Indianapolis Colts: Rob Gronkowski

Two QBs who can produce regardless

January, 11, 2014
Jan 11
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The transition for one was more bumpy than smooth. His top receiver, his security blanket, the one who often found a way to get open no matter the situation, lay on the field at Lucas Oil Stadium slapping the ground almost three months ago.

The other has five Super Bowl appearances on his resume, but not even the future Hall of Famer could say things were easy right away without his go-to guy.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
AP Photo/AJ MastAndrew Luck overcame security blanket Reggie Wayne's absence by placing a priority on jelling with the other Colts receivers.
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck overcame his early struggles of not having Reggie Wayne by working, and working some more, to develop continuity with his young receivers. New England quarterback Tom Brady's transition without tight end Rob Gronkowski started out shaky, too, but evened out as the season progressed.

Luck and Brady will be the marquee names in Saturday's AFC divisional playoff game, and they're the reason why the two teams have reached this point. They've proven they can get the most out of their unproven receivers.

"[It's been] a challenge, but also an opportunity for guys," Luck said. "[They've] made the most of it. [Coach Chuck Pagano] tells us every week, 'Everybody prepares like a starter.' You never know, the injuries, whatever it is, it's an unfortunate part of the game."

LaVon Brazill, Griff Whalen and Da'Rick Rogers aren't names people immediately bring up when talking about the Colts' receiving corp. Brazill was suspended the first four games of the season. Whalen and Rogers spent most of the season on the practice squad. But there was Rogers going up and outleaping a Kansas City Chiefs' defender to bring in a 46-yard pass from Luck in the wild-card playoff game last Saturday.

Brady had Gronkowski, one of the league's best tight ends, for all of seven games before a knee injury ended his season.

Enter Julian Edelman.

Who? Exactly.

The 5-foot-10 went from having a career-high 21 receptions in 2012 to hauling in 105 passes -- good enough for fourth in the league -- for 1,056 yards this season.

"Obviously, [the Patriots] got a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer in Tom Brady that is under center running that whole thing," Pagano said. "We've got guys that are athletic and guys that can make plays. They've got guys that are athletic and can make plays. They've done a good job of bringing guys in and plugging them in. That system has been in place. They make adjustments here and there. But he's done a great job with adjusting to life without Gronk, life without some of the other guys. It's going to be a huge challenge."

[+] EnlargeTom Brady
David Butler II/USA TODAY SportsWith Tom Brady under center and Rob Gronkowski out for the season with an injured knee, Julian Edelman stepped up.
It seems like there's a revolving door when it comes to the Patriots and their players. There's not too many Waynes or Marvin Harrisons, players who have spent their entire career with the same team, there. The Patriots have no problem replacing a player and bringing in somebody else, which is part of the reason why Brady always seems to be able to find a way to make things work.

"For me, over the course of playing a few years we lost certain guys at certain points in the year," Brady said. "I think the main thing is just to try to figure out what you need to do as an offense to still be productive. You can lose a tight end or receiver or running back at any point in any game, and no one really feels sorry for you at that point.

"Losing any player hurts on offense or defense, but you've still got to have enough guys on your team and have enough flexibility within your game plan to adapt and make the changes necessary so you can still be productive."

Luck and Brady both had built-in excuses if they struggled all season. Their competitive nature wouldn't allow it, though. It pushed them more.

They handle things in different ways -- Luck isn't one to be seen on camera going off on the sidelines during a game -- but one of the things they have in common is that they're demanding and expect the best out of their teammates.

Extra time in the film room. Extra passes before and after practice to ensure their timing is right. The conversations they have as they walk down the hallway at the facility.

Luck had to do those things to make sure he had somebody else to go to when T.Y. Hilton was not an option.

Luck had a relationship with Whalen because they were teammates at Stanford. Brazill and Luck were teammates as rookies, but the starting quarterback didn't have much to work with when it came to Rogers because most of his passes were thrown by backups Matt Hasselbeck and Chandler Harnish while on the practice squad.

Trust is a necessity between quarterback and receiver. Luck showed he had it in Rogers when the rookie caught six passes for 107 yards and two touchdowns Dec. 8 against the Cincinnati Bengals.

"He does do a good job of staying on top of us," Rogers said. "We're like a family here and when something needs to be done, it's nothing personal. It's what we need to have done to win the game.

"We might be walking down the hall and he might grab you for a minute and talk about a play or talk about a certain concept. It's all day long, in the middle of practice, before practice, in meetings, in the film room."

Getting to know the Patriots

January, 6, 2014
Jan 6
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Seven years. Yes, almost seven years. That’s how long it’s been since the Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots faced each other in a playoff game.

The Colts pulled off the improbable 38-34 come-from-behind victory over Tom Brady and the Patriots at the old RCA Dome on Jan. 21, 2007, in the AFC Championship Game to reach the Super Bowl.

A lot has changed since that game.

Kicker Adam Vinatieri, linebacker Robert Mathis and safety Antoine Bethea are the only holdovers from that game for the Colts. Brady and kicker Stephen Gostkowski are the only two starters still remaining for the Patriots. Defensive lineman Vince Wilfork played in that game but he missed most of this season with a torn Achilles injury.

