The matchup is set: The New England Patriots will face the Indianapolis Colts at 8:15 p.m. Saturday at Gillette Stadium.
Facing the comeback Colts sounds dangerous after quarterback Andrew Luck‘s second-half heroics in the Colts’ 45-44 wild card-round win over the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday, but the Patriots actually match up well with Indianapolis on paper. These two teams last faced each other last season, when New England drubbed Luck 59-24. Luck had a rough game, throwing three interceptions and losing a fumble. That was cornerback Aqib Talib‘s first game with the Patriots. He brought back an interception 59 yards for a touchdown. Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard also had a pick-six.
Luck has come a long way since then, as he showed Saturday afternoon against the Chiefs. The Colts came back from down 38-10 to win. Still, Luck had a very down-then-up game, throwing three interceptions. If he does that against the Patriots, he likely won’t have the same opportunity to make a comeback.
Let’s check out how these two teams match up.
Patriots’ passing offense vs. Colts’ passing defense.
New England ranked 10th in passing offense during the regular season, throwing for 255.5 yards per game; Indianapolis ranked 13th in passing defense, allowing 231.9 yards per game.
Quarterback Tom Brady should be able to move the ball against the Colts. Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith had little trouble, throwing for four touchdowns and 378 yards with no interceptions. Running back Shane Vereen will be key for Brady. The Patriots have to get the third-down back involved in the passing game.
Getting either Aaron Dobson or Kenbrell Thompkins into the game plan will be big, too. Dobson has an injured foot, and Thompkins played but was not targeted in the Patriots’ last game. Someone has to play the “X” receiver spot and take the top off Indianapolis’ defense to free up receivers Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola.
Another key for the Patriots passing the ball will be stopping outside linebacker Robert Mathis from getting pressure on Brady. Mathis had 19.5 sacks on the season. EDGE: Patriots
Patriots’ rushing offense vs. Colts’ run defense.
New England ranked ninth in rushing offense during the regular season, running for 129.1 yards per game; Indianapolis ranked 26th in rushing defense, allowing 125.1 yards per game.
Once again, I think the Patriots hold the advantage here, just as the stats say. The Colts allowed 150 yards on the ground to the Chiefs, and star running back Jamaal Charles ran for just 18 before leaving the game with a concussion. Of course, quarterback Alex Smith also ran for 57 yards, which Brady will not be doing.
Running back LeGarrette Blount has been on a tear lately. He’ll likely start again this week. The Patriots have also trusted Stevan Ridley at the end of games to kill the clock, despite his fumbling issues earlier in the season.
Guard Logan Mankins missed practice with an ankle injury last week. If he cannot go, rookie Josh Kline would start at left guard in his place.
If New England gets ahead, Blount and Ridley can put the game away. EDGE: Patriots
Patriots’ passing defense vs. Colts’ passing offense.
New England ranked 18th in passing defense during the regular season, allowing 239 yards per game; Indianapolis ranked 17th in passing offense, throwing for 232.8 yards per game.
It will be difficult for the Patriots to stop wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, who racked up 224 yards and two touchdowns on 13 catches in Round 1 against the Chiefs. New England cornerback Aqib Talib will likely lock onto the left side of the field, with cornerback Kyle Arrington trailing Hilton. Talib does not match up well with Hilton’s shiftiness, though the All-Pro’s change of direction has improved in recent weeks as his hip has healed.
Arrington has the best speed of the New England cornerbacks. He matched up against wide receiver Mike Wallace both times the Patriots played the Miami Dolphins. Hilton is not overly physical, so Arrington could probably jam the speedy second-year wideout when necessary. Arrington will need safety Devin McCourty‘s help over the top.
Tight end Coby Fleener will likely find some holes in New England’s defense. Rookie linebacker Jamie Collins might have to match up with the Stanford product. Talib would match up well with physical undrafted rookie wide receiver Da’Rick Rogers.
The Patriots secondary is one of the best in the NFL when fully healthy, but that has not been the case lately. Talib has his hip, Arrington has a groin injury, safety Steve Gregory has a bum knee and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard was sidelined in Week 17 with knee and shoulder injuries. McCourty will be back after suffering a concussion in Week 16.
If Luck is on his A-game, however, it’s tough to stop Indianapolis’ passing game. The Patriots will need to find a way to force some turnovers. EDGE: Colts
Patriots’ run defense vs. Colts’ rushing offense.
New England ranked 30th in run defense during the regular season, allowing 134.1 yards per game; Indianapolis ranked 20th, running for 108.9 yards per game.
This is probably the closest matchup. The Patriots have really improved their run defense throughout this season. There were some rough stretches after defensive tackles Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly were lost for the season, but it appears New England found a gem in third-year nose tackle Sealver Siliga. Since Siliga became a starter, Dont’a Hightower has upped his game at linebacker.
The Colts have got almost nothing out of trading for second-year running back Trent Richardson. He carried the ball once on Saturday and fumbled the ball after gaining no yards. Donald Brown has had a nice year, but even the Buffalo Bills’ two-headed monster of C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson wasn’t able to gash the Patriots too badly on the ground last Sunday.
Linebacker Brandon Spikes has been dealing with a knee injury. He wasn’t himself for the last three weeks of the season. The Patriots have to be hoping the bye week treats the fourth-year pro well. EDGE: Patriots