NFL Preview - New England Patriots @ Indianapolis Colts

Tom Brady (R) #12 of the New England Patriots shakes hands with Andrew Luck (L) #12 of the Indianapolis Colts after their AFC Divisional Playoff game at Gillette Stadium on January 11, 2014 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. The New England Patriots defeated the Indianapolis Colts 43 to 22. (January 10, 2014, Source: Elsa/Getty Images North America)

Tonight the New England Patriots (7-2) will face the Indianapolis Colts (6-3) at Lucas Oil Stadium. Both teams are playoff bound and lead their respective divisions. The Patriots won their last five games and averaged 40.2 points over this stretch. The Colts won six of their last seven games after a 0-2 start to the season. Both teams met 73 times in the regular season, with the Patriots leading the series 45-28. QB Andrew Luck has yet to lead the Colts to victory over the Patriots.

New England’s QB Tom Brady is still every bit as good as usual. He has only thrown 3 interceptions this season. During the current 5-game winning streak Brady was picked off only once. He has completed 64.1% of his passes for 2392 yards, 22 touchdowns and a passer rating of 103.5. His primary targets are WR Julian Edelman (54 reception, 556 yards, 2 touchdowns) and TE Rob Gronkowski (49 receptions, 663 yards, 8 touchdowns), who is on pace for 1,000+ receiving yards for the second time in his career. WR Brandon LaFell (36 receptions, 514 yards, 5 touchdowns) and RB Shane Vereen (31 receptions, 246 yards, 3 touchdowns) are Tom Brady’s next best options. Any other receiver has not played a significant role thus far. New England’s passing offense ranks 8th in the league, averaging 265.8 yards per game.

Andrew Luck orchestrates the best passing offense in the league, which averages 337.4 yards per game. This is in no small part due to Luck’s further progress as a signal caller. He is completing 63.6% of his passes for 3085 yards and 26 touchdowns through 9 games. His 9 interceptions add up to a passer rating of 100.3. WR T.Y. Hilton and 35-year old veteran WR Reggie Wayne are Andrew Luck’s preferred targets but he distributes the ball much more evenly among his receivers (including tight ends and running backs) than his opponent. Hilton currently ranks third among receivers with 937 yards. Watch out for TE Dwayne Allen and RB Ahmad Bradshaw as the Colts enter the red zone.

RB Shane Vereen has become New England’s main ball carrier after RB Stevan Ridley’s season-ending knee surgery. He is averaging 4.5 yards per carry and is much more involved in the passing game than Ridley was. Vereen has 1 rushing touchdown and 3 passing touchdown to his name after 9 games. New England’s rushing offense ranks 19th in the NFL with 101.2 yards per game.

On the other hand, the Indianapolis Colts are using a one-two punch with RB Trent Richardson and RB Ahmad Bradshaw, leading them to 14th in the NFL with an average of 113.8 yards per game. Richardson gets more handoffs, though both average an almost equal amount of yards per game (48.9 yards vs. 46.8 yards). Bradshaw, however, averages 5.1 yards per carry, whereas Richardson manages only 3.6 yards per run. Both running backs scored 2 touchdowns on the ground but Bradshaw is far more successful as receiver. Richardson and Bradshaw tend to fumble the ball, as opposed to the Patriots who have yet to lose a fumble.

New England’s offensive line isn’t as good as in previous years but it no longer is as bad as people make it out to be. Things have been looking up since the benching of RG Jordan Devey. The Patriots surrendered only 16 sacks this season, ranking them 9th in the NFL, but you may want to credit Tom Brady’s awareness for this rather than pass protection. New England’s pass blocking struggles on 3rd and short as well as allowing too many tackles behind the line of scrimmage. RT Sebastian Vollmer has been New England’s standout lineman so far.

Indianapolis’ offensive line is a top ten unit. Like New England they struggle on 3rd and short run blocking but that’s about it. The run blocking in general has improved though, and Andrew Luck is well protected. The Colts surrendered 14 sacks this season and rank 6th in the NFL. LT Anthony Castonzo is still impressive at protecting the quarterback’s blind side.

New England’s pass rush accounted for 22 sacks this season, ranking 14th in the NFL. Leading pass rusher RDE Chandler Jones (4.5 sacks) has been ruled out with a hip injury. LDE Rob Ninkovich (4.0 sacks) and MLB Dont’a Hightower (3.5 sacks) are the current leading active players on the team.

The Colts have 24 sacks, ranking them 10th in the NFL. Their 3-4 system allows the linebackers to get more involved in the pass rush as opposed to New England’s 4-3 system. ROLB Bjoern Werner leads the unit with 4.0 sacks. LDE Cory Redding, LILB D’Qwell Jackson, LOLB Erik Walden, LOLB Jonathan Newsome and DT Zach Kerr follow with 3.0 sacks each.

