Here were my keys to the Colts/Pats game, if you're interested.
Pats defensive line must apply pressure
The Pats have an strong and intelligent run defense. They can often protect from the run in defend-the-pass formations. This is rare in the NFL. The advantage is to this is the Pats defense has a good shot at stopping any Colts run attack and forcing them to pass continually without opening themselves up too much.
I believe Manning will throw at least two picks on Sunday. Granted the Pats secondary is depleted, but the Pats defensive line is good at hiding blitz schemes and can hurry the relatively immobile Manning into bad throws. Pressure is the often-ignored side of the interception equation. One theory goes that Manning is the smartest QB in the league before the snap--when he can get a free read of the defense--and only average after the snap--when he has to improvise. Belichick will try to force Manning to do think after the snap more than before.
Stop the Colts in the first quarter.
The Colts score often and quickly when under matched. They scored an average of 19 points in the first half of games they won this year. (Excepting their loss two weeks ago to Denver in which no Colts starters really played) They scored an average of 13.5 points in the first half of games they lost or won in overtime this year.
The Colts first drive is often designed to expose the opponent's defensive playbook for scrutiny. The drive is often slow and methodical as Manning and Tony Dungy learn what the defense is doing. The less time they have to exploit what they learn the better.
The Colts lost all three games in which they were shut out in the first quarter. If the Pats D can put up a goose egg in the first quarter, it's a very good sign.
This means stopping the first two drives of the Colts. The Colts' pass offense is dangerous when they play with a lead because they gamble with field position, trying to score quickly without moving the ball methodically. When they play from behind, this can be a liability because they pass using low-percentage long-route plays. These don't consume much clock time and allow their opponents to keep pace in scoring. Further, an opponent with a lead can play "spy" pass protect and look for picks, because running the ball will not score fast enough for the Colts to come back.
Bend-but-don't-break Defense is a good match against Colts
The Colts are rusty in the red zone. They get touchdowns from outside the 25 as often as they do from within it. The Pats D is oriented toward allowing a team to push in close, and then collapsing coverage to force turnovers or force long field goal attempts.
Colts must beat the Pats twice on Sunday. Pats only have to beat the Colts once.
The Colts will likely have a good game play for testing the Pats' pass defense, but it will be one game play. A big challenge for any team playing the Pats is that Belichick tends to come out of halftime using a different chapter in the playbook. This often gives the Pats a good shot at getting seven points quickly in the 3rd quarter.
Any bad weather will favor the Pats and coming back against the Colts will be tough. So lets get our two picks early! I don't think it will be a blow-out either way.
Posted January 18, 2005.