The upstart Colts have won four-straight games as they take on the Patriots today at Gillette Stadium, but Indianapolis should leave with a loss if New England executes these five keys:
- Shut down Reggie Wayne: The veteran receiver is the Colts’ passing offense. Not having many weapons play right into the hands of the usually assignment-sure Patriots. The Colts line up Wayne all over the place and often send him in motion. It would surprise me if the Patriots matched up CB Aqib Talib on him all over the field – that would force the other, less experienced players to be responsible for too many variables – but expect the Patriots to double Wayne with a safety over the top no matter where he is. The Patriots did it to Larry Fitzgerald without Talib, and they can do it again. And since the Colts use Wayne similar to Hines Ward in Pittsburgh around the line of scrimmage, expect the Patriots to be extremely physical with Wayne. Ward used to love the contract. Wayne does not and no team has really tested him yet in that regard.
- Keep Luck in the pocket: Rookie QB Andrew Luck has great feet and can keep drives alive on his own. Expect the Patriots to use a very controlled rush up the middle and on the front side of the play to keep Luck in the pocket. This will likely drive fans crazy during the course of the game, but it’s the right way to go.
- Spread and throw: The Colts are very thin at cornerback and the safeties are not good in coverage. The Patriots should spread the field and let Tom Brady pick them apart. As long as the blocking is sound up front, Brady should have a huge day. Spreading the defense also gives Brady a chance to see some of the pressure this Ravens-like defense will want to dial up.
- Block the linebackers: Everyone knows about Dwight Freeney, but Robert Mathis, who should be back from injury, is the better rusher at this point in their careers. Mathis should see RT Sebastian Vollmer most of the day, and he’s playing terrific. The one concern may be LT Nate Solder with Freeney’s spin move. Solder has a tendency to set to hard to the outside and can be beaten inside. If I’m the Patriots, I give Solder a few running back chips.
- Protect the ball: This is another matchup where the Patriots shouldn’t have any trouble on paper, but if they start to do dumb things like turn the ball over and give the underdog a chance to hang. If the Patriots win the turnover battle, the Colts are going to have a tough time winning.
This reminds me a lot of the spot the Patriots were in last year when they traveled to Denver to take on the Broncos. Similar situation. The Broncos were hot but hadn’t really beaten anybody so their flaws were covered. A hot young quarterback was playing well. The defense hadn’t really been exposed by a good offense. The team as a whole was riding an emotional high. I think we’ll see a similar result here. The Patriots may have some trouble early, but the offense should be able to do what it wants all game long against a depleted secondary. And as long as the defense shuts down Wayne, the Colts should have trouble scoring touchdowns to keep up.
Patriots 30, Colts 20