This is the twelfth of 16 articles that I will post throughout the season, previewing the Colts' upcoming matchup. I'll attempt to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of both teams, a few areas to focus on, and a couple of key individual matchups. Overview: So much for the War of 1812. With Peyton Manning still sidelined with an injury, the NFL's premier matchup between the Colts and Patriots lacks it's usual luster. Without Manning, the Colts find themselves in the basement of the NFL with an 0-11 record. Meanwhile, the Patriots are atop the AFC with an 8-3 record; winning their last 3 games by a combined 80 points. I'll keep this preview short because, well for Colts fans, there's not much left to analyze.
New England Patriots
- Passing Attack. Tom Brady is having another MVP-like season, and he's spreading the wealth. Wes Welker leads the league with 82 catches, and Brady's 2 TE's (Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez) have combined for 16 TD's. Brady is 2nd in the NFL in passing yards, touchdowns, and QB rating. (Interesting Note: I played basketball against Aaron Hernandez when he was a sophomore in HighSchool – my team was victorious, but man – what an athlete.)
- Turnovers. While New England's secondary has been under heavy scrutiny this year, their defense has done a tremendous job creating big plays. They've forced 21 turnovers (3rd best in the AFC), and despite giving up the most total yards in the league (409.8 ypg), New England is 11th in the league in scoring defense – surrendering 20.5 points per game.
- Passing Defense. As I just mentioned, the Patriots' secondary is extremely vulnerable. With little talent and experience, the Patriots secondary has been torched by such quarterbacks as Chad Henne (416 yards), Ryan Fitzpatrick (369 yards), Jason Campbell (344 yards), and Vince Young (400 yards). The problem is that all of those quarterbacks are markedly better than the Colts' Dan Orlovsky. Although it will be just his first start with the team, he couldn't ask for a better matchup.
- Running the Football. The Patriots average just 110 rushing yards per game (15th in the NFL), and 4.1 yards per rush (19th). Despite spending (2) 2nd round picks on rookies Shane Vareen and Stevan Ridley, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead have handled most of the workload. BJGE is the team's leading rusher, but is averaging just 3.9 yards per carry.
- Running the Football. Donald Brown had another impressive showing against the Panthers last week, racking up 80 yards on 14 carries. He's now averaging 4.7 yards per carry – the highest mark for any Colts' running back. Let's hope the coaching staff continues to get Brown more involved.
- Rushing the Passer. I mentioned last week that Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis needed to have a big game, and they responded with 6 combined tackles, 4 QB hits and 2 sacks. The Colts are still just 29th in the league in sacks, but they must pressure Tom Brady – constantly – in order to rattle him.
- Stopping the Run. Same story, different day. Last week the Colts surrendered 201 rushing yards to the Carolina Panthers – Jonathan Stewart, DeAngelo Williams, and Cam Newton each rushed for over 50 yards. It should come as no surprise that the Colts rank 31st in the league against the run. Let's just hope that it was all Larry Coyer's fault.
- Total Offense. The Colts offense ranks 28th in passing yards, 26th in rushing yards, and 30th in scoring. Throw in a new quarterback, and it doesn't appear likely that the Colts can keep pace with the high-scoring Patriots.
- Total Defense. It's never a good thing to have "Total Offense" AND "Total Defense" listed as weaknesses, but that's what happens when a team is 0-11. The Colts' defense is 19th in passing yards allowed, 31st in rushing yards allowed, and 32nd in scoring. And oh yeah, the Colts' defense has generated the fewest turnovers in the league. Not a good combination.
- Dwight Freeney vs. Matt Light. The two should be very familiar with each other by now – this is Light's 11th season, and Freeney's 10th – and it seems these 2 teams meet every year. As I mentioned earlier, it's absolutely critical for Freeney to have a big game. A few early pressures on Tom Brady might force the Patriots to keep TE Rob Gronkowski on the line to help against Freeney, limiting the number of options at Brady's disposal.
- Dan Orlovsky. Remembered mostly for this play, Orlovsky hasn't started a game since he helped orchestrate the Detroit Lions 0-16 season in 2008. I wouldn't say he's looked "good" in limited action this season, but you could argue that he's outplayed Curtis Painter. Hopefully he can provide our offense with a much-needed spark. (Another sidenote: Orlovsky grew up and went to high-school in my neighboring town!)
- Play-Calling. Most Colts fans have been screaming at our coaches to rely on the team's improved ground game, but this may not be the week to do so. As I've already mentioned, the Patriots give up the most passing yards in the league – which may force the Colts offense to trust Dan Orlovksy to throw early and often (yikes).
- Reggie Wayne. Coming off of a season-best performance, Wayne must once again play well against the Patriots. In his last 2 games against them, he's averaged 9 catches for 117 yards, and has found the endzone 3 times. Of course, that was with Peyton Manning under center. How will he perform with Orlovksy throwing to him?
- Sympathy. Will Bill Bellichick have any sympathy for the free-falling Colts? It's doubtful, considering Bill has a history of running up the score, and there's certainly no love lost between these 2 teams. Considering where these 2 teams stand, the score could get ugly in a hurry. Let's hope it's not as bad as the Saints game was a month ago.
Final Thoughts: The Colts/Patriots game is always the one that I look forward to the most; but its hard to get excited for Sunday's matchup. Unfortunately, I won't be focusing too much on the scoreboard; rather – how much have our young players been improving and how our defense responds to a new coordinator. I'd also love to see our defense hit the crap out of Tom Brady (legally, of course) and knock him off his game. It's painful enough watching the Colts without Manning, is it too much to ask that the Patriots struggle with Tom Brady?