltimore game plan works on a limited basis: the Patriots will need the balance of the running game going forward to succeed.