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patriots-colts scouting report

Armed and ready

By Jim McBride
Globe Staff / November 15, 2009

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Patriots at Colts
Tonight, 8:20, Ch. 7 (Line: Colts by 3)

When the Patriots run

Laurence Maroney is feeling it again. The wildly inconsistent tailback has been running with increased power and decisiveness over the last month. The 5-foot-11-inch, 220-pounder has been slipping through creases, taking hits, and delivering blows. More robotic in the past, Maroney is showing more emotion of late and has been thriving with an increased workload. Kevin Faulk’s best runs come out of the shotgun stance when defenses are suspecting a pass. Faulk lacks bulk, however, and can’t be counted on for more than 10 carries per game. New England’s offensive line has made no secrets about its love for run blocking. Guards Logan Mankins and Stephen Neal have different techniques but both are effective. Mankins is a strong and nasty brawler. He’s not overly athletic but uses his powerful arms to guide defenders away from the point of attack. He never gives up on a play. Neal is quick and has phenomenal leverage. Center Dan Koppen is smart and athletic. If he can’t play, a lot of pressure falls on the shoulders of Dan Connolly. Indianapolis’s first line of run defense consists of tackles Daniel Muir (he’s quick but lacks strength and recognition skills) and Antonio Johnson (he’s strong and agile). Middle linebackers Gary Brackett (he’s quick and instinctive) and Freddy Keiaho (he’s tough and explosive) have the speed to make plays from sideline to sideline.
EDGE: Colts

When the Patriots pass

Dan Connolly just might be the key to New England’s aerial attack tonight. The backup center will have big pads to fill if he steps in for Dan Koppen, the ultra-smart veteran center and glue of the offensive line. Connolly’s ability to deliver flawless shotgun snaps in a hostile, noisy environment will be essential if the Patriots are going to move the ball consistently. Another key will be Wes Welker, who will be targeted upward of 15 times because Tom Brady will be under the gun from exceptional pass-rushing ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. Freeney has one of the quickest first steps in the game and amazing closing speed. Mathis explodes off the edge and uses swim and spin moves to collapse the pocket. Tackles Nick Kaczur and Sebastian Vollmer (a nice surprise with excellent size and surprisingly quick feet) will need help from the tight ends and Kevin Faulk to buy Brady extra time. Welker will use his quick feet to beat outside linebackers Philip Wheeler and Clint Sessions to soft spots across the middle. In two-tight end sets, Chris Baker will stay in to block while Benjamin Watson will try to exploit seams down the middle - an easier task with safety Bob “Biceps’’ Sanders out. If Brady is given time, he will carve up a secondary missing starting corners Marlin Jackson and Kelvin Hayden and featuring rookies Jerraud Powers and Jacob Lacey. Neither has the skills to stop - or even slow down - Randy Moss without help. The help comes from strong safety Melvin Bullitt (converted corner is quick and rangy) and free safety Antoine Bethea (he’s versatile and has a nose for the ball).
EDGE: Patriots

When the Colts run

After tremendous freshman and sophomore seasons, Colts running back Joseph Addai has struggled the last year-plus. He has yet to crack the 100-yard mark this year and is averaging just 3.4 yards per carry. The 5-foot-11-inch, 214-pound Addai attacks defenses by running low and plowing straight ahead because he no longer shows the speed to bounce outside and speed past the secondary. Addai doesn’t have to go it alone in Indy because of the club’s potent passing attack and the presence of rookie Donald Brown. A 5-10, 210-pounder out of UConn, Brown, who has missed the last two games with a shoulder injury, is a physical runner with excellent speed and change-of-direction skills. Venerable center Jeff Saturday is tough, agile, and smart. He lacks strength, however, and will wear down late after swapping paint with mondo nose tackle Vince Wilfork. Left guard Ryan Lilja is an above-average athlete who is quick off the line and moves well laterally. Right guard Mike Pollack is technically sound and smart but lacks strength and needs to be more aggressive in the run game. Wilfork and Ty Warren set the tone against the run for New England. Wilfork is explosive off the snap and light on his feet - yes, light on his feet. The 6-2, 325-pound Wilfork can power straight ahead or slide along the line before blowing up ball carriers. Warren has exceptional strength and simply overpowers defenders at the line of scrimmage. He cuts off lanes and gives the linebackers room and sightlines to lower the boom on rushers. Smart and tough middle linebacker Jerod Mayo has a great combination of power and athleticism. He makes plays everywhere.
EDGE: Patriots

When the Colts pass

This attack is led by Peyton Manning; perhaps you’ve heard of him. Manning has exceptional pre-snap recognition, allowing him to quickly audible out of bad plays and exploit favorable matchups. Teams will disguise coverages until the last possible second, but that doesn’t work for long because Manning scans the field in milliseconds, finds his receivers quickly, and delivers lasers. Blitzing isn’t effective against Manning because he has an extremely quick release. Manning’s most reliable target is tight end Dallas Clark, who has excellent hands and the uncanny ability to find soft spots over the middle. Wideout Reggie Wayne is an exceptional athlete who does his best work on slant routes. He uses his 6-foot, 200-pound frame to shield defenders from the ball and he has excellent body control. Wayne lacks strength and will get pushed around by physical corners and safeties. Manning has done a nice job of integrating young receivers Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie into the mix. Garcon has good speed and athleticism but his hands are inconsistent. Collie has excellent hands with decent speed and quickness. Running backs Joseph Addai and Donald Brown are solid receivers who can bail Manning out on quick hits and screens. The Patriots secondary has a nice mixture of young studs and wily veterans. Corners Leigh Bodden and Shawn Springs bring veteran leadership and top-notch cover skills. Safeties Brandon Meriweather and Brandon McGowan are big hitters. Rookie Patrick Chung is working his way to the mix with his physical play.
EDGE: Colts

Colts' key player

Dallas Clark
With Marvin Harrison in mothballs, Clark has become Peyton Manning's safety valve. And why not? The tight end has excellent hands and concentration and is virtually impossible to stop with man coverage.

How he beats you: With versatility. Clark sometimes lines up as a traditional tight end. Sometimes he's in the slot. Still other times he's in motion. Because of this, Clark often gets isolated in coverage and Manning always goes to him when there's a mismatch.

How to shut him down: With Adalius Thomas. The big linebacker has the power to pop Clark at the line of scrimmage and the speed and cover skills to stick with him down the seam — at least for a little while.

Colts' keys to victory

1. End game: Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis must make Tom Brady uncomfortable and prevent the Patriots QB from carving up Indy's injury-riddled/young secondary.
2. Cover story: Wes Welker drives the offense because he keeps the chains moving when nothing else is working. Only Melvin Bullitt has the speed and quickness to slow him.
3. Ground beef: The Patriots are gearing

up for Peyton Manning, so throw a curve and give the ball to Joseph Addai and Donald Brown to try to establish a nice balance.

Patriots' keys to victory

1. Keep away: Laurence Maroney needs to keep his head – and his legs – in the game to keep the clock running and keep the ball out of Peyton Manning's hands.
2. Take some shots: While it's true Stephen Gostkowski is a weapon, you don't often beat Manning with field goals. You have to get into the end zone.
3. Change is good: Keep disguising the coverages. Heck, keep disguising the disguises. Try anything to keep Manning guessing as to what — and who — is coming next.

Prediction

Patriots 31, Colts 27

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