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Patriots can set the tempo with running game vs. Colts front seven

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

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When the New England Patriots lose in the postseason, it's sometimes a result of their lack of commitment to the running game. If they have done their homework on the Indianapolis Colts, that should not be an issue on Saturday as they try to advance to their third AFC Championship Game in as many years.

There's one simple way for the Patriots to make sure that they beat the Colts -- and to also make sure they don't beat themselves: run the football.

running game.pngIt's all on paper. The Colts were a bottom-10 run defense in nearly every major category, while the Patriots were a top-10 rushing attack across the board.

Whether it's LeGarrette Blount, Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen or Brandon Bolden, an effective running game could set the tempo for the game, and even break the will of the Colts' defense.

"It wears and tears on a defense," said Blount. "They get tired of hitting backs like me, like Rid, like Bolden, and they get tired of chasing Shane around. So, I feel like if you do that to them for a while, sooner or later they’re going to crack."

They will likely all get a chance to make the Colts crack, and with so many backs capable of different things, preparing for all of them isn't easy.

"It's a heck of a challenge," said Colts head coach Chuck Pagano of the Patriots running game. "What LeGarrette is doing and Ridley and certainly with Shane coming in, and Bolden is no slouch. I mean, they've got a stable of guys that are all more than capable, and you look at the one-two punch LeGarrette and Rid have been, and you look at almost identical numbers across the board, it's a huge challenge."

The challenge has grown in recent weeks, while the scales have tipped with regards to the "one" and the "two" in that one-two punch.

Blount has led the charge with 59 carries over the past four games. Ridley has been sprinkled into the mix with 43 carries in that time, but has taken a back seat as he recovers from fumblitis. As has been the case all season, Vereen has played a bigger role in the passing game than the running game, with nine carries and 19 receptions over the past four weeks.

It would be a surprise to see them get away from that formula now, with it working so well. The Patriots averaged 122.8 yards per game and 4.2 yards per rush attempt as a team in the first 12 games of the season, and 148 rushing yards per game and 4.9 yards per rush attempt over the final four games of the season.

On the surface, this is a game for Blount and Ridley. The Colts spent a majority of their time in nickel packages with two linemen, four linebackers and five defensive backs. The 2-4-5 is a front that can be exposed by the running game because there are fewer defensive linemen, a weakness which has been compounded with linebackers that have struggled heavily in run defense this year.

To make matters worse for the Colts, inside linebacker Pat Angerer (knee) was placed on injured reserve early in December. Now, backups Kavell Conner, Kelvin Sheppard and undrafted rookie Josh McNary will be asked to fill in the lost production.

The Patriots need to run effectively in order to set up the play action passing game for Tom Brady, who attempted 24.6 percent of his passes off play action in 2013, with a 99.8 passer rating on those throws.

Besides being a great way to attack the Colts' defense, a solid running game -- and a ball control game plan -- could also attack the Colts' offense. In their heart of hearts, the Colts want to throw the football and put up a lot of points; they don't want to get into a slugfest where they have to rely on running backs Trent Richardson and Donald Brown to move the ball on the ground.

If the Patriots are running the ball effectively and wearing down the Colts' defense, they may be forced into that situation just to give their defense a rest.

The Patriots can take the Colts out of their game on both offense and defense by running the ball effectively.

Maybe the Patriots' offensive balance in 2013 was a byproduct of their struggles in the passing game, but if so, it has prepared them well for what lies ahead in the playoffs.




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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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