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Patriots vs. Colts Q&A: Going Deep with OBF

Posted by Erik Frenz  January 9, 2014 07:00 AM

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Answering some questions headed into the New England Patriots divisional round showdown with the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday, with help from our friend and Boston.com sports columnist, Obnoxious Boston Fan (Twitter: @realOBF).



How can the Colts beat the Patriots?

Erik Frenz: It's going to be up to second-year quarterback and rising star Andrew Luck to find the open receivers, and they most likely won't be named T.Y. Hilton. Bill Belichick has earned a reputation for taking away a team's best option, and Hilton is it. The young quarterback will be looking for tight end Coby Fleener in favorable matchups against the Patriots linebackers, but that's not going to be enough. The Colts haven't committed to the running game much this year, but they'll need to get the backs involved if they want to take advantage of the Patriots' depleted defensive line.

The Colts defense is going to have to find a way to make the Patriots one-dimensional throwing the ball. The Patriots offense has been at its best when balanced this year, and has especially found its groove in the running game over the past several weeks. Digging in against the run will force the Patriots to air it out, and if the Colts can find a way to take away Julian Edelman, the Patriots may have a hard time finding their groove through the air.

Obnoxious Boston Fan: Well, if Deion Branch kept his iPad, they might have a shot. It's unlikely he'll play much, if at all. But if Branch can make a catch early, that might throw the Patriots' off their game. This starts and ends with Luck and luck. The quarterback will have to play flawless, or at least come close producing the numbers (29-for-45, 443 yards and 4 TDs) he posted against the Chiefs, minus the three interceptions. This game could quickly evolve into an offensive shootout. This could favor the Colts if Hilton manages to win those matchups the Hoodie has been trying to create all week with the help of his vast network of spies and mastery of the Dark Arts.



How can the Patriots beat the Colts?

hilton.jpgEF: Shutting down the Colts offense starts with taking away Hilton. The Patriots have several options when it comes to covering him, but with cornerbacks Aqib Talib (hip), Alfonzo Dennard (knee) and Kyle Arrington (groin) all injured, it may come down to who is healthiest. Whoever it is, expect the Patriots to double Hilton with a deep safety.

The Patriots offense should have success running the ball against a light Colts front seven. That includes outside linebacker Robert Mathis, who is not a stout edge defender at 6-foot-2 and 246 pounds, but is an explosive threat when rushing the passer. If offensive tackles Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon can neutralize Mathis in the passing game, they should have success throwing the ball and keeping Tom Brady upright. From there, Brady should look to exploit matchups against the Colts' third and fourth cornerbacks, and with Shane Vereen out of the backfield on the Colts' linebackers.

OBF: Run the ball. A lot. Brady and the passing game have become the second option of choice. Don't expect LeGarrette Blount to carry the ball 24 times for 189 yards like he did against Buffalo. But the trio of Blount, Vereen and Stevan Ridley might combine for, let's say, 35 carries and 200 yards. If New England can compile numbers like that on the ground, Brady will be able to pick apart the Colts linebackers and secondary with play-action at will. The Patriots should view the Colts much like the way teams once viewed the Patriots circa 2007 -- a serious, high-scoring offensive threat. The best way to beat the Colts is to keep Luck away from the ball.



One thing that scares you the most about the Colts

EF: Safety LaRon Landry coming downhill on anyone carrying the football for the Patriots -- particularly Ridley. Landry is known as a heavy hitter, and does some of his best work in run defense. He hasn't forced a single fumble this season, but had four forced fumbles for the New York Jets in 2013. Seems to me like he might be due for one, but that's only if he passes concussion protocol after being taken out of the Chiefs game.

OBF: The fact that Roger Goodell may be drooling over a Peyton Manning-Luck match up in the AFC title game. That and the possibility of Deion Branch still has Tom Brady's internet password.

Rebuttal from EF: Interestingly enough, the ol' Ginger Hammer will be in the house for this game.



