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Tuesday, January 14, 2014
Clean-up from win over Colts

By Mike Reiss

With a different set of circumstances surrounding the past 24-48 hours, our regular “picked-up pieces” review of the Patriots-Colts game was a bit delayed. But the detailed review remains an important part of the ongoing evaluation of the team, which we'll pass along in a shortened form because it comes three days after the game was played:

First quarter
1. In the matchup game, the Patriots opened in a base 4-3 against the Colts' 2 WR/2 TE package, which was a mild surprise given that tight end Coby Fleener was viewed more as a receiver from this viewpoint. They played a nickel against the Colts' 3 WR package, which ended up being what the majority of snaps were played in.

2. A general observation on linebacker Dane Fletcher: While his primary defensive contributions in the regular season came leading the dime package, he looks more effective as a mike ‘backer in the base D than in coverage as a sub 'backer. The first two plays of the game reflected this as he bit slightly on play-action to free up tight end Jack Doyle for a 7-yard gain, but then responded on the next play on a strong fill up the middle to contribute to stopping Donald Brown on a 1-yard run.

3. Receiver Matthew Slater has been showing up in more one-receiver run-based package in recent weeks (0 snaps through 10 games; 19 snaps in last seven games) and LeGarrette Blount's 2-yard touchdown run (13:45 remaining) is a good example why. Despite giving something up in the tale of the tape, Slater (6-foot, 210 pounds) had a nice kickout block on safety LaRon Landry (6-0, 226) to help clear a path for Blount off the left side.

4. The Patriots mixed up their coverages, as one would expect, but it was clear that cornerback Aqib Talib's initial responsibility after breaking the huddle was to line up across from T.Y. Hilton. So that answered one of the pregame questions many had about if the Patriots would match him up. Talib was indeed assigned Hilton, which reflects his status as the team's shutdown talent.

5. Blount's second 2-yard touchdown run was an effective use of the quick snap, as all 11 players were quick to get back into position after the preceding 5-yard run. As that was happening, one could see Colts safety Antoine Bethea motioning to cornerback Vontae Davis to switch sides, but Davis never was set by the time the ball was snapped. The sequence reflected solid coaching and execution by the players to be able to re-set quickly and catch at least one Colt off guard a bit.

6. A good example of rookie linebacker Jamie Collins' power and explosion came on a pressure up the middle when he steamrolled Brown (6:42 remaining). It looked like Brown was on roller skates. Later, in the second quarter (2:12 remaining), Collins pressured off the edge against left tackle Anthony Castonzo to force Andrew Luck to step into the pocket. And then, maybe most impressive, was Collins running over Brown's low block in the third quarter (3:05 remaining) for a sack in which he closed on a blitz in a hurry.

7. Patriots center Ryan Wendell (6-2, 300) is scrappy and effective, although there are still times his lack of size seems to show up, such as when defensive tackle Josh Chapman (6-0, 340) drove him back into Tom Brady to force an incomplete pass (4:35 remaining).

8. The Patriots were fortunate that Ryan Allen's first punt attempt wasn't blocked (3:25 remaining). The Colts had a free rusher off the left side as it looked like personal protector Nate Ebner and/or left wing Tavon Wilson might have had a mix-up of some sort. One of them was supposed to account for the outsider rusher, who joined the rush at the last moment.

9. Nice reporting nugget by CBS sideline reporter Allie LaForce before the opening kickoff, detailing how the Patriots were dunking footballs in buckets of water in last week's Thursday practice to prepare for the wet conditions.

Second quarter
1. Julian Edelman drew the attention of top Colts cornerback Vontae Davis on a key third-and-10 play in which he hauled in a 13-yard pass (13:11 remaining), which was a sign of respect. The Patriots went empty and Edelman lined up as the inside of fullback James Develin (split wide) and tight end Michael Hoomanawanui on the left side before running a solid route to the sticks over the middle (keeping Davis on his outside hip) as three Colts defenders converged on Danny Amendola underneath.  Looked like a coverage bust by the Colts, or at the least, an example of how Amendola is sometimes opening plays for others.

2. Defensive end Chandler Jones has had an exceptional second season, but if there is one area that sometimes shows up where he's an “error repeater,” it's losing containment on the edge. It showed up on back-to-back plays in the second quarter – a 7-yard Brown run (9:45) and then a 5-yard Luck scramble (9:25).

