‘Inside the NFL’: Colts vs. Patriots highlights
The Patriots are set to take on the Colts for the right to represent the AFC in Super Bowl 49. The conference championships are my favorite games of the season, and with the Pats hosting their third in four years, it doesn’t get much better than this.
The Super Bowl is the big game of course, but its neutral site and over-the-top production give it almost more of an exhibition game feel. These two games on Sunday, with homefield advantage and the elements in full effect, are the two best games of real football in the NFL season.
By now, we’ve heard plenty about how the Patriots have manhandled Andrew Luck in his three games against them, including last year’s AFC Divisional game. In those three games, Luck has six touchdowns and eight interceptions, with a 53.8 completion percentage.
Can New England continue their recent dominance over Luck and the Colts? Or does Indy finally turn the tide? With a trip to the Super Bowl on the line, the stakes don’t get much higher.
Here’s my game plan for the Pats to get back to their sixth Super Bowl in the last 14 seasons.
Offensive Game Plan
In the last three games agains the Colts, the Patriots have put up 595 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns. This includes 201 yards and four touchdowns by Jonas Gray earlier this season and 166 yards and four touchdowns by LeGarrette Blount in last year’s divisional round.
What does this add up to? Until the Colts prove they can stop the run, there’s no reason not to come out pounding the rock at them once again, even if they’ve been much better against it since the Pats last saw them.
The return of Arthur Jones, Chandler’s big brother, should help the run-stopping effort, but it’s still worth testing early on.
With rainy conditions possible, this will put a huge priority on ball security. So it was no surprise to see Bill Belichick stressing this point earlier this week in practice. Nothing can shift a game quicker than turnovers.
And what if the Colts defense shows up with something to prove against the run, as they probably should? The focus shifts to the passing game where Rob Gronkowski (208 yards on 11 catches, 3 TDs) and Julian Edelman (192 yards on 16 catches and 1 TD) have also been very good against the Colts in the last three games (only two for Gronk, and two and change for Edelman after he last lost after bruising his thigh in Week 11).
The Colts mimicked the Seahawks defensive game plan against the Broncos last week, taking away the medium throws, forcing short passes, which they’d come down hard on, or long throws.
This has been an effective game plan against the Patriots offense in recent years, however the presence of Bradon LaFell and a healthy Gronk no longer makes it ideal. Tom Brady also won’t miss as many throws as Peyton Manning did last week. So the Colts have to pick their poison, and once they do, it’s up to the Pats to force the other down their throat.
The Colts were also the 31st ranked team in Football Outsiders’ DVOA when it came to covering running backs, so perhaps a surprise wrinkle will be some Shane Vereen-centric passing plays.
Defensive Game Plan
The Patriots were defensively dominant over the Colts earlier this season. Can they do it again, or was that just one of those games where one team was just on fire. I’d expect things to be a bit more balanced this time around.
Holding the Colts to just 19 rushing yards in the first meeting was an impressive effort, but the Colts have found more consistency in their ground game since with Dan Herron, though they still seems far from explosive. Herron also draws concern for his pass-catching ability. Expect a heavy dose of Dont’a Hightower on him.
Coby Fleener was one guy who had some success last time around, finishing with 7 catches for 144 yards. He saw some of Brandon Browner last time, and perhaps that makes sense again on certain downs, or maybe using Devin McCourty would be better as well. Fellow tight end threat Dwayne Allen left the last contest early, so the presence of two tight ends who can catch should be a concern for the Patriots.
The statistical weak link of the Patriots pass coverage has been against tight ends, and with dominant outside corners, Fleener and Allen should be a significant part of the gameplan. Patrick Chung, Devin McCourty and Jamie Collins should draw a fair amount of coverage responsibility on them.
What’s clear is that taking away T.Y. Hilton’s explosive over-the-top plays is priority one. Last time, Hilton had just 24 yards on three catches. Replicating that kind of performance might be a tall task, but Hilton has to be a major focus. That’s why it’s likely he sees a lot of Darrelle Revis in this one. Revis was on Reggie Wayne a good chunk of last game, but Wayne’s deteriorating skills no longer require that kind of attention.