New England’s rushing defense ranks 22nd in the NFL, allowing 120.0 yards per game. The loss of LB Jerod Mayo to a season-ending knee injury is a big blow for the Patriots. Any opposing running back getting past DT Vince Wilfork and DT Chris Jones will be welcomed by LOLB Jamie Collins (61 total tackles) and Dont’a Hightower (49 total tackles). New England’s front seven tends to get pushed around in 3rd and short situations and struggles to tackle the running backs behind the line of scrimmage.

Indianapolis’ rushing defense is holding opponents to 98.1 yards on the ground and ranks 9th in the league. The inside linebackers D’Qwell Jackson (70 total tackles) and Jerrell Freeman (43 total tackles) make sure that opposing ball carriers won’t get far. The front seven may have room for improvement on 3rd and short but tackles for a loss are no rarity.

New England’s passing defense allows 235.1 yards per game, ranking 13th in the NFL. They have also intercepted 10 passes which ties them for 7th in the league. CB Darrelle Revis leads the team with 2 picks but the entire secondary is capable of interceptions. SS Patrick Chung is 4th on the team with 46 total tackles. Andrew Luck needs to be aware of the defensive line as they like to pick off opposing quarterbacks as well.

Indianapolis’ passing defense surrenders 263.6 yards per game, ranking 26th in the league. The secondary accounts for 6 interceptions, ranking 21st in the NFL. SS Mike Adams, CB Vontae Davis and CB Greg Toler are responsible for 2 picks each. Adams’ 44 total tackles are the second most on the team. .

Keys to Success

Contain Indianapolis’ passing offense

Indianapolis must establish a running game to set up a passing offense

Indianapolis must win the battle in the trenches


New England @ Indianapolis Colts 28-27

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Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers drops back to pass during the third quarter against the Baltimore Ravens at Heinz Field on November 2, 2014 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (November 1, 2014, Source: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images North America)

Mark Ingram

New Orleans’ RB Mark Ingram rushed for 100 or more yards for the second straight game on Thursday. At the Carolina Panthers he carried the ball 30 times for 100 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Jeremy Hill

Cincinnati’s rookie started in place of the injured RB Giovani Bernard. He ran for 154 yards on 24 carries and scored 2 touchdowns. Hill is averaging 4.7 yards per carry this season.

Arizona Cardinals Defense

I give the Cardinals credit for being the first team this season to limit Dallas’ RB DeMarco Murray to less than 100 rushing yards. That said, they also held the Cowboys to 174 passing yards.

Justin Houston

Kansas City’s outside linebacker had another multi-sack game, accounting for 2.0 sacks against the New York Jets. The league leading pass rusher now has 12.0 sacks on the season, 6 consecutive games with at least one sack and 4 games with multiple sacks.

Miami Dolphins

This was utter domination on all levels against the San Diego Chargers: 36:07 minutes vs. 23:53 minutes time of possession. 441 vs. 178 total yards (132 vs. 50 rushing yards and 309 vs. 128 passing yards). 28 vs. 10 first downs. The Dolphins had 4 sacks and didn’t surrender any. They had no turnovers as opposed to the Chargers who had 3 interceptions and 1 lost fumble. That’s almost a perfect game, right?

Jeremy Maclin

In a game in which the Philadelphia Eagles committed plenty of mistakes to make the Houston Texans look good, WR Jeremy Maclin stood out for all the right reasons. He caught 7 passes for 158 yards and 2 touchdowns. The 26-year old wideout is averaging an amazing 98.8 yards per game.

Julian Edelman

Not only did New England’s wide receiver catch 9 passes for 89 yards and 1 touchdown, he also returned a punt 84 yards for another score.

St. Louis Rams Pass Rush

St. Louis’ pass rush was basically non-existent all season long but had a field day at the San Francisco 49ers. They brought down QB Colin Kaepernick 8 times for a total loss of 54 yards. RDE Robert Quinn spearheaded the unit with 2.0 sacks.

Ben Roethlisberger

Big Ben threw 6 touchdown passes in two consecutive games and set a new NFL record. Against the Baltimore Ravens he completed 25 of 37 passes for 340 yards and a passer rating of 136.3.

Andrew Luck

Indianapolis’ signal caller led the Colts to a convincing 40-24 win at the New York Giants. He completed 25 of 46 passes for 354 yards, 4 touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 108.4.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

This was another game of missed opportunities for the Buccaneers. They limited the Cleveland Browns to 50 rushing yards (RB Ben Tate ran for only 3 yards!) but could not take advantage of Cleveland’s turnovers. Additionally, the Buccs had a 31-yard field goal attempt blocked and missed another attempt from 55 yards. In the end the Buccaneers fell to the Browns 22-17.

