Patriots’ Defense Could Shake Up Matchups Against Colts Receivers

Covering Coby Fleener wasn’t supposed to be an issue in Week 11.

It seemed that the New England Patriots had the perfect player to cover the Indianapolis Colts tight end after last season’s divisional-round playoff walloping. Linebacker Jamie Collins held Fleener to two catches for just 12 yards on five targets in the Patriots’ 43-22 win, while other defenders allowed four catches on five targets for 62 yards to the Colts tight end.

Cut to Week 11 of the 2014 season and Collins obviously was covering Fleener, right? Wrong. It was cornerback Brandon Browner, who at 6-foot-4, 221 pounds, seemed like a perfectly good matchup for the 6-foot-6, 251-pound Fleener on paper.

Well, that’s the issue with paper.

Browner allowed five catches on five targets for 118 yards to the Colts tight end, accounting for more than one-third of quarterback Andrew Luck’s passing stats.

The Patriots should be back at square one this week figuring out matchups. Darrelle Revis is nice (understatement alert) because he can cover anyone. In Week 11, it was veteran receiver Reggie Wayne, but he could take on the Colts’ No. 1 wideout T.Y. Hilton, too.

Slot cornerback Kyle Arrington excelled against Hilton in Week 11, but the Patriots don’t necessarily need to be locked in to matchups.

Colts starting tight end Dwayne Allen, who suffered an injury early in the Week 11 matchup and didn’t play last season, throws a wrench in the Patriots’ potential plans, but only a slight one. Patrick Chung has proven to be strong in coverage against tight ends this season, and he can combine with Collins to cover Fleener and Allen.

The Patriots obviously will mix in some zone looks too, but let’s look at some potential matchups depending on what alignments the Colts throw out:

12 Personnel (1 RB, 2 TEs, 2 WRs)
Darrelle Revis-T.Y. Hilton
Brandon Browner-Reggie Wayne
Jamie Collins-Dwayne Allen/Coby Fleener
Patrick Chung-Allen/Fleener
Dont’a Hightower-running back

The Patriots also could elect to use Arrington over Browner in two-cornerback sets, which seems unlikely based on how the Patriots have matched up their defenders this season, but he definitely fits the Indianapolis receivers’ skill sets better. Here’s how that would look:

Revis-Wayne
Arrington-Hilton
Collins-Allen/Fleener
Chung-Allen/Fleener
Hightower-running back

11 Personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WRs)
Revis-Wayne
Browner-Donte Moncrief/Hakeem Nicks
Arrington-Hilton
Chung-Allen/Fleener
Hightower/Collins-running back

Those matchups seem to make a ton of sense in nickel, and you can even swap Revis and Arrington depending on where Wayne is lined up. Wayne primarily plays in the slot in nickel sets, where Arrington could handle him.

Regardless of how the Patriots match up, they need to avoid plays like this:

and this:

and even this:

Thumbnail Photo via Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY Sports Images

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