For years, the Colts vs. Patriots rivalry was defined by their quarterbacks. Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady. In fact, that pretty much was the rivalry. This year the game is once again about the quarterback matchup – except for Manning is not involved. Now it is the Colts’ new quarterback’s turn to match up against the future hall of famer in Brady. Andrew Luck – the rookie phenom. He’s not even playing like a rookie anymore, and he has his Colts on a four-game win streak and a 6-3 record overall, which is currently good enough for a wild card berth.
The Patriots also stand at 6-3, and much like the Colts, they are powered by their offense while their defense is pretty weak. New England’s overall defense (25th) is actually ranked worse than the Colts’ (18th). They drop to 29th when it comes to pass defense. The Colts and Patriots are tied for the 15th best scoring defense in the NFL, both allowing an average of 22.3 points per game.
The Colts’ defense faces their biggest test of the season this week – not only do they face one of the best quarterbacks in league history, but they do so on the road. Tom Brady has been excellent this year, especially when it comes to avoiding turnovers. Brady has thrown for 18 touchdowns this year while only throwing 3 interceptions. The Colts, on the other hand, have struggled mightily in forcing turnovers this year – they have six through 9 games, and three of them came last week from one player. With Brady’s efficiency and mastery of the passing game, the Colts are in for a huge test, especially considering that the top two corners are once again out (Jerraud Powers was placed on IR earlier this week and Vontae Davis will miss another game with a knee injury – but don’t worry, we still have AFC Defensive Player of the Week Darius Butler!).
The Colts will need great performances all around if they want to leave Foxboro with a win, but these three things would go a long way in securing a victory for Indianapolis.
1. Andrew Luck
Whenever people have asked me what the Colts need to do to win in any week this year, I told them "Andrew Luck. If he’s on his game, they have a chance every game." I said it again this week, and it has never been more important. Facing the possibility of his first shootout (I don’t count the Green Bay game as a shootout), Luck will need to be very good on Sunday in order for the Colts to win in New England. While he hasn’t been as good on the road as he has been at home this year, he has won two in a row away from Lucas Oil Stadium. On the Colts’ current four game winning streak, he has a passer rating of 90.23 and has completed 64% of his passes for 1141 yards (285.25 yards per game) for 3 touchdowns with 2 picks. He has also added four scores on the ground in the past four games. He is playing at the highest level of the season for him, and he figures to only get better. Luck needs to put up points this week, and considering his caliber of play and the fact that he is facing a poor defense this week, that just may happen. And if it does and Luck indeed plays well, the Colts will be in the game. Just like every other week – but especially this week.
2. Key in on Wes Welker
Yeah, that Tom Brady guy is pretty good. Yeah, the Patriots actually have a run game this year. But don’t forget about Wes Welker. The best slot receiver in the league (sorry, Peyton, its Welker, not Brandon Stokely) is also Tom Brady’s best weapon, regardless of how you want to argue for Rob Gronkowski. Gronk is a huge threat in the passing game, but Welker is the biggest weapon in the passing game. With the Colts already thin at cornerback, the matchup on Welker figures to be a favorable one for New England as well. We never know what can happen in any given week (Darius Butler last week, anyone?), but if I was one of those fantasy guru guys, I would recommend starting Welker this week (but don’t blame me if it turns out to be terrible – I’m currently two games under .500 in my league, so I’m not exactly great at fantasy football – I prefer the real thing). The matchup on paper seems to clearly go to the Patriots and Welker. And if Welker gets open and gets the ball, the Patriots will put up a lot of points – too much for Luck to be expected to put up. Keying in on Wes Welker will go a long way in keeping the game close for a chance at another victory.
3. Pass Rush
The Colts’ pass rush has a name. Want to hear it? It’s "Robert Mathis". Okay, okay, I know Dwight Freeney and Jerry Hughes have done a little this year, and I know that the secondary contributed three sacks last week against the Jaguars. But the bulk of the pass rush has been left up to number 98 this year. He has come through, notching 6 sacks and a forced fumble in only five games played. Good news – he’s playing this week. He has at least one sack in each game he has played this year. If he keeps that up this week, and if some of the other defenders can create some pressure (maybe you, Dwight Freeney?), then they may be able to throw Brady off of his game just enough to pull out a win. I’ve never thought Brady has been good under pressure (I have no evidence to back it up, just my own eye test), and perhaps the biggest key to beating Tom Brady is pressuring him. Just watch the 2007 super bowl. Robert Mathis playing could have a huge impact on this game, but he will need help. If he gets it, the Colts’ chances at winning increase tremendously.
If you couldn’t tell, I actually expect this game to be close. At least, I expect it to be close if the Colts do these things – get a great performance from their quarterback, key in on Wes Welker, and pressure Tom Brady. If they do that, I expect it to be close enough in the final quarter for this Colts team to have an opportunity to pull out yet another fourth quarter victory. I think they will get their chances and that it will indeed go down to the end, but I think that Tom Brady will ultimately be too much for the Colts’ defense to handle, and too much for Andrew Luck to outduel.