After a nail biting 37-31 win over the Buffalo Bills last week, the New England Patriots continue their homestand against an opponent they may see again come January. This Sunday, the Patriots welcome the 6-3 Indianapolis Colts to Gillette Stadium. New England comes in banged up with injuries to offensive lineman Logan Mankins, wide receiver Wes Welker and tight end Aaron Hernandez. Plus, reinforcements are just arriving in the form of cornerback Aqib Talib, who will be playing his first game with the Patriots since being traded from the Buccaneers at the deadline.
On the other hand, the Indianapolis Colts have been one of the feel good stories of the 2012 NFL season. They have rallied around the loss of their head coach, Chuck Pagano due to a leukemia diagnosis. It is great to see on a personal note that Coach Pagano is starting to feel better. Under interim head coach Bruce Arians, number one pick Andrew Luck has shown Colts’ fans that the moving on from Peyton Manning is a little easier than they thought. The defense is forcing turnovers as well, but can the Colts finally get that signature win on the road that the experts are looking for?
Here are my keys to this Sunday’s game in Foxboro:
1. Covering The Hilton: When you talk about Andrew Luck’s wide receivers, the first thing that comes to mind is Reggie Wayne. Wayne has nearly 1,000 receiving yards on the season with three touchdowns. The Patriots will put their main focus on them, but Luck has the ability to make his other cast of wide receivers great. The player I am focusing on is rookie wide receiver T.Y Hilton. In his first year out of Florida International, Hilton has 24 catches for 355 yards and two touchdowns. This includes a game against the Dolphins two weeks ago where he had six catches for 102 yards and a touchdown. With Hilton’s speed, he is a threat over the middle for the Patriots’ defense, especially if they have trouble tackling again.
2. The Butler Is Back: This weekend, a former Patriot returns to the scene of his former disappointments. Former 2nd round pick Darius Butler will be lining up at cornerback to try to stop his former quarterback, Tom Brady. Butler had three interceptions in 2009, but did not have another interception before last Thursday’s game against the Jaguars. In that game, Butler had two interceptions, including a touchdown. You know Brady will look his way against a Colts’ secondary that gives up 230 yards per game (15th in the league). Free safety Antoine Bethea is still in the secondary, but the rest of that defense other than Dwight Freeney is a new cast of characters.
3. The Ballard of the Running Back: When we talk about the two offenses for these teams, we focus on Andrew Luck and Tom Brady. However, I think the key is going to be which team provides the most balance on the ground. Last week, we saw the Patriots get two touchdowns from Danny Woodhead when Stevan Ridley was being contained by the Bills’ front four.
With injuries, the Colts have still been able to have a consistent ground game with parts you may not have heard before. Vick Ballard, a rookie from Mississippi State and Delonte Carter have both helped Donald Brown in the running department. Both these teams do not have a number one back, but they can run it with anybody in the backfield.
Some of the Colts’ worst offensive performances have come on the road this season (at Chicago, at NY Jets, at Indy). It would be logical to think that Indy would throw up another clunker on the road. I disagree! I think Andrew Luck with his ability to scramble and throw out of the pocket is going to put up a great performance in this one. After watching the Patriots’ defense struggle coming right off the bye, I was disappointed in their inability to cover down the field and make tackles. Aqib Talib will play in this game, but I don’t know what his impact will be in his first game in over a month.
That being said, Tom Brady will make plays against this Colts’ secondary and he will be targeting Darius Butler early and often. My pick is that the Colts have the lead with 2:00 to go, but Brady hits Rob Gronkowski on the final drive for a touchdown to help the Patriots survive.
PATRIOTS 28 COLTS 27