The Patriots must stay strong on defense. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
The Colts offense is depleted. They're down to their bare bones and practice squad when it comes to players to help out Manning on offense. Peyton Manning's struggled the past two weeks and the Patriots will hope to go for magic number 3. Apart from Reggie Wayne, the Colts don't have a solid threat on offense.
WR #1 Reggie Wayne - One of the best receivers in the game
WR #2 Pierre Garcon - Stone Hands
WR #3 Austin Collie - Recovering from a concussion, unknown if he'll play
WR #4 Blair White - Recovering from a should injury, unknown if he'll play
WR #5 Brandon James - Stone Hands
FB/TE #1 Jacob Tamme - Suffering from a back injury, but a threat as a receiver
TE #2 Brody Eldridge - Weak as a receiver, good as a blocker
TE #3 Gijon Robinson - Terrible all around player
RB #1 Joseph Addai - Recovering from a neck injury, unknown if he'll play
RB #3 Mike Hart - Recovering from an ankle injury, unknown if he'll play
RB #4 Javarris James - The Patriots added him to their practice squad and then released him. Yeah.
I highlighted the players that are built to give the Patriots fits on defense. Only Wayne is healthy. This looks good for the Patriots. Here's how the Patriots can match-up players in order to slow the Colts' offense. A sort of "If A, then B" style of defense.
Read about my defensive plan after the jump!
If Wayne is on the field, have him covered by Kyle Arrington and Brandon Meriweather. Hell, shift a linebacker over to help bump him on the line. Wayne is the player that needs to be eliminated from the Colts offense and Belichick knows this- and he loves to eliminate the key player of the opposing offense. Look for Wayne to be the focus of the defense.
If Garcon is on the field, have him covered by Devin McCourty on an island. Garcon is his own worst enemy and will drop many catchable balls. McCourty should take advantage of this and generate a turnover or two.
If Collie is on the field, have him covered by McCourty and have James Sanders or Jonathan Wilhite cover Garcon. Collie is a bigger weapon than Garcon and should command the strongest cover man on the Patriots defense.
If Tamme is on the field, have him covered by Gary Guyton underneath and Pat Chung over the top. Tamme has become one of Manning's favorite targets so the Patriots must eliminate him. If Tamme and Wayne get smothered, the Colts won't have an offense. If Tamme is on for a two tight end set, have a strong safety (Sergio Brown) step up to help stop the run play, but also to stay in coverage in case Tamme goes for a route.
If Eldridge is on the field, have him covered by Rob Ninkovich since he most likely will be a blocker and, if he goes as a receiver, Ninkovich is a capable cover linebacker.
If Addai/Brown/Hart is on the field, have him covered by Dane Fletcher a la Ray Rice coverage. Have his job be to spy the running back and the running back alone. Eliminate any outlet passes or screen dump passes with a linebacker who will never cheat towards the quarterback and abandon his man.
In addition, the Patriots linemen and linebackers should vary depending upon the down. On passing downs, the Patriots should feature a defensive line of Vince Wilfork at NT, Gerard Warren at RDE and Mike Wright at LDE, with Wright stunting around Wilfork and creating a lane to Manning. Gary Guyton should be on the field for passing downs, as should Tully Banta-Cain. On running downs, the line should be Wilfork, Ron Brace and Brandon Deaderick in order to stuff any possible run plays, with Brandon Spikes clogging lanes, with Jermaine Cunningham setting the outside edge.
So here's an example for a defense:
Colts: Wayne, Garcon, Collie, Tamme, Addai, Offensive Line (5), Manning
Patriots: Arrington + Meriweather, Sanders, McCourty, Chung (in pass coverage), Guyton, Fletcher, Mayo, Wilfork, Warren, Wright
While this defensive set may not generate much pressure, Jerod Mayo is always able to run up the middle of the Colts' offensive line if he sees a lane and if there's no opposing player in his zone. While I believe that Wilfork, Warren and Wright can consistently collapse the pocket of the Colts, the Patriots still need one more player who can take advantage of the collapsed pocket- so Mayo must charge up the middle every so often to force a bad throw by Manning.
Colts: Wayne, Garcon, Tamme, Eldridge, Addai, Offensive Line (5), Manning
Patriots: Arrington + Meriweather, McCourty, Brown (in the box, spying Tamme), Chung (in the box), Ninkovich, Mayo, Spikes, Brace, Wilfork, Deaderick
This defense should be able to both stop the run and prevent any outlet passes. While Tamme is always a threat to be a receiver, the Patriots can stick Brown on Tamme, just like how they should stick Fletcher on the running back. Engage with the target and don't let him out of their sight, regardless of what is developing around them.
The Patriots defense will rely on the consistent play of Arrington, Meriweather, McCourty, Chung, Mayo and Wilfork. These six players should be on the field for most of the defensive snaps. Tully Banta-Cain, Jermaine Cunningham and Rob Ninkovich should rotate around at the outside linebacker slot, but I honestly see the Patriots running a lot of 3-3-5 to counter the Colts' aerial attack.
It's clear that the Colts have been suffering from an absurd quantity of injuries this season. That's no reason for the Patriots not to take advantage of the situation and dominate the Colts. I hope the Patriots create match-ups that exploit the inexperienced players the Colts are being forced to start on both offense and defense. This game will last 60 minutes. The Patriots cannot afford to resort to the prevent defense until the game is over and they're back in the locker room. You hear that coaches? NO PREVENT DEFENSE. That is all. Thank you.