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Heath Evans on Mut & Merloni: If Patriots are in close game vs. Colts in fourth quarter, ‘I’d be nervous’

01.08.14 at 2:44 pm ET
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Former Patriots running back Heath Evans, now an NFL Network analyst, joined Mut & Merloni on Wednesday to preview Saturday’s Patriots-Colts playoff game and discuss other NFL news. To listen to the interview, visit the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

Evans cautioned the Patriots need to be wary of Andrew Luck‘s ability to run with the football, and he said the Colts have a chance to pull out a win if they can keep the game close entering the final period.

“I go back to the Carolina game for New England,” Evans said. “Cam Newton didn’t beat you guys with his arm. He beat you guys with three or four opportunistic runs. Well, Andrew Luck can dice you guys up with his arm if your coverages aren’t sound. Then he can pop off for those two or three opportunistic runs as well.

“We’ve seen the Patriots play great defense; we’ve seen them play average defense. Brandon Spikes, you’re missing a thumper. We know this Indianapolis team hasn’t been able to run the ball consistently this year in any way. But golly, you talk about Vince [Wilfork] and [Jerod] Mayo and now Spikes — all the different lumps this team has taken along the way. I’ve never second-guessed Bill [Belichick], but you kind of keep asking yourself, how long can Bill and Matt Patricia find these game plans to cover for these huge missing parts.

“So, Andrew Luck, if they’re in it in the fourth quarter, I’d be nervous, I’ll just say that.”

Added Evans: “I know Bill well enough to know [Coby] Fleener‘s not going to be open, there’s going to be a game plan for T.Y. Hilton. It’s going to be other guys that have to step up and make plays. And that’s just where Luck has shown that ability for these last two seasons, just to make things happen. Is he [Tom] Brady yet? No. Is he [Aaron] Rodgers yet? No. But doggone, this guy just finds a way to get it done.

“If they can get the ball rolling in the ground game, that’s going to take focus away from T.Y. Hilton where you might slip in one of those deep shots that break your back late in the game. I just think it’s ball-control offense on the Patriots’ side of things. Brady and his boys are going to have to be spot on. You can’t see the young mistakes from young players. I think this will be — as Bill’s probably been preaching all week — it will be a turnover-driven game. Who’s giving the ball up, who’s getting extra possessions and then who’s not?”

On the Patriots’ offensive side, Evans said the key — especially without injured tight end Rob Gronkowski — is the ground game.

“When they run the ball they’re lethal. When they can’t, I don’t want to say they’re an average offense because this is Tom Brady we’re talking about. But they become beatable when they can’t run the football,” Evans said.

Following are more highlights from the interview. For more Patriots news, visit the team page at weei.com/patriots.

On the Colts signing former Patriots receiver Deion Branch: “The thing about Deion is he’s super smart. So I look at him two ways. The player that helps Andrew Luck and this offense, he’s a guy that in a week’s time can get in there and learn a playbook and play X, Y, Z and play all the different parts of their offense and be an integral part that Andrew can trust ad find when need be for probably three or four crucial catches in the game.

“In the scouting report side of things, listen, he knows that offense and he knows Tommy, he knows Josh McDaniels, and he knows third-and-short, this is what they’re thinking, third-and-long, deep red zone, this is the tendency, this is what they want. What does Brady like, what he doesn’t like. On goal-line run schemes, because they’re very simple but nobody can stop them. There’s a lot of coaching input that a very smart, intelligent player can help a team with, like Deion. ‘€¦

“We’ll see if he’s even active. We’ll see what this is all about. But listen, definitely a smart move by the Colts. It’s one you can’t get hurt by.”

On Peyton Manning and the Broncos, whom Evans predicts will lose to the Chargers: “If you look at what San Diego’s doing now, I think Denver will be fools if they weren’t scared and shaking in their boots. I think you guys are dead on: Give [Manning] his credit for being the best regular-season quarterback ever. You know what I mean? And you can throw some guys in the mix that you could argue. But he’s the best. His numbers will say it, the MVPs will say it. But there’s something about the guys that find a way to throw their teams on their backs in the playoffs, in the Super Bowl, and run their teams to Lombardis. Brady’s done it. You look at Peyton. Heck, my Super Bowl ring with the Saints, you could argue that Peyton gave me that ring with the interception to Tracy Porter. Last year that was kind of a fluke nonsense that went on vs. Baltimore in the divisional round, but they still lost. And he had an interception in that game, down the stretch. So, listen, the tape always tells you what people are. He’s an amazing quarterback that just hasn’t been able to play at that amazing level in the playoffs. ‘€¦

“I think the toughness award goes to the Chargers. I think they beat them there. Philip Rivers and Mike McCoy and Ken Whisenhunt, these boys are playing some really good offensive football.”

On the possibility of the league adding another playoff team to each conference: “Why water down the competition anymore? This is supposed to be the best of the best. You look at a team like Dallas, you look at some of these teams that were right on the cuff. Do we really want them in the playoffs? Are they deserving of an extra week? I know it’s about revenue. If it’s good financially for the league I’m sure they’ll push it through. But this is supposed to be the elite of the elite. I know we keep seeing some of these 6 seeds make a press, end up winning a ring sometimes. But keep it as is. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. But we know what it comes down to. It’s about money. So I’m sure it won’t be too long before we’re seeing it.”

Read More: Andrew Luck, Bill Belichick, Deion Branch, Heath Evans
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