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Ten things you have to know about Patriots-Colts

11.16.12 at 2:33 pm ET
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Brandon Lloyd has a chance to do some damage this week against the Colts. (AP)

Here’s everything you need to know about Sunday’s Patriots-Colts game:

Our three favorite matchups on the afternoon:

1. Wide receiver Brandon Lloyd against cornerback Darius Butler: The Colts will be without starting corners Vontae Davis and Jerraud Powers on Sunday, so that means Butler — a former second-round pick of the Patriots — will get the start against his old team. Butler performed very well against the Jaguars last week, coming away with two interceptions and a fumble recovery. Butler will work on the perimeter against Lloyd (42 catches, 75 targets, 480 yards, three TDs), who could have more opportunities in the passing game if Wes Welker and/or Aaron Hernandez aren’t able to go.

2. Left tackle Nate Solder against outside linebacker Dwight Freeney: For years, it was Matt Light who knocked heads with Freeney. (When he retired this past spring, Light called Freeney the toughest opponent he ever faced.) Now, it’ll be Solder going up against the Colts’ star pass rusher. Solder has performed about as well as could be expected as a left tackle this season — he hasn’t been elite, but he’s allowed just two sacks on Tom Brady’s blind side, and has been flagged just once this season (a false start). He’ll face a real test in Freeney (even though he has struggled with an ankle injury all season).

3. Running back Stevan Ridley against the Colts run defense: Ridley is the guy who has done more to bring balance to the New England running game than just about anyone else — through nine games, the second-year back out of LSU is sixth in the NFL with 814 yards, and has a chance to be the first New England running back to crack the 1,300-yard mark since Corey Dillon racked up 1,635 yards in 2004. Meanwhile, Indy is middle of the pack when it comes to stopping the run — the Colts have yielded 1,083 rushing yards on the season (20th in the league) and 120.3 yards per game (22nd in the league). This is a winnable matchup for New England.

4. Under the radar opponent who Patriots’ fans need to know: Tom Zbikowski. At least scheme-wise, the Colts defense has a lot of similarities to what’s been done for many years in Baltimore (no surprise, considering that Chuck Pagano made his bones with the Ravens). And Zbikowski, a former Baltimore defensive back, has been able to do a good job helping implement those schemes with his new team. The 5-foot-11, 200-pound safety out of Notre Dame has 29 tackles (22 solo), a sack and four passes defensed, all while serving as a positive presence in pass coverage (Pro Football Focus has him at +2.7 in coverage this season, third-best on the team). Zbikowski does a good job protecting the back end of the Colts defense — a part-time boxer, the 27-year-old brings a physical presence to the secondary.

5. By the numbers: Brady has thrown 127 straight passes without an interception, and has not been intercepted in his last three home games, according to STATS, Inc.
6. Quote from the Colts: “Yeah, you don’t know exactly how they’re going to use all those tight ends or how Wes Welker is going to get open, but he’s going to get in there and dance around and get open. You’ve just got to have enough pass rush and patience to get there and make sure you tackle extremely well. You know, (running back Danny) Woodhead and all those guys are great run-after-the-catch guys. You can’t let them take a five-yard pass and turn it into a 50-yard gain. You minimize the run after the catch with these guys and you’ll do a pretty good job. Then mix up your coverages because you’re not going to show (Tom Brady) anything he’s never seen. You’ve just got to hopefully continue to change it to where he can’t get comfortable.”
—Interim coach/offensive coordinator Bruce Arians on facing a Brady-led offense.

7. Patriots fans should be worried about….. Reggie Wayne. For years, he was always playing second fiddle to someone else in the Indy passing game, but with so much turnover on the offensive side of the ball in Indianapolis, he’s now emerged as one of the best in the league. In fact, the veteran receiver for whom the Patriots made a play in the offseason is having the best year of an already impressive career. Through nine games, the 33-year-old has 69 catches for 931 yards and three touchdowns. If he stays on pace, he will come away with career-bests in receptions and receiving yards. A smart veteran who can give you fits if not properly defended.

8. Colts fans should be worried about…. New England’s ability to force turnovers. Like last week against the Bills, the Patriots are facing a team that has struggled to protect the football at times. For a team that’s in the playoff hunt, Indy’s -9 takeaway ratio is astounding. (Although to be fair, a lot of that is based on the inability of the Colts defense to force turnovers — Indy has forced just six takeaways this season, the worst total in the league.) Compounding problems for the Colts is that New England not only has a knack for taking the ball away, it seems to create turnovers at the most opportune moments. All three of the takeaways last week against Buffalo meant something as the Patriots improved to a league-best +16. The Patriots will try and duplicate their takeaway trickery this week against Indy.

9. One more thing: Aqib Talib should be active this weekend against the Colts, and there should be a significant expectation level for the new cornerback in his first game with his new team. At the same time, expect the Patriots to start him out modestly and grow from there, meaning that he shouldn’t be asked to play deep into the game. Talib is not only getting integrated into a new defensive scheme, he’s also coming off an extended stretch on the shelf because of a league-mandated suspension for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. (The four-game ban actually worked out to five weeks — New England was on a bye for one of the weeks after Talib was traded, which doesn’t count toward his overall suspension.) As Belichick has reminded the media on several occasions, there’s a difference between being in shape and being in “football shape.” There have been exceptions to the rule: offensive linemen Brian Waters and Logan Mankins had an ability to hit the ground running, literally. In 2011, Waters went from signing his contract on Sept. 4 to playing 86 percent of the snaps in the regular-season opener against the Dolphins just eight days later. And the same week he returned from a holdout in 2010, Mankins played 78 percent of the snaps in his first game back. But mainly because he’s a new face in a new system, don’t expect the same level of participation from Talib this week.

10. Prediction:

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