logoby the Patriots Daily Staff

In lieu of an opening this week, I’m cranking Also Sprach Zarathustra on the old Patriots Daily Victrola. Because here at the Roundtable (and plenty of other places too), we’re like a bunch of middle aged ladies from the 1970’s, just as the house lights go down and Elvis gets ready to take the stage.

And I’m not talking Fat Elvis either. I’m talking Comeback Special Elvis.

It’s just that friggin’ big, folks, this Sunday’s showdown between the Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts. Quick, get up front…..Elvis is handing out scarves!

First, though, we must address an issue that pollsters tell us has risen above the war, the economy, health care and immigration in the hearts and minds of American voters.

Are the Patriots running up the score on their opponents?

Dan Snapp: Yeah. So what?

Scott Benson: @!&% yeah. If I was them, I’d do it too. I know the popular thing now is to go back to old boxscores from years gone by to show that other teams have similarly won by big margins, but come on. It’s simply denial to proclaim anything other than this – they are trying to beat the rest of the NFL to within an inch of their lives. To that, I say hooray. Look, everybody and their son of a ***** brother lined up to take a shot at them when those punk snakes Mangini and Tannenbaum sucker punched them and had them down for a few days. Now it’s get even time, and I say bravo. Make it 60 next time. My only concern is exposing certain players to injury in this pursuit. For example, I think they would have been okay with Matt Cassel taking the snaps when they took possession late in the third quarter Sunday. Later, I almost swallowed my tongue when Logan Mankins got awkwardly trapped in the wash midway in the fourth quarter. This ruthlessness – it’s exhilarating, but there’s a downside to it too, and it nearly got them there. This probably won’t be a concern this week; I expect it will take the full sixty from the starters to vanquish their most accomplished rivals.

Travis Graham: I’ve finally accepted that the Pats were running it up when they went for the TD on the fourth down play in the red zone rather than kicking the field goal last week. I don’t have a problem with it and I couldn’t imagine being an opposing player and whining about getting scored on. This is the NFL! If you can’t handle it, then go play intramurals, brother. Go play intramurals. Have at it.

Bruce Allen: I don’t think there is any doubt that they are sending a clear message. The coverage of course has been over-the-top in terms of making it into a huge controversy, and I think it is ironic that a few year back the refrain was that the Patriots didn’t win their games by enough. (“They won three Super Bowls by a combined 9 points!”) Now they win by too much.

Greg Doyle: It’s gotten so tiresome a debate. If you take each score on its own, you can figure out why they ran the play they ran and why the players in the game were in the game. But no one really has interest in examining it like that. To hear some of these idiots complain, you’d think they had 100 guys on their roster to make substitutions with. Or that a team should just kneel three straight times if they have a big lead whether there is 10 minutes left or not. In the Redskins game, I heard questions from Gregg Easterbrook why Roosevelt Colvin and Mike Vrabel were in the game late. Did he ever stop to check that the Patriots play a 3-4 and only had 7 linebackers active for the game. Two of the three backups were inside linebackers (Junior Seau and Larry Izzo)…that leaves just one outside backup Pierre Woods. Doesn’t that mandate that Vrabel and/or Colvin will need to stay in the game? In the Redskins game, the Patriots had 7 active offensive linemen. Considering you have to play 5 by NFL rules, doesn’t that mandate some starters need to stay in the game? They had 3 active cornerbacks….doesn’t this mandate at least one starting corner has to remain in the game? And considering the Redskins were passing and trying to score, are you supposed to just NOT go to the nickel package and use all 3 you have active? I’m just tired of it. Makes me want to puke its so stupid.

Tim Jordan: Anything I could posit has already been posited. What I will mention is that Patriots fans, myself included, have been too aggrieved during this episode. Wednesday of this week it dawned on me while reading the 213th flame war of commenters on some national article about running up the score. At this point each article I see I think it is just there to bait the NE fanbase to generate interest. Here is my new mantra: people outside of NE do not like the Patriots and that is fine – I does nothing to diminish my experience as a fan of the team. We are on a historical run, let’s enjoy it.

Can the Patriots’ offense simply outgun the Colts this week?

Bruce: It seems like that was what it was built to do, doesn’t it? You’ve got to wonder if Belichick realized that Peyton Manning has figured a lot of stuff out, and that the 20-3 games might not be possible any longer. He was going to need to score some points to just to keep up. The Colts come into the league with the 2nd best passing defense in football, statistically, but Randy Moss has had a habit of skewing a few team’s defensive numbers this season. It will be interesting, if not ironic, if the Colts decide that playing physical with the Patriots receivers is the only way to slow down Moss, Welker and Stallworth. The same Colts who whined so loudly after Ty Law “beat up” Marvin Harrison game after game.

