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Scouting report

Colts at Patriots

(KEVIN TERRELL/ASSOCIATED PRESS)
By Jim McBride
Globe Staff / December 4, 2011
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Today, 1 p.m., Channel 4 (Line: Patriots by 20 1/2)

When the Patriots run

New England’s corps of running backs could make hay today against one of the league’s worst front sevens. BenJarvus Green-Ellis attacks defenses with a hard-charging north-south style. The 5-foot-11-inch, 215-pounder is neither flashy nor fast but will slip through tiny cracks and take on all comers. He rarely gets knocked backward. Danny Woodhead has looked fresher recently. Blessed with great instincts and quickness, Woodhead hits holes in a flash and will juke and jive his way through traffic until he finds a clear lane. Rookies Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen need to get involved today. Ridley is a competitive runner with good vision who is at his best running inside. He can slip tackles and absorb hits. He’s not a true bruiser but he will break through arm tackles and finish his runs. Vereen is a lot like Ridley with a bit more power. He has good initial quickness, is patient enough to let his blocks develop, and will dip his shoulder and deliver a blow. Indianapolis tackles Fili Moala (huge at 6-4, 303, but he can be invisible for long stretches) and Antonio Johnson (he’s athletic but doesn’t have a great motor) will struggle against guards Logan Mankins (he has ratcheted up the nastiness) and Brian Waters. It’s imperative for New England’s center (whether it’s Dan Connolly or Ryan Wendell) to get a hat on active middle linebacker Pat Angerer.

EDGE: Patriots

When the Patriots pass

Tom Brady is playing with tremendous rhythm. The game’s best player was surgical against the Eagles, especially impressive considering he took a pounding the first couple of series. Brady diagnoses defenses quickly, reads through his progressions, and nearly always exploits the favorable matchups. Brady’s tackles - Matt Light and Nate Solder - will have their work cut out for them today. Twin terrors Dwight Freeney (he has the fastest first step in the business) and Robert Mathis (he has impressive closing speed) know how to get to the quarterback, and both maintain their intensity on every snap. Brady’s favorite target is the open guy, and that’s almost always Wes Welker. The diminutive slot man with the quick feet and fearless attitude uses his body to shield defenders from the ball, catches everything thrown to him, and will fight for every inch (pretty sweet pylon stretch vs. the Eagles, huh?). Deion Branch may not catch 10 balls per game but he is an integral part of this offense because he is always on the same page with Brady; he comes back when he senses trouble, runs fluid routes, and rarely drops catchable balls. Simply put, tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez are nightmare matchups.

EDGE: Patriots

When the Colts run

The Colts have a three-headed tailback monster in Joseph Addai, Donald Brown, and Delone Carter. Problem is, it’s not a real scary monster. Age and injuries have taken their toll on Addai, once one of the NFL’s most productive players. A 5-foot-11-inch, 214-pounder, Addai is an instinctive runner who can slip through holes and get to the second level. He has a good stutter-step and will locate and exploit cutback lanes. Addai no longer has the quickness to turn the corner consistently, and he lacks the speed to be a breakaway threat. Brown has never lived up to his first-round billing. He has decent size (5-10, 210) and speed but lacks vision and patience. He will miss holes and often crashes into his blockers. He carried a heavy workload at UConn, and all that wear and tear has prevented him from being consistently productive at this level. Carter is a between-the-tackles pounder who always keeps his thick, muscular legs churning. A compact 5-9, 225 pounds, Carter will spin off and break through tackles. He lacks speed and quickness but runs low and with good balance and he will push the pile. Massive New England tackles Vince Wilfork (6-2, 325) and Kyle Love (6-1, 310) do a nice job of occupying blockers and clogging lanes, allowing the linebackers (particularly the instinctive Jerod Mayo) to clean up the running backs.

EDGE: Patriots

When the Colts pass

Dan Orlovsky gets his chance to run Peyton Manning’s offense after Kerry Collins and Curtis Painter failed (often miserably) to build any momentum. Orlovsky is a big (6 feet 5 inches, 230 pounds), strong-armed quarterback who thrives in the pocket but won’t make many plays outside it. He is smart and reads defenses well. Orlovsky’s development (he’s in his seventh season) has been hindered because he has been on abysmal teams. He has never been afforded the time to get comfortable in the pocket and develop a rapport with his receivers. It won’t happen today, either. The top target is Reggie Wayne; nobody misses Manning more. A smooth, fluid, and powerful receiver, Wayne has good speed and runs excellent routes. Pierre Garcon has developed into a reliable option. He has decent speed, and his route-running has steadily improved. He will fight for every ball and for yards after the catch. Austin Collie is a superb route runner with decent speed and strong hands. Tight end Jacob Tamme is quick and strong and excels on seam routes. He lacks athleticism and won’t collect a lot of yards after the catch. New England’s patchwork secondary is susceptible to big plays but has benefited from an improved pass rush.

EDGE: Colts

COLTS’ KEY PLAYER: Pat Angerer

This sophomore middle linebacker is a tackling machine who knows only one speed: frantic. If you don’t put a body on him, he is going to put his on you. And it’s going to hurt.

How he beats you: With instincts and speed. He reads plays quickly, locates the ball in a flash, and has great closing speed. Oh, and he hits like a ton of bricks.

How to shut him down: Take it to him. Like a lot of linebackers, Angerer is much better at pursuing than being pursued. If you run right at him, he can get caught flat-footed.

COLTS’ KEYS TO VICTORY

1. The run-down: Grinding the Patriots and the clock is the best strategy. It all starts with center Jeff Saturday, who must try to neutralize Vince Wilfork and create lanes.

2. Tight spots: Outside linebackers Phillip Wheeler and Kavell Conner have to mug tight end Rob Gronkowski at the line and prevent him from gaining separation and terrorizing the secondary.

3. Get into the groove: Dan Orlovsky is bound to be nervous, so call some simple passes to get him comfortable as he attempts to provide a spark to this struggling team.

PATRIOTS’ KEYS TO VICTORY

1. Keep up the intensity: Simply showing up won’t guarantee a victory just because the Colts are horrible. If you let an inferior team hang around, it will do just that.

2. Keep it fresh: Use all the running backs to wear down the Colts front. Indianapolis has had trouble stopping the run, so exploit this weakness and boost the backs’ confidence.

3. Maintain your edges: Protecting Tom Brady is paramount (duh). Edge rushers Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis will bring it every play. If you don’t do the same, Brady will pay the price.

Prediction: Patriots 33, Colts 3

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