By Dan Zeigarnik, Patriots Daily Staff
After a historic ‘shellacking’ of the vaunted Pittsburgh Steelers, all is great in Patriot Nation. Everyone is walking around on cloud nine, like a middle school girl returning home from her first kiss. The Patriots excelled in all aspects of the game, from Tom Brady and the offensive line to the pass rush and the running game.
Amongst all this understandable exuberance, the worry is that everyone seemed to forget just how pathetic the Patriots played against the Browns. Nobody really knows which team will show up against the Colts, but considering how storied the rivalry has been in the last ten years and how much ESPN has been hyping it up, it seems that both teams will be bringing their ‘A’ game to town.
This week’s game will be much different then last week’s. The Steelers are known for unleashing a stout defense and having a run first offense that relies on clock management with a sprinkle of big plays to Mike Wallace. The Colts, on the other hand, rely on Peyton Manning to audible the right call and to pick apart his opponents with precision passes once he has made all of his reads correctly. So with that in mind, here are the key matchups too look for:
1) Peyton Manning vs. Patriots Pass Rush
Peyton Manning is the greatest quarterback in the NFL at picking defenses apart and it will surely be a long day for the young Patriots secondary. The key to defeating the Colts to not give Manning enough time to make all of his reads accurately. That can only be accomplished by confusing schemes or forcing him to get rid of the ball quickly. The Patriots anemic pass rush was awoken last week against the Steelers as they wreaked havoc in the backfield, sacking Ben Roethlisberger five times. Now it is still unknown whether that was a result of a great scheme and a continued maturation of the young defense, or if it was a result of injuries to the Steelers offensive line.
2) BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead vs. Colts Linebackers
The Colts have a horrible rush defense, allowing 133.2 ypg which is good for 3rd worst. To add to their troubles, they might be without both starting linebackers Clint Session and Gary Brackett. The Patriots need to exploit this weakness. If they are successful, they will win the time of possession battle which will keep Manning off the field as much as possible.
3) Mathis and Freeney vs. Vollmer and Light
These two Colts pass rushers have been giving Patriots offenses headaches for years. If Sebastian Vollmer and Matt Light have as good a day as they had against the Steelers, then the Patriots will most likely come away victorious.
4) Gronkowski and Hernandez vs. Colts Secondary
Rob Gronkowski had an amazing day against the Steelers and Aaron Hernandez has already ingratiated himself with the Patriots fans. These two are a force to be reckoned with and if they are having a good day, it will be a long day for the Colts defense. Considering that most days are good days for the 2 rookie tight ends, it bodes well for the Patriots chances.
5) Patriots Kicking Situation
Unfortunately Stephen Gostkowski’s absence is going to be felt dearly this year. Shayne Graham can’t kick a football into the endzone, which puts the Patriots defense in a bad starting position every time. Considering how young and inconsistent the Pats defense is, this new burden will surely give Bill Belichick headaches. This isn’t even considering the fact that Graham probably cannot hit a 45 yard field goal.