Here we are. Week 10 and it's the Colts. This is a critical game, but not because we want to beat up on one of our biggest rivals. Unless both teams implode in the second half of the season, it's a forgone conclusion that they'll win their respective divisions. What's the first thing looked at when determining home field advantage in a playoff scenario? Head to head record. If seeding works out and we happen to face Indy in January, we want them in Foxboro. Take Peyton Manning out of his dome and put him in the snow, that's what I way.
But there's still the emotional part of beating Indy. We're 2-1 in the post season against Peyton and the boys, but we're 1-4 overall in our last 5 matchups. As a fan, me no likey. At about 11pm ET, I really want to see this face:
That's Fivehead's sad, pouty face. That's the face I want to see. But it's going to take a lot to get there. We're in their house and nothing gets a crowd of Indy fans going more than the Patriots playing their team in THEIR house. At least everyone will be warm and dry; it helps to have a roof 8 games a year.
If you're a believer in Football Outsiders' DVOA analysis, the Patriots are simply a better team overall. There's a lot that goes into DVOA and if you're a stats geek you should read the explanation, but in general, the Patriots are more efficient. Breaking it down a bit, overall the Pats are ranked 1 overall, 1 on offense, and 8 on defense. The Colts are 3 overall, 5 on offense, and 6 on defense. Statistics are fun, but they can't predict much of anything come game time. Even if Indy has struggled to beat what could be considered mediocre teams, they've found a way to win. However, the Patriots are better than every team they've faced.
Keys to winning against the Colts in the Lube? To be very Belichick-ian, "Score more points than the other team."
- RedZone Efficiency - It's not a stretch to say that our first ranked offense, based on DVOA, will be able to drive down the field against the Colts' sixth ranked defense. The issue is 3 vs. 6. I only want Stephen Gostkowski kicking extra points...and lots of them.
- Indy's inexperienced DB - There's a lot of young talent in the Colts' defensive backfield. They're doing pretty good for what they're contending with, but I think Tom Brady and crew should be picking on them mercilessly. Wes Welker is practically unstoppable underneath, but that's low yardage, chain moving stuff. We need to get Randy Moss matched up against a younger, weaker DB. Bob Sanders is out, but Melvin Bullitt is no slouch. More stuff against the young CB's is the key.
- Keep Manning off the field - I always hate this simplistic answer to the "How do we stop them" question, but it's true. He's their on-field offensive coordinator and is one of the best in the league at adjusting to defenses. He's especially good at pacing a game they way HE wants it paced. Take him out of the picture and Indy will have a long day.
- Smart defensive play - As stated above, Manning can adjust to a defensive look very quickly. Setup too early and Manning will audible another play. Setup too late and you could be caught flatfooted. If the Patriots can a) have a generic enough defensive plan and/or b) give Manning looks and adjust on the fly, they'll do well.
- Takeaway Manning's safety valve - Many will say Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon are Manning's most dangerous weapons. Like Moss, they are the deep ball threats. But, what if we eliminated Peyton's checkdown, his "third receiver"? Brandon McGowan has been given the job of covering Dallas Clark, the most prolific TE in the league to date. Calling him a pure TE and statistically matching him up in that category is a little ridiculous (more a TE/WR), but my point is remove that safety valve and Manning has nowhere to go. That is, as long as Wayne and Garcon aren't roaming the field at will.
- Benjamin Watson - Watson is very well known to the Colts, but the Patriots have been using him sparingly, almost as a sneak attack. Defenses seem to forget about him and pretty soon, they get burned. Indy knows enough to blanket Welker and Moss, but they'll simply run out of personnel when we spread the field. Maybe not as prolific as Clark, Watson can be just as dangerous.
- Ground game - We need Laurence Maroney, Sammy Morris, and Kevin Faulk to step up their game a bit. Indy is ranked 14th against the run so we should have some success their. I would also like to see Morris and Faulk used successfully as passing options. Like I mentioned above, Indy knows to take away Welker and Moss; Brady needs choices if we're to be successful.
That's it for now. What are your thoughts? What are your keys to success? Have at it.