Things to watch: Patriots-Colts

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Key areas for the New England Patriots in their game against the Indianapolis Colts at Gillette Stadium (Sunday, 1 p.m. CBS):

1. Protection on the edges

It's been a down year for the Colts' defense, but the unit still has dangerous edge rushers in Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. They can ruin a game. With Pats rookie Nate Solder likely stepping in for injured right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, and the possibility that rookie Marcus Cannon could also see time when Solder is utilized as a tight end, this matchup figures to be important.

2. Help from a pair of veteran guards

With the possibility that Pats center/guard Nick McDonald could be thrust into action at center with Ryan Wendell (calf) and Dan Connolly (groin) on the injury report, it will help to have guards Logan Mankins and Brian Waters to his left and right. The Patriots are regularly in the shotgun, and not being able to execute from that set would restrict them. McDonald was promoted to the 53-man roster Saturday.

3. Limiting Colts RB Brown

The Colts' rushing attack has been productive in averaging 4.4 yards per carry, and Donald Brown leads the way (4.7 average). The Patriots' defense is coming off a performance in which it limited LeSean McCoy and took its chances with putting the ball in Vince Young's hands. The plan figures to be similar this time around -- don't let Brown get going, and see if quarterback Dan Orlovsky can get the job done.

4. Underwood, Edelman, Ochocinco and No. 3 receiver

The Patriots released 2010 third-round draft choice Taylor Price on Saturday, which alters the outlook when it comes to the No. 3 receiver position. With Price out of the mix, it looks like the team is investing in Tiquan Underwood as a young target to possibly develop in that role. Julian Edelman and Chad Ochocinco also figure to get reps as the No. 3 target, which isn't a huge part of the Patriots' attack.

5. Follow through on 60-minute plan

All week long, players have expressed the importance of playing a complete game from wire to wire. So for those expecting to see reserves early against the 0-11 Colts, it seems unlikely. Bill Belichick always stresses 60 minutes and it wouldn't be surprising to see him keep his top guys in the game throughout, regardless of the score.

6. Keep the penalties down

The Patriots have been called for just three accepted penalties in each of the past two games. With Ron Winter assigned to referee the game, they could be challenged to match that total as Winter's crew has traditionally thrown a lot of flags. In this type of situation, one of the only things that can stop the Patriots is the Patriots themselves. Penalties are a big part of that.

Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.