The Indianapolis Colts head out east on Sunday to face the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game. The Colts are a dismal 0-3 against the Pats since 2012 and have lost all three by 20-plus points.
What’s particularly interesting is that the Colts are 12-0 in “rematch” games with Andrew Luck and coach Chuck Pagano. The Patriots, on the other hand, have suffered their last eight playoff losses in rematch games.
We looked over the Patriots numbers back in November for the team’s first meeting.
Outside of the numbers, the best thing the Patriots have on their side is the scheming of coach Bill Belichick. And yes, I’m convinced he’s some sort of super villain who will try to block out the sun in the near future.
Belichick is particularly good at taking away one facet of his opponent’s game every week. He’ll try to make the Colts one-dimensional on offense and use every trick in the book to pick apart the defense.
The Patriots on Offense
At the end of the regular season, the Pats ranked sixth in total offense per DVOA. They had the fifth-ranked passing attack and were 14th on the ground.
Against the Ravens in the divisional round, the Pats eschewed the run altogether in order to attack the Ravens vulnerable secondary. New England attempted 51 passes compared to just 13 rushing attempts. That led to over 400 yards in the air and four touchdowns.
Tom Brady finished the season as the sixth rated QB by Football Outsiders and was graded fourth by PFF. Brady’s best weapon is, of course, Rob Gronkowski. The monster tight end is the highest rated player at the position by DYAR and PFF’s grades.
Gronk had seven receptions for 108 yards and a touchdown last week against the Ravens.
The Pats receivers aren’t nearly that talented as both Brandon LaFell and Julian Edelman aren’t leading anything at their positions. DYAR puts both players around 30th in the league while their value per play is 33rd and 44th respectively.
PFF puts LaFell at 33rd and Edelman is down at 68th in the NFL.
Across the offensive line, the Patriots rank fifth in run blocking and second in protection (just behind the Broncos).
What That Means for the Colts on Defense
Stop the run and hope Gronkowski is struck down with the flu before Sunday’s game. The Colts have played very well the past two weeks, but Brady is a different quarterback from Andy Dalton and a one-legged Peyton Manning.
If Gronk isn’t ill, the Colts have to double team him and put someone other than LaRon Landry on him for the majority of the game.
The Colts couldn’t lay a hand on Brady in Week 11 and have had pass rush concerns all season long. Getting to Brady early generally makes him gunshy but actually connecting on a couple sacks is a big if for the Colts.
The Patriots on Defense
The Ravens had a 14 point lead twice in last week’s game, but the Pats defense was able to get enough stops to come away with a win and hold the Ravens to a crucial field goal late. Joe Flacco takes all the blame for the final interception, which was A) a bad pass and B) one he didn’t need to attempt.
PFF graded this unit eighth overall and DVOA puts them at 11th. They are 12th against the pass and 14th versus the run.
They have playmakers in the secondary with Darrelle Revis, Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, and to a lesser extent Brandon Browner. Despite the talent, a quality quarterback (or Flacco) have had success passing against this unit.
While New England doesn’t have the same premier pass rushers as Denver, they have been getting to opposing quarterbacks at a slightly better pace.
What That Means for the Colts on Offense
Indy has struggled to be consistent against the Patriots when they have the ball. As has been widely noted, Luck has thrown eight interceptions (three his rookie year). Only two interceptions have come when the Colts weren’t trailing.
The addition of Dan Herron has given the Colts something resembling a run game. It also helps that the Colts are no longer donating downs to opponents by trotting Trent Richardson onto the field.
Luck has been more patient in recent weeks and isn’t pressing as much as he has in the past. He’s played very well the past two weeks and it would be more surprising if that level of play doesn’t carry over into a third.
The Colts are getting Hakeem Nicks and Donte Moncrief (who didn’t record a catch in the last meeting) over the past two weeks. They’ll be to create more matchup problems and help keep drives alive.
It all boils down to Luck though. If he can overcome past mistakes and continue playing at a high level, the Colts can steal a the win and trip to a Super Bowl.