Washington Redskins

The Redskins should have beaten the Vikings but Robert Griffin III’s interception at the end of the first half gave Minnesota a lifeline; and they took it. The offensive line, who allowed 5 sacks, didn’t make RG3’s return to the line-up any easier.

Oakland Raiders

You cannot commit multiple turnovers and hope to get away with a result when you’re winless and travel to the reigning Super Bowl Champion. With no running game and a moderately effective passing offense those turnovers proved costly and enabled the Seahawks to get away with a 30-24 win.

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Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers passes the ball in the second half of the game against the Carolina Panthers at Lambeau Field on October 19, 2014 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Packers defeated the Panthers 38 to 17. (October 18, 2014, Source: Joe Robbins/Getty Images North America)

Sammy Watkins

The rookie saved the Buffalo Bills with his last-second touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings. Watkins caught 9 passes for 122 yards and 2 touchdowns as the Bills won 17-16.

Ryan Tannehill

Miami’s signal caller had one of the best games of his career. He completed 25 of 32 passes for 277 yards, 2 touchdowns and a passer rating of 123.6, leading the Dolphins to a 27-14 win at the Chicago Bears.

Golden Tate

The veteran wide receiver had a great game as the Detroit Lions beat the New Orleans Saints 24-23. Tate caught 10 passes for 154 yards and 1 touchdown.

Aaron Rodgers

Green Bay’s quarterback had an almost perfect game, completing 19 of 22 passes for 255 yards, 3 touchdowns and a passer rating of 154.5. The Packers outclassed the Carolina Panthers 38-17.

Indianapolis Colts

The Colts dominated the Cincinnati Bengals in every aspect of the game and shut them out 27-0. Indianapolis had the ball for 39:43 minutes and gained a total of 506 yards (171 rushing yards and 335 passing yards). They also limited the Bengals to 32 yards on the ground and 103 yards through the air.

St. Louis Rams Special Teams

First they fooled the entire special teams unit of the Seattle Seahawks on a 90-yard punt return touchdown from WR Stedman Bailey, then they fooled them again with a fake punt to hold on to a 28-26 win over the defending Super Bowl champion.

Colt McCoy

I am not entirely sure if winner is the right term for Washington’s quarterback but Colt McCoy surpassed QB Kirk Cousins on the depth chart after Sunday’s come-from-behind win against the Tennessee Titans. It remains to be seen how this translates to playing time as QB Robert Griffin III’s return is imminent.

Denard Robinson

Jacksonville’s running back replaced the injured RB Toby Gerhart and may have won his starting job with Sunday’s performance. Against the Cleveland Browns he ran for 127 yards on 22 carries and scored 1 touchdown.

Alex Smith

The quarterback had a rock solid game in Kansas City’s 23-20 win at the San Diego Chargers. Smith completed 19 of 28 passes for 221 yards, 1 touchdown and a passer rating of 103.4.

DeMarco Murray

Murray rushed for 100 or more yards in each of Dallas’ seven games this season. In Sunday’s 31-21 win over the New York Giants he ran for 128 yards and 1 touchdown. He leads the NFL with 913 yards, almost 300 yards ahead of the second ranked running back.

Arizona Cardinals Defense

The Cardinals limited the Oakland Raiders to 220 total yards en route to a 24-13 away win. The Raiders only managed to rush for 56 yards and passed for only 164 yards. Arizona’s defense had a rather short working day, spending just 23:03 minutes on the field.

Denver Broncos

There was much more to Denver’s 42-17 win over the San Francisco 49ers than QB Peyton Manning’s historical performance. The Broncos were outstanding on the other side of the ball as well. The defense held RB Frank Gore to 20 yards and the pass rush brought down QB Colin Kaepernick six times, with DE DeMarcus Ware (3.0 sacks) and OLB Von Miller (2.0 sacks) leading the way.

New York Jets

The Jets controlled the ball for 40:54 minutes at the New England Patriots and yet they managed to lose 27-25. Their drives were rather impressive but they often lacked the threat of a touchdown. New York had to settle for 4 field goals and left QB Tom Brady & Co. with enough opportunities to avoid an upset.

Steven Jackson

Whatever happened to the once great RB Steven Jackson who had 8 consecutive 1,000+ rushing yards seasons with the St. Louis Rams before he came to Atlanta? On Sunday he ran for 22 yards on 8 carries as the Falcons lost at the Baltimore Ravens 29-7. His total yardage and yards per carry dropped considerably since joining the Falcons in 2013.

Houston Texans

Houston’s turnovers gave Pittsburgh the definite upper hand. The RB Arian Foster fumble and QB Ryan Fitzpatrick interception turned a 13-10 lead into a 13-24 in the final minute of the first half. The Pittsburgh Steelers went on to win 30-23.

