These Patriots are not an easy bunch to figure out. One week they’ll try to ram the ball down an opponent’s throat with the run, the next they’ll spread it out and attack through the air, and they’ll follow that with an ultra hurry-up approach to rattle a defense and open up holes. What’ll it be this Sunday against the Colts? Our three Patriots reporters try to get into the mind of Bill Belichick and guess the game plan for Sunday.
Share your thoughts on how the Pats should attack or defend the Colts in the comments section.
Mike Reiss: Patriots will focus on shutting down Wayne
When Bill Belichick is at his scheming best, he designs a defensive game-plan for players to execute that takes away what an offense relies upon most. This week, it couldn’t be much clearer: Find a way to limit receiver Reggie Wayne, who leads the NFL in targets (105) and is playing at an All-Pro level.
The Patriots had success with something similar in Week 2 against Larry Fitzgerald (1 catch, 4 yards) and the Arizona Cardinals, and newcomer Aqib Talib should be part of the plan. The expectation is a lot of attention paid to Wayne -- bracketing him all over the field.
One other thought: The battle of third down, and how much the Patriots pressure, will be key. The Colts are solid in those situations, and quarterback Andrew Luck’s athleticism will stress linebackers from a scrambling perspective. The Patriots should consider bringing some blitzes against rookie Luck to speed up his decision-making process.
Meanwhile, on offense, it starts with protection. If the big guys can hold up along the line, the Patriots should have their way getting a balanced attack going. Neutralizing pass rushers Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis and Co. is where it starts, even if Freeney doesn’t look like his old self. The Patriots have more favorable matchups overall, both in the running and passing games.
Mike Rodak: Patriots should exploit Colts’ weak run defense
There's no defense in the NFL that has changed more since last season than the Colts. They've gone from a Tampa-2 to a 3-4 scheme, mixing ex-Baltimore Ravens like defensive lineman Cory Redding and safety Tom Zbikowski with Colts holdovers.
The problem is, those spare parts left over from the previous regime in Indianapolis aren't the best fits for Chuck Pagano's defensive philosophy. Particularly, the Patriots have an opportunity to exploit nose tackle Antonio Johnson, who at 6-foot-3, 310 pounds isn't cast in the traditional 3-4 nose tackle mold.
In fact, only the Jaguars -- who have interior defense problems of their own -- have been run against more directly up the middle than the Colts have this season. In 103 rushing attempts, the Colts have allowed an NFL-worst 5.43 yard-per-carry average.
Part of that might also have to do with inside linebackers Kavell Conner and Jerrell Freeman, who are somewhat undersized. On the outside, the Colts are also trying to use Freeney and Mathis -- both career-long hand-in-the-dirt defensive ends -- to set the edge in the running game.
There's a learning curve across the board that the Patriots can exploit. Overall, the Colts allow 120 rushing yards per game, so there's an opportunity for Stevan Ridley to power the Patriots' offense on Sunday. The problem for the Patriots is that they could be without starting guards Logan Mankins (ankle/calf) and Dan Connolly (back). Can the Patriots rely on replacement starters Donald Thomas and Nick McDonald to overpower the interior of the Colts defense?
Field Yates: Pats’ play-action will expose Colts’ secondary
A week 10 win over Jacksonville notwithstanding, the Colts have struggled to make big plays in the secondary. Beyond that, they’ll be without starting cornerback Vontae Davis (knee) and recently placed fellow starter Jerraud Powers on injured reserve.
That leaves the Colts secondary ripe for the picking, and look for the Patriots work Ridley early and establish the play action passing game to expose the struggling secondary of Indianapolis.
The status of receiver Wes Welker and tight end Aaron Hernandez is up in the air for now, but if either of them does not play, the Patriots will need a strong effort from a receiving-game weapon outside of Rob Gronkowski. Veteran Deion Branch has seen an increased role in recent weeks, and Julian Edelman could be tabbed once again to step up if Welker is a no-go.
The opportunity is there for the Patriots to make plays down the field, and I expect them set up the passing game with the run. That will keep the Colts’ feared pass rushers on their heels and prevent them from unleashing edge players such as Freeney, Mathis (if he plays) and Jerry Hughes.