Back in November when we lost to Indianapolis, I ended my post about the game with "I wouldn't be surprised if these two teams met again."
Well, I was right. I am not shocked in any way that these two teams are playing each other again. Yet another correct prediction from Boston Blood Sox.
Anyway, these two teams have been the best in the AFC consistently for several years now. This is their 3rd meeting in the playoffs in four seasons. Their regular season meeting did indeed have playoff implications, as both teams finished with 12-4 records, with Indy getting home-field advantage based on their victory over us.
We all know the history between these two teams. Manning and the Colts are 0-2 against us in the playoffs. Since 2001, the Patriots are 6-2 against Indy, but haven't beaten them since the 2004 divisional playoff game. Furthermore, only 2 of these games were in Indianapolis.
These two teams met in November and both looked dreadful. There were 7 turnovers, including 5 from the Patriots. There was a combined 703 yards of offense. The major deciding factor in the game were the turnovers as it was pretty close statistically and on the scoreboard.
I've always felt that the key to beating the Colts is to prevent Manning and the offense from scoring too much and from taking utter control over the field position battle and at the same time taking advantage of every opportunity to score and move the ball. Seems pretty obvious, eh? Score more than your opponent.
The key to stopping Manning and the offense is 4 man pressure on the QB. Blitzing too often is unwise as Manning and his receivers are too good to cover with one-on-one coverage. We run the 3-4 defense (and do it very well) which has the built-in advantage of a 4th rusher coming from an unknown player. Typically, it is one of the outside linebackers, and sometimes one of the inside guys. Now, if we can get good, consistent pressure on Manning with 4 and sometimes 5 rushers, it will leave 6 or 7 men back in coverage.
The pressure prevents Manning from finding his open receivers, it forces him to make decisions quickly in order to avoid being sacked. As pressure to score points mounts in the game, he is more prone to make mistakes. These mistakes get bigger and bigger as passes that are slightly off target soon turn into passes that are thrown directly at defenders and intercepted. The reason Manning hasn't won a big game in college or the NFL is typically that his mistakes build and snowball on each other. He makes a small mistake, then pressures himself to make up for it, causing a bigger mistake. This repeats and the mistakes become more common and more glaring.
The Colts defense is small, but it is fast. In the November game, the Patriots tried a few misdirection plays that were blown up by the Colts. These types of plays are unwise to run. It's better to run right at them and try to be more physical. The Patriots ran for 148 yards against their defense in November on 33 carries (4.5 yards per carry). The problem was that we were slightly behind for most of the game. We also didn't want to have the running game stopped three straight plays and be forced to punt in a disadvantageous position. We actually passed the ball 35 times, 2 more than we rushed. I wouldn't be shocked if the Patriots tried a similar overall balanced offense, but perhaps with a bit more running. Let's say we run 60 plays on offense, I think we will have about 35 rushes and 25 passes. Of course, this could change based on the score of the game.
In the first game, we didn't do a good job of setting up the pass through the rush. We seemed to be afraid that the defense would sit on the run and stop us so we went to the pass just a bit too early. In the first drive of the game, we attempted a deep pass to the end zone for seemingly no reason. We had driven 47 net yards on our first possession, with 37 yards of rushing and 24 passing (we had a few penalties that drive). On 1st and 10 from the Indy 34, we suddenly passed deep for Gabriel and the ball was intercepted.
In the second half of the game, we seemed to get away from the run just a bit. I'm not saying we should have run the ball every time, but a few additional rushes here and there might have done well. There was one drive in which we had 1st and goal from the 10 and ran Faulk instead of say Dillon. We then tried two passes and then kicked a field goal. What really hurt us, though, were the turnovers.
Let's look at all five.
9:30 1st quarter - Brady throws deep for Gabriel, intercepted and returned to the Indy 38, ended what seemed to be a sure scoring drive. Indy scored on their drive.
0:28 2nd quarter - Brady throws into triple coverage, bobbled by Watson, intercepted ending a 2 minute drill. Colts kneeled the ball.
12:21 3rd quarter - Dillon fumbles on our 27. The Colts went 3 and out and punted.
13:11 4th quarter - Tipped ball interception 2 plays after we intercepted Manning. Colts drove for nearly 3 minutes and kicked a field goal.
1:23 4th quarter - Tipped ball interception right after a 25 yard reception by Watson. Colts kneeled to end the game.
Right up there with turnovers as far as important stats go, is points scored off turnovers. The Colts scored 10 off our turnovers, we scored 0 off theirs. The Colts also had 2 picks that ended 2 minute drill drives.
The Colts defense has looked very good these past two games, but the offenses they were up against played terribly. Our offense didn't exactly look good last week, but we were up against the Chargers defense, one of the toughest in the league. We managed to put 24 points on the board. The Colts faced a good defense in Baltimore and managed only 15 points and 0 touchdowns.
I think we'll win this one, but it won't be easy. I would not be surprised if we did not have the lead for most of the game. But I think when it comes down to the wire, we'll prevail. 24-20 Patriots.
I really hope I'm right. If the Colts win this game, they'll win the Super Bowl, and Manning will have more confidence in big games regardless of how well he plays. I'd prefer it if the weak, collapsible Peyton Manning was still out there in years to come.