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Russell Wilson #3 of the Seattle Seahawks runs with the ball against the Washington Redskins at FedExField on October 6, 2014 in Landover, Maryland. (October 6, 2014, Source: Rob Carr/Getty Images North America)

Green Bay Packers Pass Rush

Minnesota’s QB Christian Ponder never knew what hit him and where it came from. The Packers sacked him 6 times during the 42-10 pounding on Thursday night. ROLB Nick Perry accounted for 2.0 sacks. NT Letroy Guion and RDE Mike Daniels had 1.5 sacks each.

Travis Benjamin

Cleveland’s wide receiver sealed the come-from-behind win with two touchdown catches in the fourth quarter. Benjamin finished the game with 4 catches for 48 yards and 2 touchdowns as the Browns won at the Tennessee Titans 29-28.

Indianapolis Colts Offense

This wasn’t QB Andrew Luck’s best game but the offense surely knows how to control the ball. They were on the field for 38:43 minutes and played 80 downs. It also helped that Baltimore was rather mistake-prone when their offense finally had the ball.

New Orleans Saints Offensive Backfield

New Orleans’ passing offense was unusually unreliable against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, hence the running backs had to step it up. RB Khiry Robinson ran for 89 yards (4.2 yards per carry) and the game-winning touchdown in overtime. RB Pierre Thomas also scored 1 touchdown on one of his 4 carries and was New Orleans’ leading receiver with 77 yards and another touchdown.

Philadelphia Eagles Pressure

When you have the ball close to your own end zone you had better be very careful when playing against Philadelphia. The Eagles blocked a punt that led to a touchdown and recovered a fumble in the end zone after sacking St. Louis' QB Austin Davis.

Luke Kuechly

Carolina’s middle linebacker is always close to where the tackle’s been made. He accounted for 11 solo tackles against the Chicago Bears and had 15 tackles altogether. The defensive player of last season currently leads the NFL with 61 total tackles.

Ben Roethlisberger

Pittsburgh’s performance wasn’t spectacular against the Jacksonville Jaguars but QB Ben Roethlisberger was his usual effective self. He completed 72.2% of his passes for 273 yards, 1 touchdown and a passer rating of 103.1.

Denver Broncos

The Arizona Cardinals are certainly no pushover but the Denver Broncos made them look like they don’t even belong on the same field: The Broncos had 24 first downs versus Arizona’s 9. They rushed for 92 yards compared to Arizona’s 37 yards. The Broncos passed for 476 yards and held the Cardinals to 178 passing yards. They outclassed the Cardinals 41-20.

San Diego Chargers

The San Diego Chargers outplayed the New York Jets on both sides of the ball. They had 439 total yards (162 rushing yards and 277 passing yards) and limited the New York Jets to 151 yards (91 yards on the ground and 60 yards through the air). The Chargers also controlled the clock for 38:54 minutes en route to a 31-0 victory.

San Francisco 49ers Running Game

San Francisco’s running game kept the chains moving and enabled the 49ers to control the clock. They ran for 171 yards, with RB Frank Gore and RB Carlos Hyde accounting for 107 yards and 43 yards respectively.

New England Patriots

There are ways to beat the New England Patriots but disrespecting and humiliating HC Bill Belichick & Co. isn’t one of them. The media wrote them off and declared the end of a dynasty prematurely. The coaching staff fielded an angry and determined team and the Cincinnati Bengals never really stood a chance. QB Tom Brady passed for 292 yards, 2 touchdowns and a passer rating of 110.7. RB Steven Ridley ran for 113 yards and 1 touchdown and TE Rob Gronkowski caught 6 passes for 100 yards and 1 touchdown. The defense forced 3 fumbles and spent only 21:04 minutes on the field.

Russell Wilson

You have to give it to Seattle's 25-year old signal caller. He beat the Washington Redskins with his arm and his legs. Wilson completed 18 of 24 passes for 201 yards, 2 touchdowns and a passer rating of 127.3. He also ran for 122 yards and a touchdown.

Houston Texans Offense

The Dallas Cowboys gave the Texans every opportunity to win but Houston’s offense, with the exception of RB Arian Foster, was rather ineffective. It remains to be seen whether this loss is coming back to haunt the Texans at the end of the regular season.

Alex Henery

Detroit’s kicker missed three field goal attempts from 44, 47 and 50 yards in the second half, while the Bills came back from an 11-point deficit to win the game 17-14. By the way, Buffalo’s game winning field goal was made from 58 yards!

Steven Jackson

Atlanta’s inability to run the ball made it impossible to control the clock and thus enabling the New York Giants to come back from 20-10 down. Jackson ran for 37 yards on 13 attempts, averaging 2.8 yards per carry.