New England Patriots vs. Indianapolis Colts: Breaking Down the Matchups
As usual, the yearly matchup between the New England Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts promises to be one of the most highly-anticipated and exciting games of the year.
How could it be any other way with Peyton Manning and Tom Brady on the bill?
These are considered two of the best teams in the league right now, so we're in for some mighty fine matchups this week.
But what will impact the outcome of this game? How do the matchups break down?
Here's my take.
Patriots Passing Game vs. Colts Pass Defense
The Patriots pass attack has looked much like it did in 2003.
Although Tom Brady only ranks 11th with 2,176 yards, his 17 touchdowns are fourth in the league and his four interceptions are tied for least among quarterbacks that have started every game this year.
It could be his efficiency that will make this an easier battle for the Patriots. And I've already addressed the nightmare that the Colts could face on third downs against the Patriots at Gillette Stadium.
Conversely, the Colts' defense has done well against the pass and ranks in the top 10 in yards (1,899) and touchdowns (11) through the air.
The Colts generally do pretty well against tight ends, but they haven't faced one yet like Rob Gronkowski. He had three touchdowns and 72 yards on five targets, all completions, against the Steelers last week.
In another game in which it appears the Colts don't have an answer for his combination of size and speed, he could be a primary target for triggerman Tom Brady.
The talk of this matchup is the presence of Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis, and Jerry Hughes.
Patriots Running Game vs. Colts Run Defense
The Patriots post mediocre numbers across the board in the running game, but that doesn't speak enough to how effective it's been for them.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead have been nothing short of spectacular for the Patriots' offense and the two are averaging 4.4 yards per carry between them.
The Colts' run defense, however, has been a joke. They allow a league-worst average of five yards per carry with the 29th-ranked run defense in yards.
Those numbers aren't inflated, either. Opponents run on the Colts much less than they pass.
With the primary objectives being keeping Peyton Manning off the field and wearing down the Colts' defense, we could see a very balanced attack from the Patriots, a team that will probably come out in two tight-end sets with Alge Crumpler and Rob Gronkowski.
The Patriots' rush attack has been very effective this year and this is a battle that they should win easily.
Colts Passing Game vs. Patriots Pass Defense
As it has several times in the recent past, the outcome of this matchup could determine the outcome of the game.
The 30th-ranked Patriots pass defense could have its hands full with Peyton Manning, whose quick read and quicker release make for a long day for the opposing defensive guys up front. The Patriots will have to force him to hang on to the ball with exceptional coverage.
But even that won't make it easy.
Belichick addressed this on Tuesday's conference call, when he said: "(Manning) makes great decisions in the pocket, knows when he's under pressure and gets it out quick, (and) knows when he has a bit more time and can scan the field."
The Colts' pass attack ranks third in the league. But it has gradually slipped in its production with injuries piling up.
In fact, Manning didn't throw a single touchdown pass last week against the Bengals. Something tells me that won't happen again.
Colts Running Game vs. Patriots Run Defense
The Patriots were very successful against the run until some monster numbers by Peyton Hillis and Colt McCoy skewed their numbers the wrong way.
Although they held the Steelers to 76 total yards rushing, that came with a hefty average of 4.8 yards per carry against them.
The Colts rush attack, however, hasn't been successful in many regards this season. They rank 27th in both yards (814) and yards per carry (3.7).
With injuries to both Mike Hart and Joseph Addai, Donald Brown has been thrust into the mix with a paltry average of 3.3 yards per carry and just one touchdown to his name.
Unless the Colts can miraculously discover a smash-mouth style of offense, which their interior offensive line doesn't have, I don't expect the Colts' rush attack to come to life against the Patriots.
Former Patriots kicker Adam Vinatieri returns to his old stadium, where he hasn't kicked a field goal since 2006.
Although Patriots replacement-kicker Shayne Graham had a good game kicking field goals against the Steelers, I'm not ready to give him a pass just yet. He missed a PAT attempt and he's been known to be inconsistent at times.
Brandon Tate hasn't returned a kickoff for a touchdown in quite some time, but I'd say he's due. He had a great 35-yard return against the Steelers on Sunday in which he almost broke free from the second wave.
There may not be a better team for him to get back on track against than the Colts, a unit that has been subpar on special teams for years.
But is that still the case? The Patriots and Colts have eerily similar numbers against kick returners, as the Pats allow an average of 24.3 yards per return against the Colts' average of 24.4, both below league-average.
The difference? The Patriots have allowed a touchdown (to Bills kick returner CJ Spiller in Week 3), and the Colts haven't.
The eerie similarities continue. Colts punter Pat McAfee averages 43.1 yards per punt with a long of 66, while Patriots punter Zoltan Mesko averages 43 yards per punt with a long of 65.
Jim Caldwell may be the coach of the Colts.
But let's face it: That's a "1 and 1a" situation between he and Peyton Manning, as the latter "runs" the offense in every sense of the word. The coaching battles between he and Belichick have been a storied bunch, with Peyton Manning finding ways to win recently.
As for the Patriots, Belichick has come up with some brilliant offensive game plans this season, as we saw against the Steelers last week. Peyton Manning may be able to out-coach Belichick from the field, but Belichick will definitely be able to out-coach Jim Caldwell and the Colts' defensive assistants.
The big advantage for the Patriots comes in Belichick's ability to maximize the matchups. With so many injuries to the Colts, when you start to get as far down the depth chart as they're getting, the players are bound to have weaknesses.
The Patriots should be ready to expose those weaknesses on Sunday.
Let's not get ahead of ourselves just because I gave the Patriots a 4-1-1 advantage in these matchups.
The Colts' pass attack has been just as indefensible this year as they have in the past, even with several key injuries. In fact, it's their sizable advantage in that matchup that has me thinking this game will be very, very close.
But if the Patriots can execute in every phase of the game as well as they have in several games this season, they look to have the upper hand.
But Belichick acknowledged that's the case on Tuesday's conference call, when he said: "They make you beat them. They don't make very many mistakes...it doesn't take much of a slip-up for them to make you pay for it. They're one of the best offensive teams in football."
In the end, I think it could come down to a game-winning drive from Tom Brady against what will be a worn-down Colts defense.
Prediction: Patriots 30, Colts 27