In the lead-up to the Patriots vs. Colts Divisional Playoff match-up, I asked the Pats Pulpit staff what they thought would be the biggest key to victory for the Patriots on Sunday.
Greg Knopping: Keeping the Balance
The Patriots were able to pull off back-to-back late season victories by playing a physical brand of football that began and finished with the running attack. In victories over the Ravens and Bills, the Patriots ran the ball a considerably higher amount than they threw it. Now, to some degree, I think the Patriots should actually look to the pass a bit more than they have the last two weeks. But if the Patriots are going to win a game against a Colts team that can clearly catch fire at any moment, they are going to need to establish an even run-pass balance that can milk the clock while keeping the Colts' defense honest.
Alec Shane: Containing Andrew Luck
Equally as important as limiting the Indianapolis running game is making sure that Luck isn’t allowed to extend plays by using his legs. Several times this year the Patriots have had a mobile quarterback dead to rights in the backfield, usually on third down, only to see him scramble for a first down and huge gain. Like the Patriots, Indy is extremely thin at the receiver position, and preventing Luck from buying the necessary time for those receivers to get open. There’s no way that TY Hilton will have the kind of day he had last week – coach simply won’t allow it – and so look for Luck to use a lot of check downs to Donald Brown and Coby Fleener. Making sure that Luck isn’t able to take off, elude the sack, or get inside the linebackers’ heads by running amok is going to go a long way in determining how close this game is.
Adam Fox: Establishing the Running Game
The Patriots will need to build upon an absolutely terrifying performance from LeGarrette Blount during week 17 to solidify their game plan against the Colts. Indianapolis dug themselves into quite a hole last week against the Chiefs, but were able to quickly turn the tide after an abysmal first half that saw them behind by double-digits (sound familiar?) The Patriots' success in the later part of the regular season has been predicated on playing to their strengths -- owning the trenches and allowing their stable of running backs to shoulder the work load. Not only does this limit what the Colts' defense is able to key in on, it also keeps Brady's jersey clean and opens up plenty of possibilities in the passing game in the form of the playaction. If the Colts are able to limit the effectiveness of Blount, Ridley and Vereen, the Patriots will look to plan B, but plan A will undoubtedly be heavy doses of a surprisingly effective power running game. It'll keep the ball out of Luck's hands, and will afford the Patriots the ability to dictate the pace of the game -- of utmost importance for a bruised roster trying to take advantage of their home field.
SlotMachinePlayer: Controlling the Tempo
On offense they need to establish the run and the play action. They need to burn time on offense to tire the Colts defense and keep ours fresh. That will allow our defense to attack better, will keep Luck from establishing a rhythm, and hopefully limit his time on the field.
Richard Hill: Red Zone Execution
The Patriots will exploit the Colts secondary and get into the red zone. Once they get there, the Pats will either win the game by executing well and taking advantage of the opportunity, or they're going to kick a field goal, let Indy hang around too long, and ultimately lose. I think the Patriots know their identity at this point and they'll have to manufacture separation in the red zone. They won't be winning any physical jump balls- they're going to have to slip free of the coverage with screens, rubs, and pick plays in order to score with the yards after the catch.
Kevin O'Connor: Don't Start Slow
The New England Patriots can’t afford to experience a bye week hangover against the Indianapolis Colts. After last week’s terrible first half by Indy, there’s a chance they come out firing on all cylinders this week at Gillette. And besides, haven’t the Patriots gotten off to a slow start every single game this season, forcing themselves to have to make a comeback? Well, not every game, but it certainly feels that way. The playoffs are a different monster and having to play from behind is more difficult. For New England to do anything they really want to do (control the tempo, establish the run, play with balance, etc.), they must first have a good start to the game.
What are your thoughts? What do you as the biggest key to a Patriots victory on Saturday?