At some point, Andrew Luck is going to play a perfect game against the Pats. Even last week’s win over the Broncos featured two interceptions. The Pats cannot wait on a Luck mistake to give them the game. But they have a knack for making them happen in the big games, or at least they used to…
Points of Emphasis
1. Run Until They Stop Us: As mentioned above, the Pats have run wild over the Colts the last three games and until they prove they can stop it, why stop? LeGarrette Blount is now in the mix, which takes away some of the worry of relying on Jonas Gray again in a playoff game, where his ball security worries me. Still Blount can take a bit to get going, so Gray, or even Brandon Bolden could see some carries early. Can the offensive line get it done with Josh Kline in there? That’s a question, but would be a bigger concern if this was going to be a pass-heavy gameplan against some great interior guys. The Pats won’t hesitate to shift to a more pass-heavy approach if the Colts front plays inspired against the run. But until they stop it, run it down their throat. There isn’t a simpler game plan in the world than running at a team who can’t stop it. It drains the clock, opens up the play action game and generally demoralizes a defense. There’s no easier route to victory for New England if their ground game is firing on all cylinders.
2. Nickel Run Defense: The Patriots were in sub defense for most of the first matchup and anytime that is the case, stopping the run with only six in the box is key. With Sealver Siliga and Chandler Jones in the mix after missing the last tilt in Indy, the Pats front looks stronger on paper after playing a mix of Dominique Easley and Chris Jones next to Wilfork. If the Pats start getting gashed in nickel they’ll have to move to a heavier front and that will open them up against the pass. There’s little doubt the Pats best personnel is from the nickel defense. The more they can stay in that, the better off they’ll be. Of course, spying Luck on third downs should be another consideration.
3. Hold Onto the Ball: It was shocking and disgusting that the Patriots put the ball on the turf TWICE in the early going last week against the Ravens. That cannot happen this week, especially with a run-heavy approach. Nothing made me happier than to hear Belichick was out on the practice field trying to pry the ball loose himself this week. We saw last week how quickly a bad turnover can shift the scoreboard. Ball protection is huge.
4. Finish: The final score of the previous matchup this year skews things a bit, but it was a 28-20 game in the fourth quarter before the Pats pulled away. The Colts have plenty of recent history of great and seemingly impossible comebacks. This one won’t be over until it’s over and the Pats cannot get overconfident that they’re rolling to another blowout, even if they get a double-digit lead. 60 minutes to get to the Super Bowl. They’ll need their best effort for the entire length of the game.
5. Win: The Patriots are one game from the Super Bowl, a spot they’ve been in, and underperformed in two of the last three seasons. And even the one AFC Championship they did win, they were generally outplayed. It’s time for the Patriots to put together a dominant AFC Championship game of great football. They’re the better team on paper, but they have to prove it on the field. If they play with that kind of chip on their shoulder, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be headed to Arizona for a shot at ring number four.
2003 AFC Championship: Indianapolis Colts Vs New England Patriots (Instant Classic)
Good memories here, but if you’re waiting for me to post the 2006 AFCCG they’re not coming. Only good vibes this week.
I will say it’s amazing how those two games felt all about Brady/Manning. Just doesn’t feel the same now.
“Do Your Job” – New England Patriots AFC Official Trailer
That nervous pit in my stomach has begun…
The Patriots offense continued click on all cylinders against the Colts, but this time it was Jonas Grey leading the way. The offensive line deserves fair amount of credit as well. They won the game up front by continually punishing the Colts front seven.
Tom Brady missed a few throws and had some bad decisions that resulted in interceptions, but the sign of a good team is when they can bounce back after their best player isn’t playing his best. The Pats offense did just that.
Here’s what else stood out on the All 22 review of the offense.
Brady picked up the first third down conversion of the day on an easy pass to Edelman. Sometimes it’s amazing how open #11 gets.
Hooman (24 snaps) and Develin (30 snaps) haven’t gotten much love this week, but it’s amazing what a solid job they both did not only in the run game, but in setting the table for the passing game as well. They were the go-to pairing out of the gate. And for how unstoppable the offense was in this game, it’s even more amazing considering neither one of them touched the ball (both targeted once, no catches).
Gray’s first big run of the day came between Vollmer pulling and a wham from Gronk. On the next play it was behind Develin’s lead block and Wendell pulling. Great blocking plus hard running equals devastation.
On Gray’s touchdown it came behind Stork/Wendell/Vollmer plowing ahead, but credit to Gray for keeping his legs going through contact – a theme for the rest of the day.
Think Brady’s first half sloppiness came a bit from some inconsistent protection early in the first quarter. Couldn’t quite find his timing.
Didn’t notice that Vollmer came out of the game for Cannon on the second possesion third-and-1, but Cannon pinned the edge and Fleminggot enough push for a sizable hole that Gray exploded through.
