Offensive Game Plan
Commitment to run critical
There is a common thread to some of the Patriots' most devastating losses in Bill Belichick's coaching tenure, most of which were of the season-ending variety: The offense was so focused on letting it fly in those games that it struggled to control the line of scrimmage.
There's a decisive way to ensure that doesn't happen Saturday night against the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC divisional round of the playoffs.
Run it. Run it some more. And then run it some more.
This is what the Patriots did in their final two games of the regular season, identity-shaping victories over the Ravens and Bills. The power-running commitment was there from the start, seldom wavered, and we saw the end result -- decisive control at the line of scrimmage, where games are most often won and lost.
The Patriots can do the same thing to the Colts, who ranked 26th during the regular season in rushing yards allowed (125.1) and 25th in average yards allowed per carry (4.5).
It's true that the banged-up Colts aren't that much better against the pass, but their most lethal weapon is pass-rusher Robert Mathis, whose 19½ sacks led the NFL. So if the choice is giving Mathis a chance to make a game-changing play with extended pass-rush opportunities, or handing the ball off and running right at him, the choice seems obvious.
And it's not as if the Patriots can't still pick their spots in the passing game, as a potent running attack can set up lethal play-action possibilities for Tom Brady.
The Patriots are at their best when the running game is the focal point.
Think about what a difference it would have made in some of the painful losses in recent franchise history.
Matchup calls for airing it out
The players around Tom Brady have changed over time, but for much of his career, the Patriots have run the same offense, albeit one that is constantly evolving.
A linchpin to their offensive success has been a game plan approach. One week they beat you through the air, the next week on the ground. Or perhaps they beat you on the ground in consecutive weeks, as was the case in Weeks 16 and 17, followed up by an aerial attack.
The Patriots' approach is dictated by attacking an opponent's weaknesses, no matter if that's a poor secondary, a poor front seven or something more specific within the defense.
So while the rush-heavy attack that carried the Patriots down the stretch has been key, this Saturday night is an opportunity for Brady to rely on his arm to pinpoint throws behind, beyond and through a weak Colts secondary.
Indianapolis has individually talented secondary players -- cornerback Vontae Davis and safety Antoine Bethea come to mind -- but the group has struggled on the whole, as was abundantly clear when they allowed Alex Smith to throw for 378 yards, four touchdowns and no picks in last weekend's wacky wild-card shootout.
While the running game has been exceptional of late (and rain could show up on Saturday night), it's important to remember the torrid six-game stretch for Brady between early November and mid-December in which he threw for 16 touchdowns and four interceptions, surpassing 300 yards in every game but one (he threw for 296 against Carolina).
The Patriots' receiving corps has endured through injuries this season -- one to Aaron Dobson still lingers -- but the offense must air it out and take advantage of a Colts secondary ripe for the picking this Saturday night.