On paper, the New England Patriots should be able to handle the Indianapolis Colts without too many problems in Foxboro Saturday night. The Patriots feature an offense that runs the ball well, something we’re not used to seeing from the Patriots, and a group of largely unknown receivers that have been able to rise to the occasion, giving Tom Brady consistent targets down the field.
Sure, on paper the Colts have a very tough battle in front of them, but then again, teams aren’t supposed to overcome 28-point leads in the second half of playoff games either, and that’s exactly what the Colts were able to do at home a week ago against the Kansas City Chiefs. With a trip to the AFC championship game on the line, what do the Indianapolis Colts have to do to upset the New England Patriots in their own house?
First and foremost, and I think this goes without saying, the Colts absolutely can’t get off to a slow start yet again against the Patriots. Under Cuck Pagano’s leadership, the Colts have been able to put two solid seasons together, but if there’s a complaint that fans can legitimately make, it’s that the Colts chronically put themselves in a hole to start games. They were able to storm back from a 38-10 deficit a week ago, but that was in Indianapolis against a team that relies on defense and efficiency to win games. If that happens again, the Patriots will have no problem running the score up into the 50’s.
In years past, a Colts, Patriots matchup meant the running game would be an afterthought. Welcome to a new era. The Patriots run the ball exceptionally well, averaging just over 129 yards per game. Defensively, the Colts struggle to stop the ground attack, giving up just over 125 yards per game. If Indianapolis can’t get a grip on the Patriots’ ground attack, the passing game will be wide open to Brady and company as often as they want it.
If Indianapolis does have a strength on defense, it’s their ability to rush the passer and force opponents into making mistakes. It’s tough to force teams into throwing the ball when your own offense is constantly playing from behind and the opponent runs the ball very well, but if the Colts can hold the Patriots into mostly third and five plus yards, their pass rushers will get their chance at hitting Tom Brady. Ideally, the Colts are able to get off to a quick start, force the Patriots into throwing situations, and push their advantage by taking advantage of New England’s mistakes.
Unlike the Patriots, who have some margin for error, the Colts have to win in multiple areas of Saturday night’s game to give themselves a chance to keep up with the Patriots. If the offense plays well, the defense will have more opportunities in passing situations, and the more passing downs the Colts force the Patriots into, the better their chance to keep running up their own score. When that happens, the Patriots will be forced to pass even more often. Essentially, the Colts’ blueprint for winning is a cyclical machine that feeds itself.
If, however, the Colts are unable to get off to a quick start and go down early, they may be toast before the game ever gets going. The Patriots run the ball too well to voluntarily abandon the ground game, especially against a team that doesn’t defend the run particularly well. Essentially, the Colts can’t afford to play the Patriots’ brand of football. Indianapolis needs to set the tempo of the game to have a chance to topple New England in Foxboro. They have the talent to do it too, but if they can’t get out of the blocks, they’re sunk.