On his first interception, I think Brady might’ve had Tyms if he hadn’t gotten hit right as he threw. The pass wasn’t far enough away from the free safety. Had it been more upfield, Tyms had split two defenders. All I know is that if I’m a defensive back and I see Tyms come out, I’m ready for the deep shot.
Jonas Gray had a great day obvs, but with blocking like this you don’t have to be Adrian Peter… Ray Ric… Walter Payton to find the hole.
Colts got off the field on third down showing double A pressure then only rushing four. Brady never flinched, eventhough his pass went incomplete. It shows how much he trusts his protection now, even if it still let him down a couple times in this half.
Even when there’s no clear hole, the OL was still pushing their entire DL downfield.
Amendola made some tough catches in the middle of the field in this one. As I said last game, he might be overpaid, but he’s a really good 4th option and he’s earning the trust of the offense.
Pats convert a third-and-10 to Edelman. They’re 6-of-11 converting 3rd downs that are 8 yards or longer in the last three games. That’s insane.
Speaking of Develin earlier, this should’ve been a touchdown to him (top of screen). Luckily the Colts cheated and held Edelman.
Gray’s second run was mostly on him as he cut back against the grain, looks like the play was designed to go right, but he had the vision to see the overpursuit that opened a hole to his left.
Brady’s second interception was gross. Just horrible situational football, something you rarely see from him. If Wendell and Stork don’t blow their block, Gronk might still be running. Still, Brady should’ve ate it with the pressure in his face like that. Or they just should’ve run it since they were having success and were in command.
Huge blown coverage on the second play of the second half to get the Pats going with a big play to Shane Vereen. Great play design as three guys followed Edelman across the field, leaving Vereen wide open.
All Tim Wright does now is catch touchdowns. Still think he has a game where he gets involved early and has 100 yards and a TD or two.
One of my favorite plays of the game came on the next drive with Brady finding LaFell, who made an acrobatic catch to take the offense over midfield. Just love seeing Brady connect with a big target downfield. Such a welcome element to the offense this year.
Gray gets number three with a strong surge after contact. He’s a tough little guy to bring down, looking forward to seeing more of this.
Another acrobatic catch by LaFell, followed by a big run by Gray. This is such a physical Patriots offense, call it dink-and-dunk if you want, but their entire offense is not afraid to mix it up.
Gray gets number four as Gronk throws Sergio Brown out of the club.
Finally we get Gronk’s insane touchdown run, the cherry on top of a physical domination. This is one of those plays they’ll play at Gronk’s Hall of Fame induction. Just a beast.
Lots of great plays to choose from this week, but here are three that summed up the game most succinctly in my view.
We start off with a carry on third-and-1 in the first quarter that Jonas Gray took for 20 yards. The Pats had struggled in recent weeks when running ball on short yardage third downs. Against Denver and Chicago they were 0-for-3 in those situations.
But this play illustrates the kind of night it was going to be: Gray running roughshod over the Colts and the Pats converting 9-of-13 third downs.
Next, we skip to the fourth quarter, with the Pats up by eight, still anyone’s game. Brady finds Brandon LaFell, who makes a ridiculous catch to take the Pats into scoring range to put the game away. LaFell has been the player the Patriots have lacked since Randy Moss. Not to say LaFell is Moss-esque, but he’s the first physical mismatch at receiver the Pats have had since him. Add in circus catches like this and it’s easy to see why Brady has finally found a free agent wide receiver he likes for the first time since 2007.
I could’ve chosen quite a few third-down stops, or even the McCourty interception, but instead we’re going with this game-sealing fourth-down stop. Reggie Wayne has put some final fourth-quarter daggers in our backs plenty of times over the last decade, but this time Darrelle Revis sticks with him like glue and forces the incompletion.
This Patriots defense is finally no longer the weak link, as it has been since 2010. Now they’re every bit the strength the offense is.
And of course, I couldn’t not put this play by Gronk up. Just the ultimate exclamation point.
The final pass Peyton Manning ever threw against the Patriots as a Colt. A loss-sealing interception. What a nice bookend along with his early career performances.
Top 3 Patriots wins over Colt Peyton Manning
- 2003 AFCCG
- 2004 AFCDG
- 2003 Regular Season (Willie McGinest Goalline stop)
Worst 3 Patriots Losses to Colt Peyton Manning
- 2006 AFCCG
- 2009 4th & 2
- 2008 Regular Season (WE SHOULD HAVE BEAT THEM WITH CASSEL, DAMN YOU DAVID THOMAS AND YOUR HIT AFTER THE WHISTLE!!!!!)