Dan: That’s what this team was built for. No more cheating to the line for Bob Sanders. If they don’t double Moss, they’ll pay. And Welker’s going to be the same sort of pain in the *** for the Colts that Clark’s turned into for the Patriots.

Greg: I think Belichick went into this offseason and decided to out-Colts the Colts. And he’s done it. I think he sort of reached this conclusion during some year in the past, that you have to really be aggressive if you play the Colts and score and score and score, because they are going to. Especially if you are playing them out there and not here in the cold and snow. Last year, they didn’t quite have the guns to do it. This year they do and are actually a better offense than the Colts for a change. The Colts defense is much improved, a process that started late last year. But last week’s Redskins defense was pretty good too, believe it or not. And the Pats had zero problem with it. The Patriots will move the ball quite easily this week.

Travis: I can easily see a repeat of what they did to the Skins last week… come to think of it, every opponent this year. They’ll start the game out with long methodical drives featuring short passes that land exactly where Indys’ blitzing LBs were. When they start to get two score lead, they’ll mix in some deep throws to Moss to really open the game up. The key to victory is starting the game with the long drives that keep Peyton on the bench. When Peyton finally gets a chance to play the offense won’t be able to get consecutive first downs because they’ll be so out of rhythm.

Scott: I was really impressed with Mike Reiss’s scouting report on the Colts offense in last Sunday’s notes, and it’s funny, but it sure seems like the Pats offense has morphed in the old Colts offense, and the Colts have morphed into the old Pats offense. According to Mike (and the coaches and scouts he spoke with), the Colts are doing less up the field stuff than before, in favor of emphasizing the run and shorter, quicker passes so’s not to expose Peyton with Tarik Glenn gone. So what you’re describing here could in fact be the Colts plan. It could be Brady and the Pats offense cooling their heels while Manning grinds up the clock. It could be the Pats offense that – when they finally get on the field – is the one with the bang-bang-bang four-play, 75 yard scoring drives.

Kevin Thomas: But isn’t that what the Colts defense is designed to stop? The big-play quick scoring drives? This is what concerns me about the Colts. They will keep everything in front of them, force the Patriots into long drives, and hope for that one big negative play–whether it’s Sanders shooting across the line and blowing up a running play, or Mathis or Freeney coming off the edge and grabbing Brady’s arm as he’s getting ready to throw–that can quckly turn a 7 point drive into 3 points, 0 points, or worst of all, a turnover. This is one team that is not going to be intimidated by the Patriots offense, in part because they’re so familiar with it and have had a lot of success against it, but more importantly because they don’t need to be perfect, or even all that good on defense to win the game. They just need to hang in there and make maybe one or two significant plays per half. That would probably be enough to win, assuming Peyton and the offense take care of business on their end.

Tim: At the same time, Kevin, part of what has been so impressive about the NE offense this year is their ability to score quickly and score using sustained drives? They have been surgical all season, all the while making adjustments from game to game to exploit whatever scheme they are facing. I also don’t think Indianapolis is immune to being intimidated by this offense. It’s their first time that they faced a Patriot team with this type of firepower on offense. The Indianapolis defense, despite their lofty ranking at the mid-point, has struggled in one very critical area this year: 3rd down conversions. They are giving up over 40% of 3rd down opportunities to opponents – worse than all but 2 other NFL teams.

After his legendary struggles against the Pats defense earlier this decade, Peyton Manning has rallied to beat New England three straight. What do the Pats have to do to regain control this week?

Greg: Slow him down and get some turnovers. They are going to move the ball. They run the ball quite well. They will make some plays. But slow him down a bit, take away some possessions and I’m pretty confident the Patriots offense will take care of the rest. To slow him down I do think they’ll need to get some pressure and try to get confuse him as they have occasionally done in the past, but not recently.

Bruce: This is when we see if Adalius Thomas is a difference maker. Mr Thomas, meet Mr Dallas Clark. Follow him.

