If the last game against Peyton Manning and the Broncos was about the Patriots mythos, then this week against Andrew Luck and the Colts is for season's ethos. This Tom Brady-led team can fight with any and all comers but they need to prove their ability away from the confines of Gillette. With the Colts being such a strong team at home, a Patriots victory will go a long way to putting some refined touches on this year's identity.
The Patriots are beyond the point where they need good fortune to win- especially when compared to earlier in the season- but they will still need to take advantage of all Indianapolis mistakes to put their dangerous opponent away.
1. Turnovers - The Patriots are tied with the 8-1 Cardinals for the best turnover margin in the league at +12. The Colts and their 2nd worst 1.67 turnovers per game make them a serious target for the opportunitic Patriots defense. The Patriots rank 4th with forcing 2.0 turnovers per game. On the other side, the Patriots have allowed a league low 6 turnovers. If the Patriots can stick with the rates and finish the game with a +2 turnover ratio, they'll be in a great position to win.
2. Uncork Rob Gronkowski - The last time the Patriots faced a team so weak against tight ends they were against the lowly Jets and barely escaped with a victory (the Colts are bottom three in the league). Gronk saw a healthy 10 targets, but only managed to reel in 5 receptions for 68 yards. They'll need to double that output from Gronk to really attack the Colts and their weakness. It wouldn't be surprising to see a heavy dose of Tim Wright should the Colts try and designate additional focus on slowing Gronk.
3. Establish the Run - The Patriots are one of the most play action reliant teams in the league so establishing a run identity early in the game will help push the tempo while on offense. On the flip side, the Patriots can't afford to struggle to run the ball if the Colts get to an early lead- that's the key way to let the game get away from them. Luckily Jonas Gray is the perfect type of running back to attack the Colts up the middle of the field until the defense has to respect the run.
4. Contain Andrew Luck - The easiest way for Luck to attack a defense is by getting out of the pocket. He's a big enough threat to run for a first down and accurate enough on the move where the Colts can consistently win the scenario. The Patriots will need to use their defensive ends to contain the edges of the pocket while receiving consistent push from the defensive tackles. Don't expect big sack numbers from the defense- that will likely mean they abandoned their gap integrity. Keep Luck inside the pocket and collapse the space and he'll make a mistake.
5. 60 Minutes - The Patriots did a good job of playing 60 minutes against the Broncos, even though they let up a lot of yards towards the end of the game. The key is that the defense didn't really go into the prevent; yes, they likely were more concerned about stopping the big play, but watching the defensive alignments the cornerbacks still played consistently tight coverage until the final whistle. All three of the offense, defense, and special teams will have to play until the final second trickles off the clock.