AFC Championship: New England Patriots vs Indianapolis Colts Game Preview and Prediction

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Jan 10, 2015; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) throws the ball during the third quarter against the Baltimore Ravens in the 2014 AFC Divisional playoff football game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

On offense, the Patriots are coming off a week where they threw the ball 51 times against a strong Baltimore defense often spreading them out in the shotgun/hurry-up and including some trick or–as some would call them–“deceptive” plays. New England had wide receiver Julian Edelman tossing a 51 yard touchdown on what was disguised as a wide receiver screen. They also had just four offensive linemen and sowed confusion on the defense about which players were actually eligible receivers.


In week eleven the Patriots traveled to Indianapolis and rushed the ball 44 times for 246 yards while topping 500 yards in total offense. Running back Jonas Gray had 201 of his 412 yards and 4 of his 5 touchdowns in the game. With bruising back LeGarrette Blount in the fold as well, the Patriots are well-equipped at running back. With heavy rain in the forecast for Sunday night, the Patriots may be lining up and and trying to run on the Colts.


Dec 21, 2014; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New England Patriots running back Jonas Gray (35) reacts after scoring a touchdown in the second half against the New York Jets during the game at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

During the regular season the Colts defense allowed an average of 5.44 yards per play which was middle of the pack numbers. For the season they allowed 4.29 yards per rush which was not good, but showed improvement as the season progressed. (23rd in the NFL). The Patriots may be able to move the ball effectively again on the ground against the Colts. Blount and Gray will face a Colts defense that has improved since they played earlier in the season (Blount faced the Colts while still in Pittsburgh in a 51 to 34 Steelers win in week eight).


Indianapolis defensive end Arthur Jones has settled in since his return from injury to team with fellow defensive end Cory Redding to give the Colts two big bodies on the inside of their 3-4 defense capable of stuffing the run and generating some pressure collapsing the pocket. Moving the undersized Ricky Jean-Francois out of the starting lineup is a big win for the Colts defense.


In addition, cornerback Vontae Davis has elevated his play in 2014 and particularly in the playoffs. Against Cincinnati in the Wild Card round, Davis allowed just 2 catches on 5 attempts for 1 yard with 2 passes defended (per–subscription required). Last week against the Broncos he was credited with allowing just 5 catches for 21 yards on 11 targets into his coverage with 3 passes defended. He spent a majority of the game on Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders and played tight press-man on the outside, allowing the linebackers and safeties to flood the inside.


Dec 28, 2014; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Brandon LaFell (19) against the Buffalo Bills in the first half at Gillette Stadium. Buffalo Bills defeated the Patriots 17-9. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

In week eleven, the Patriots were able to twice beat Davis in coverage of Brandon LaFell on the outside and going across the middle. It was cornerback Greg Toler who was targeted in coverage on Julian Edelman for key receptions. With Indianapolis head coach Chuck Pagano a former Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator he may try their plan to get up on the receivers and try to double Rob Gronkowski in the middle of the field with safeties and linebackers dropping back into passing lanes. This is the defense that former Ravens defensive coordinator and New York Jets coach Rex Ryan pulled out often against the New England offense..


The Patriots offensive line is banged up with left guard Dan Connolly healthy at last but rookie center Bryan Stork out. This has caused New England to slide right guard Ryan Wendell to center and young back-up Josh Kline to Wendell’s spot. Kline is a much better run blocker than pass blocker and that could play a role in the game plan. While able to hold-up in the pass rush, there were instances where Kline was simply beat and Brady had to get rid of the ball much sooner than anticipated last week in the second half.


The Colts do not have edge rushers like the Ravens in Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil (almost 30 combined sacks in the regular season), but they have found rookie outside linebacker Jonathan Newsome who has carved out a role opposite veteran Shaun Phillips to come on in passing downs and generate pressure.  Newsome and Phillips came on to generate some pressure with Redding and Jones inside. For the Patriots, the hurry-up can negate that by either not allowing the Colts to get the duo on the field or by not allowing them to substitute and running at the pair of edge-rushers.