3. For all the talk about the impressive Patriots running game, and we've contributed to it, they didn't ace the test in short-yardage situations. Blount was stopped on third-and-2 for no gain (3:29 remaining) as the Colts' front did a nice job with the Patriots' line sliding to the left. Colts defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois looked like he had the key play, fighting off left guard Logan Mankins. Later, in the third quarter, Develin was stopped on third-and-1 (1:24 remaining).

4. Allen's 68-yard free kick after the Colts' safety shouldn't be overlooked. That's a real solid effort, with good hang time, as the Colts took over on their 28. Likewise for Stephen Gostkowski's 53-yard punt after Allen left for the locker room. Another beauty with hang time. Those were special-teams highlights, along with a Kanorris Davis tackle on a punt late in the third quarter, on a day the special teams weren't up to their usual high standard.

Third quarter
1. In the lighter nickel front, the Patriots went back to using Jones inside, lining him up over right guard Jeff Linkenbach (12:43 remaining) on Hilton's 40-yard catch, with Andre Carter coming on at right end. The Patriots had been keeping Jones outside in recent weeks. One of Jones' strongest rushes from the inside came early in the fourth quarter on a Luck incomplete pass on third-and-10 (13:25 remaining). The Colts' guards looked like a weak spot and the Patriots exploited it at times.

2. While safety Devin McCourty made a notable mistake on LaVon Brazill's 35-yard touchdown catch over the middle (5:08 remaining), he also made one of the underrated defensive plays of the day in filling the hole to help stop Trent Richardson for no gain on second-and-goal from the 3 (10:58 remaining). Playing in the goal-line package as one of two defensive backs, McCourty had followed Doyle in motion from left to right before diagnosing the play, slicing through traffic on the defensive left side and surging through to make the first contact with Richardson before his teammates cleaned it up. That ultimately set up third-and-goal and an incomplete pass, with the Colts settling for a field goal.

3. More Collins: In addition to showing up with a strong pass rush and quality pass coverage down the field, he was impressive in the run game as well, fighting off a low block from left guard Hugh Thornton, spinning around, and dropping Richardson for a loss of a yard (6:18 remaining). Richardson, for what it's worth, hardly looks like a first-round talent. Collins, on this night, certainly did.

Fourth quarter
1. The Patriots caught a break when defensive tackle Joe Vellano wasn't flagged for tripping on a second-and-9 play (13:56 remaining). That was ultimately part of the turning point of the at-the-time seven-point game. Just a bad miss by the officiating crew and one the Colts have a right to be upset about.

2. On Blount's 73-yard touchdown run (13:08), which was nicely broken down by Matt Bowen of Bleacher Report, Mankins pulled to the right and put a hat on linebacker Jerrell Freeman and Hoomanawanui battled with end Robert Mathis before dropping him to the ground. Those were two notable blocks in the initial direction of the run, while the cutback lane opened because of nice seal blocks from Wendell, right guard Dan Connolly and left tackle Nate Solder, while right tackle Marcus Cannon cleared the path by plowing through linebacker Kelvin Sheppard. Blount just had to make Landry miss, which proved to be easy enough for him.

3. Seeing Jones as the right wing on the field goal protection team, and playing that role late in a game against the Colts, served as a reminder that Bill Belichick hasn't changed his thought process on using top players in that role since Rob Gronkowski was injured doing so.

4. On Collins' interception (12:55 remaining), there appeared to be some pre-snap confusion among some players but end Rob Ninkovich and Collins looked to be on the same page, with Ninkovich communicating something to Collins immediately before the ball was snapped. Our guess: It was Ninkovich ensuring that Collins knew his assignment was to take the third receiver on the offensive right side (the receiver furthest to the inside). We wouldn't be surprised to learn that it was a play that worked well even though not every player on the defensive was playing the same call.

5. Receiver Austin Collie played only two snaps, but he made them count as his 15-yard catch on third-and-10 (12:34 remaining) helped set up Stevan Ridley's 1-yard touchdown run to make it 43-22. The key for Collie was winning early in the route, beating the jam from cornerback Josh Gordy as he worked off the right side.