FOXBORO, Mass. — The many moods of New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick have been on display this season.
Belichick is a tough nut to crack, and it’s never clear when the head coach will be chipper and talkative or surly and short during his meetings with the media. After New England’s Week 15 loss to the Miami Dolphins, Belichick was as talkative and chatty and happy as he’s been all season. On Wednesday, as the Patriots prepared for the Indianapolis Colts, though, Belichick was the latter.
The mood around Gillette Stadium seems a bit tense and reserved. It’s obvious the team is taking its divisional-round playoff matchup seriously. The team is also pressed for time, since the week had to be shortened because of a Saturday night game.
Patriots fans have plenty on their minds about this week’s matchup, so let’s get into a playoff edition of the mailbag.
Why is everyone ignoring Donald Brown? He can hurt the Pats a lot. I get the attention on T.Y. Hilton, but Brown could have a big game.
I think there are multiple reasons why there isn’t much focus on running back Donald Brown. The Colts were the 20th-ranked team in rushing offense this season. They ran the ball 409 times to 589 passes, and quarterback Andrew Luck and wide receiver T.Y. Hilton are widely recognized as the team’s best offensive players.
A lot of the focus in the running game is on the failure of Trent Richardson rather than the success of Brown. Brown’s reputation also took a hit after four disappointing seasons anointed the running back a first-round bust.
Brown has been much better this year, though. He had 102 rushing attempts for 537 yards and six touchdowns. He added 27 catches for 214 yards and two more touchdowns.
With Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes out for the season, New England’s run defense could take another hit. The Patriots strung together three stout games against the Cleveland Browns, Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens before the Buffalo Bills were able to run all over them in Week 17.
Linebacker Dont’a Hightower and defensive tackle Sealver Siliga will be key in stopping Brown, though the bigger focus will be on Luck and Hilton.
What are the chances of picking a quarterback in the draft to be Brady’s heir?
If NFL Network’s Gil Brandt is correct and the Houston Texans go after quarterback Ryan Mallett, the chances are pretty good. That would leave the Patriots without a backup to Tom Brady, and it would make the most sense to draft a quarterback rather than sign one in free agency, since Brady is getting up there in years.
Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron and Georgia signal-caller Aaron Murray could make sense as potential targets.
We know that Matthew Mulligan has Hulkamania in his corner, but which Pats player would make the best WWE Superstar?
I would have said defensive tackle A.J. Francis, since his dream is to one day become a WWE Superstar, but he got picked up by the Miami Dolphins. So, he’s out.
Here’s my top five: wide receiver Julian Edelman (an X-Pac-type cruiserweight), offensive tackle Nate Solder (a more athletic Big Show), linebacker Brandon Spikes (a more entertaining Goldberg – imagine the spears), tight end Rob Gronkowski (who can Gronk possibly be compared to? His wrestling moves were impressive with a cast on his forearm. Imagine how much better they would be without a broken arm.) and defensive tackle Vince Wilfork (two words: Banzai Drop).
Given the effect that weather can give, should we root for snow or not?
There is almost no chance for snow, so all the rooting in the world would probably do no good. The high on Saturday is 51 degrees, and the low is a mild 48. There’s a 60 percent chance of rain, which could benefit the Patriots, since the Colts are used to playing indoors.
Who’s going to play on T.Y. Hilton? Nobody really has the speed to stick with him, but we can’t run a zone the whole game.
There are really four possibilities here. Let’s go through them:
1. Cornerback Kyle Arrington trails Hilton. Arrington has the best speed of any cornerback on the Patriots. He matched up well with Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace this season, and Hilton mostly works out of the slot, which is Arrington’s forte. Arrington would obviously see help from safety Devin McCourty if Hilton starts going deep.
2. No one trails Hilton. The Patriots could let the Colts dictate the matchups, letting Arrington take Hilton when he’s in the slot, cornerback Aqib Talib when Hilton’s on the defensive left and either cornerback Alfonzo Dennard or Logan Ryan when he’s on the right. It will be easier for Talib, Dennard or Ryan to press Hilton when he’s not working out of the slot. Arrington likely will just have to keep up.
3. Patriots go heavy on the zone. Zone has its pluses and minuses. The fear would be that Hilton and Luck could find holes in the zone, and the receiver’s yards-after-catch ability would be on full display. Of course, there would also be defenders all over the field positioned to stop Hilton. Going cover two helps take away the deep ball to some degree, but it could also leave the safeties out to dry since they would then essentially be forced into one-on-one matchups with Hilton.
4. Talib, Dennard or Ryan could trail Hilton. I see this as the least likely possibility since Dennard and Ryan don’t have the speed to keep up, and Talib’s talents don’t match up well with Hilton.
No matter which way the Patriots go, the cornerbacks will have plenty of help from McCourty and fellow safety Steve Gregory.
Will Dobson be able to play Saturday night?
It’s not looking good. The rookie wideout has missed practice for two straight weeks now. If he had practiced on Wednesday, his status would be in question. But since he didn’t, he’s looking doubtful.
How funny would Tom Brady look with a handlebar mustache?
Will the Pats beat Indy?
What are your feelings on the Pats making a run to the Super Bowl?
Who do you predict will be in the Super Bowl, and who do you think will win it?
A lot of Patriots fans seemed interested in these topics. I’ll save my pick for this week’s game until Friday, but I am leaning toward New England.
Whether the Patriots can make the Super Bowl depends on what happens this weekend. They’ll have a much better shot if the Chargers beat the Broncos. Of course, New England also has to win this week, otherwise all Super Bowl talk is moot.