One thing that scares you the most about the Patriots

Julian Edelman.jpgEF: The lack of options in the passing game. Edelman has come through for the Patriots all season, but at what point do the Patriots need to have reliable second, third and fourth options that they can go to in a pinch? Hilton may not be enough to beat the Patriots on his own, but Edelman may not be enough to beat the Colts, either. The Colts would be foolish to let Edelmania run wild. Brady is going to have to look to other receivers.

OBF: Getting burned on big plays. New England's defense as a collective entity has never recovered from the Giants' game-clinching drive in Super Bowl XLII. That one knock -- the defense can’t close out big games -- has yet to be fully dispatched. It probably won’t be until/if/when the Patriots win another Super Bowl.



One thing that gives you confidence about the Patriots

EF: The Patriots running game. They have been a balanced offense all year, but the running game has done well regardless of the situation, without any of the "gimmicks" of a fast-count hurry-up offense. They've been playing even better lately; over the past eight games, they're averaging 137.5 rushing yards per game and 4.6 yards per attempt. It's thanks in large part to dominant play from the offensive line, and they should match up very well against a Colts front seven that has had trouble getting off blocks and plugging up holes in the running game.

OBF: The running game. Well, since that one was taken, I'll go with the old "intangibles." In this case, that means the weather, the fact that they're at home and the fact that Belichick and Brady are producing something special in Foxborough this season and having it end on Saturday just doesn't fit the script.



Person to watch not named Tom Brady and Andrew Luck for each team

EF: For the Colts, it has to be Donald Brown. The Colts' trade of a first-round pick for running back Trent Richardson could only be described as an abject failure to this point, and Brown has been quietly productive all season long. He's also versatile, with 537 yards on the ground and 5.3 yards per carry to go with 27 receptions for 214 yards.

For the Patriots, my eyes are fixated on Jamie Collins. The rookie linebacker has earned an increased workload down the stretch, playing 59 percent of the snaps over the final four weeks of the season. Now, with Brandon Spikes (knee) on injured reserve, Collins' playing time may go up even more. Collins is the better player in pass coverage, which should benefit the Patriots against a tight end like Fleener, and he could be asked to carry a bigger load in run defense, which was Spikes' primary role.

1162775477_1293.jpgOBF: Adam Vinatieri for the Colts. Tuesday, Belichick said Vinatieri is "a Hall of Fame kicker if there ever was one." Hopefully, Vinatieri won't get booed again this week in Foxborough until at least he does something worthy of Patriots' fan contempt. He's perfect on extra points this season (34 for 34) but has actually missed five field goal attempts. Only one of those misses came under 40 yards. At 41, Vinatieri will be both the oldest player on the field Saturday and the player with the most Super Bowl rings (four). The Colts will be counting on him not to miss.

In contrast to the likes of Vinatieri, the Patriots have 17 players expected to be in Saturday's lineup (including 14 rookies), who have never appeared in a playoff game. That’s a surprisingly high number for a franchise that has appeared in five of the past 12 Super Bowls. With all those Playoff Virgins on the field, one might think there has to be one dumb penalty or catastrophic turnover just waiting to happen. Hopefully, the "Patriot Way" -- the good "Patriot Way," in this case -- will infect these Newbies and there won’t be any costly "rookie mistakes." Another name to watch among rookies is cornerback Logan Ryan, who was a third-round pick out of, drum roll please, Rutgers. Ryan will be targeted throughout the game by Luck and Chuck Pagano. Ryan led the Patriots with five interceptions during the season and may have another one this week to drop on the Colts.




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About the author

Erik Frenz delivers analysis of the biggest news with the Patriots, including insight into the AFC East and New England's biggest rivals from a Patriots perspective. Erik is an interactive writer who engages his audience in his posts’ comments sections and on Twitter. Readers are encouraged to share their thoughts and ask questions. More »

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