Scott: I’ll jump in here to offer my theory that they cannot cover him with a linebacker, even with one that’s supposed to be able to run with anybody. Everybody wants to cover this guy with a linebacker and to the best of my knowledge, it almost never works. I hope to God I’m wrong here, for Thomas’s sake (can you imagine the **** he would take if he was assigned Clark and the tight end had another 100 yard game?) and for the Patriots if they decide to go this route as a default position. My hope is that they try something unique and new (perhaps a combination approach involving both Thomas and a secondary man like Randall Gay) that throws a wrinkle at the Colts.

Bruce: I think you’re correct with that…I don’t think they’ll have Thomas exclusively one-on-one with Clark, but I do think they’ll be seeing a lot of each other on Sunday.

Dan: I want to see them try it with Thomas, assuming his ankle’s healthy.If he’s everything he was billed to be, this is the kind of service he should be able to provide. Everything we were told about this guy post-signing said this is exactly what he could do. They talked about his versatility, from down lineman to safety, to lining up out wide opposite Chad Johnson and successfully bumping him out of the play.

Tim: I think the Pats plan of attack will be something we haven’t seen before. As has been noted, this is a different offense and a different defense this year. Let’s all remember that Clark enjoyed that breakout day against a very depleted linebacking corps last year. They didn’t even have Seau. This year the Patriots have a full stable of linebackers and a fairly healthy backfield – plus AD. Also, isn’t “Dallas” a girl’s name? I know Scott Pioli thinks so.

Kevin: I think they’re going to have to get really agressive and take some chances on defense. I think they probaby are going to have to double or even triple-team Clark and the other underneath/slot guys who present the biggest matchup problems (Utecht, Gonzalez, Moorehead)–and will probably need to use a lot of nickel and dime packages even on 1st and 2nd down. Samuel and Hobbs are both going to need to play the games of their lives, because they are going to be one-on-one with Harrison and Wayne the majority of the time. And when they do have help over the top, they will need to take chances and try to jump some of those sideline routes. I almost think you need to concede Addai his 100+ yards, and basically sell out against the pass (at least in non-goaline situations). They are going to have to rotate guys in and out as much as possible, especially along the front 7, so they will still have some semblance of a pass rush left late in the game. The last three times they’ve played these guys they’ve given up an average of 35 points. Frankly, I would be happy if they could hold them to that this time, because I think Indy (at home) is even better now than they were in ’05 and ’06, and I am not convinced the Patriots have improved on defense. Continuing with that theme on the other side of the ball, the Patriots have averaged 25 points per game over those last 3 meetings. Are the Patriots of ’07 more than 10 points better on offense than the ’05 and ’06 teams? They’d better be, because they will need all that and possibly more to beat Indy on Sunday.

Tim: I am hoping to hearken back to the heady 03-04 seasons and see Belichick unveil some schemes that Manning can’t easily adjust to. I’d enjoy a shutout more than seeing our offense score 70. It obviously doesn’t seem likely given how well Manning has played in the last 3 games against NE, but New England has the advantage of familiarity combined with the most capable defensive mind on the planet – not to mention a healthier defense and a new versatile linebacker. I have a feeling that they’ve been working on schemes since training camp for the Colts. In a few games this year, Manning and the Colts offense has started slowly then eventually broke loose after halftime, they can’t afford to do that on Sunday. One could assume that Manning’s improvement in the second half could be attributed to halftime adjustments. This isn’t a team you can expect to do that against and win – the Patriot offense and coaching staff will make that a very daunting task. I repeat, this is not last year’s team, not even close.

Bruce: You and me both, Tim. Those days it was comforting to know that Peyton was going to be frazzled with what he saw on the other side of the line, and his frustration would be good for a few pictures that we would pass around and chuckle at. We’ll see if Belichick spent time in the bunker this offseason preparing for these matchups, or if all the offensive moves were made with the idea that they could try and contain them, but if they were unable to, they darn well better be able to keep up with them offensively.

Can this game possibly live up to the hype that will precede it?

Bruce: No doubt. This is going to be like one of those 49ers/Cowboys games during the early to mid 1990’s. I don’t see a blowout here, and I see there being plenty of both action and emotion being put into this one.

Tim: I’d prefer a 4 quarter throttling. The “super games” each year typically fail to live up to expectations, but this one has a chance to like last year’s AFCC game. I am surprised by the amount of people predicting a blowout, maybe it’s provincial.

Dan: If we’re to believe the hype, New England winning would signal the dawn of the Apocalypse. Hopefully, the game doesn’t live up to that.

Editor’s Note: In case you missed it yesterday afternoon, Bill Barnwell offered us an excellent piece on the construction of the Colts defense. We highly recommend it.