Five incredibly early thoughts on the Patriots and Colts
|01.05.14 at 5:29 pm ET|
Here are five thoughts on Saturday’s divisional playoff contest between the Patriots and Colts:
1. Turnovers will be at a premium. The Patriots and Colts were two of the best teams in the league when it comes to turnover ratio. New England was a plus-9 over the course of the regular season, good for eighth-best in the NFL — the Patriots defense forced 17 picks and recovered 12 fumbles, while Tom Brady and the offense had 11 picks and just nine fumbles as a team. Saturday’s playoff game aside, the Colts also do a good job taking care of the ball — they were plus-13, third-best in the NFL. Andrew Luck threw 10 picks, while the team lost four fumbles. Meanwhile, Indy came away with 15 picks and recovered 12 fumbles of their own.
2. Expect a matchup between Aqib Talib and T.Y. Hilton for a portion of the evening. Since Reggie Wayne went down midway through the season, the Colts have leaned on Hilton fairly exclusively when it comes to the deep passing game. Hilton finished with 82 catches (on 138 targets) for 1,083 yards and five touchdowns, all of which are team-highs, and added 13 catches for 224 yards and two touchdowns in Saturday’s wild-card win over the Chiefs. Meanwhile, the Patriots have utilized Talib against the opposing team’s No. 1 pass catcher for the bulk of the season. The All-Pro corner has responded nicely with shutdown games against the likes of Julio Jones, Jimmy Graham and Vincent Jackson. It won’t be wire-to-wire, man coverage all night, but the two will face off against each other frequently throughout the contest.
3. When it comes to run defense, the Patriots caught a huge break. The Colts really struggled to run the ball consistently this season. They didn’t need to worry about it too much in their remarkable playoff win over the Chiefs — Luck had 45 pass attempts, while Indy ran the ball just 19 times on Saturday — but Indy is as one-dimensional as they come when you’re talking about a team in the final eight. Over the course of the regular season, the Colts averaged 108.9 rushing yards per game, tied for 20th in the NFL. Donald Brown had 102 carries for 537 yards and six touchdowns over the course of the season, and is the only real threat in the ground game for the Colts. For a New England team that struggled to stop the run over the course of the second half of the season, this represents a sizable break.
4. Conversely, the Patriots should be able to move the ball on the ground against Indy. The Colts showed some stoutness on defense over the last month of the season — Indy allowed an average of 6.7 points per game over the final three weeks of the regular season, and old warhorse Robert Mathis led the league with 19.5 sacks — and while the group certainly didn’t impress anyone over the first two-plus quarters against the Chiefs, they got some good stops down the stretch in the third and fourth quarters, allowing the offense the chance to climb back into the game. The one stat that really stands out as a potential vulnerability for Indy is its run defense: over the course of the regular season, the Colts were 26th in the league against the run, allowing an average of 125.1 rushing yards per game. Indy yielded 100 or more yards on the ground in 13 of its 16 games this season. Considering the fact that the Patriots have averaged 168 rushing yards their last three games, this is a winnable matchup for New England.
5. Penalties will be at a premium. These were two of the least-penalized teams over the course of the regular season. The Colts were best when it came to total penalties (66) and penalty yardage (576). Meanwhile, the Patriots were second in the league in penalties (69) and third in the league in penalty yardage (625).