The Patriots had a pretty rough start to the season in the injury department. They lost starting defensive end Ty Warren, #1 CB Leigh Bodden, #1 RB Fred Taylor, #3 RB Kevin Faulk, (even Laurence Maroney in trade), Projected #3 WR Torry Holt, Projected LG Nick Kaczur, SS Brandon McGowan, and, recently, K Stephen Gostkowski. That's pretty rough and the Patriots have done pretty well considering the caliber of players they lost and who they replaced them with (mostly rookies and younger players).
Well, let's take a glance at the Colts. They're missing their #1 TE Dallas Clark, their #2 TE Tom Santi, their #1 SS Melvin Bullitt, their former #2 receiver Anthony Gonzalez and those are the players they have on the IR. Look at who missed practice on Wednesday:
Joseph Addai RB Neck Did Not Participate (out past 3 games, #1 RB)
Gary Bracket LB Toe Did Not Participate (out past 1 game, #1 MLB)
Brody Eldridge TE Rib Did Not Participate (played last week, #1 TE [or #2 if you count Jacob Tamme, who is suffering from back issues])
Dwight Freeney DT Rested Did Not Participate (played last week, #1 Monster)
Mike Hart RB Ankle Did Not Participate (out past 2 games, #3 RB)
Bob Sanders DB Biceps Did Not Participate (out past 8 games, #1 FS)
Clint Session LB Elbow Did Not Participate (out past 2 games, #1 WLB)
Justin Tryon DB Foot Did Not Participate (out past 2 games, #5 CB)
Reggie Wayne WR Knee Did Not Participate (played last week, #1 WR)
Look at that. The Colts are down their top two tight ends and their top remaining tight end has a rib injury. Their #1 and #3 RBs are injured. Their #1, #3 and #4 receivers are nursing injuries and their #2 is Pierre Garcon who can't catch a cold, even if Peyton Manning threw it to him. They've missed their starting MLB and WLB. Dwight Freeney is receiving rest, and the impact of his not being 100% is extreme- just look at the Super Bowl.
Basically, the Patriots have had a rough season with injuries. The Colts might as well be playing with an ambulance at tight end and a drunk guy out of the stands at wide receiver. While it's always nice to play a team at full strength, thus is the way of the NFL and the Football gods have deemed us unworthy of a healthy battle. As a result, the Patriots must take advantage of the Colts' injuries and add a big win to their record. In a neck-and-neck race with the New York Jets, every win counts and could be the difference between a Super Bowl path with two home playoff games, or three playoff games on the road. Feelings have to go out the window in this match-up and the Patriots must do everything in their power to leave the Razor with a win.
Find out how after the jump!
Looking at the Colts, it appears most of their injuries have been on offense and with their linebackers and safeties. Peyton Manning has had two terrible outings the past two weeks and it's clear he is missing his receivers and offense. The offensive line is inserting new players- but not like how the Patriots inserted Logan Mankins. Mankins is an improvement to the line. The Colts are super gluing their line and hoping that someone steps up and performs. In fact, the only really strong players on their offense is Manning, Wayne and Tamme- and Tamme has a back injury.
How the Patriots can take advantage while on offense!
So the Colts are hurting at linebacker and safety. That means the middle of the field is torn apart. Hey! The Patriots have Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and Wes Welker, all who seem to enjoy the middle of the field. See where I'm going with this? Add in the fact that their cornerbacks aren't great and the Patriots should be able to cut up their secondary through the air.
Picture this offensive set:
WR1: Deion Branch - 15 yard sideline hitch or out route.
WR2: Wes Welker - 7 yard in/cross/slant route.
TE1: Rob Gronkowski - 7 yard drag route.
TE2: Aaron Hernandez, set off-line - 20 yard hitch route.
RB: Danny Woodhead - 5 yard outlet route.
Branch will command a double team with a cornerback and a safety over the top, cheating towards his side of the field. That's just how the Colts will function since their cornerbacks cannot play man defense. Welker will run across the field to drag his cover man out of position, but also to create a potential mismatch with the inexperienced linebackers in the middle of the field. Gronkowski will run to the sidelines, much like his touchdown routes, in order to be either wide open, or to drag the linebackers away from the middle and away from Welker. Hernandez will run down the field to keep the safeties away from the first down marker, but also because he might end up open with a mismatch. Woodhead will just be an outlet like he always is.
The #1 target is Welker. With Hernandez, Branch and Gronkowski hopefully drawing coverage away from the middle of the field, and with Woodhead most likely needed in pass protection, Welker should be in a favorable position in the middle of the field.
The #2 target is Gronkowski. If Welker is covered, that means the linebackers are in the middle and Gronk should be pretty open towards the sidelines. Big gain.
The #3 target is either Branch or Hernandez, depending on how much the safeties are shifting. Both should be open by virtue of the hitch routes, but it depends on who is helping with coverage. Stay away from Antoine Bethea because he can make plays on the ball and throw to the player who Bethea isn't near.
The #4 target is Woodhead as the outlet.
If the Patriots can utilize the middle of the field, where the Colts are using players with little experience, and take advantage of their weak corners who should draw safety help, then the Patriots offense should be able to move the ball. Once they move the ball in the air, they should be able to start running the ball more easily if the Colts adjust to stop the pass. If they don't adjust, hey, keep throwing the ball. The Patriots need to take advantage of the inexperience of their defense and use innovative plays to catch them out of position and off guard. Look for a lot of play actions. Look for a couple end-arounds. Look for a flea flicker. I believe the Patriots kept a trick or two up their sleeve that they're going to reveal against the Colts.