Here’s a quick breakdown of how the Patriots reached this point:

Record: 12-4 (1st AFC East)

Head coach: Bill Belichick

Offensive coordinator: Josh McDaniels

Defensive coordinator: Matt Patricia

FOUR PLAYERS TO WATCH

1. QB Tom Brady. Brady could put out a manual on how to get the most out of a group of relatively unknown receivers. There’s no better quarterback in the league at doing that. The 36-year-old Brady overcame the loss of tight end Rob Gronkowski (knee) to still complete 60.5 percent of his attempts, pass for 4,343 yards and 25 touchdowns. Brady, like Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, is simply a winner no matter who he has lined up around him. One thing Brady won’t do, though, is beat you with his feet. He only rushed for 18 yards this season. Good news for Mathis & Co., Brady was sacked 40 times during the regular season.

2. WR Julian Edelman. He became Brady’s primary target after Gronkowski was lost for the season. Edelman finished fourth in the league in receptions with 105 and was targeted 151 times, which was good enough for 10th in the league, by Brady. Edelman had 1,056 yards and six touchdowns. The health status of the Colts secondary is up in the air right now, as cornerback Greg Toler left the Kansas City game with a groin injury and safety LaRon Landry has to pass the NFL’s concussion protocol before he’s cleared to play.

3. RB LeGarrette Blount. He took a backseat to running mate Stevan Ridley for most of the season, but Blount ended the regular season by rushing for 189 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries against the Buffalo Bills in Week 17. Blount had five games where he averaged more than 5.3 yards a carry. He finished with 772 yards rushing to Ridley's 773 yards despite having 25 fewer carries.

--CB Aqib Talib. He could be matched up against Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton, who had 224 yards receiving against the Chiefs on Saturday. Talib, who was selected for the Pro Bowl, had a team-high 13 passes defended and was second on the team in interceptions with four.

OTHER NOTES: The Patriots were undefeated at home during the regular season. But don’t think they’re unbeatable at Gillette Stadium, though, as half of their eight home wins were by three points or less. …The Patriots finished 26th in the league in yards allowed (373.1) on defense. …Edelman finished fourth in the league in punt return yards (374).

Quick Take: Colts at Patriots

January, 5, 2014
Jan 5
5:30
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Three things to know about Saturday's Indianapolis Colts-New England Patriots divisional playoff game at Gillette Stadium. This will be the first playoff matchup between the two teams since the epic AFC Championship Game the Colts won 38-34 on Jan. 21, 2007.

1. Battle of receivers. Quick: Can you name a receiver on either team not named T.Y. Hilton? Andrew Luck of the Colts and Tom Brady of the Patriots are the two best quarterbacks in the league when it comes to getting the most out of their receivers. They both lost their primary receiving targets to injury this season. Colts receiver Reggie Wayne's season ended in Week 7 with a torn ACL. Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski's season ended with a torn ACL and MCL in Week 14. Receiver Julian Edelman led the Patriots in receiving this season with 1,056 yards and six touchdowns. Hilton, who set a franchise playoff record with 224 yards against Kansas City on Saturday, led the Colts with 1,083 yards and five touchdowns this season.

2. Ugly first game. Luck is making his second appearance against the Patriots at Gillette Stadium. New England beat Indianapolis 59-24 during the 2012 season. The Colts led 14-7 at the end of the first quarter and trailed only 24-17 at halftime, but the Patriots outscored them 35-7 in the second half. Luck was 27-of-50 for 334 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. Brady was simply better, as expected. He was 24-of-35 for 331 yards and three touchdowns without an interception. But Brady won't have Gronkowski (137 yards) or Wes Welker (80 yards) to throw the ball to this time around. Hilton had six catches for 100 yards. Colts linebacker Jerrell Freeman had 12 tackles in that game.

3. Stopping the run. Brady is obviously the focal point for the Patriots, but New England does have a decent running game, too. Running backs Stevan Ridley and LeGarrette Blount finished within a yard of each other during the regular season, with Ridley gaining 773 yards and Blount rushing for 772 yards. They also combined for 14 touchdowns. The Colts, on the other hand, had Donald Brown rush for 537 yards and Trent Richardson finished with 458 yards.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Indianapolis Colts tight end Dwayne Allen uses his thick, broad shoulders for more than blocking. He said that's where the chip sits. It's the chip of being passed over by so many teams coming out of Clemson in 2012.

The anger is still there more than year and more than 521 yards later.

Allen, who started all 16 games as a rookie, doesn’t believe he’s getting the respect he deserves for his all-around ability at tight end.

“People are saying 'Dwayne Allen is looking forward to a breakout year,'” he said. “There’s nothing breakout about it. I’m the same player I was last year and the year before. Of course I’ve grown and gotten better, but I’m one the best tight ends in this league. That’s the reason the chip is on my shoulder.”

There’s a list of superior tight ends in the league.

Dallas’ Jason Witten, Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez, New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham and New England’s Rob Gronkowski.

The list goes on.

Allen believes he deserves to be mentioned in that group.

He’s confident in himself because he knows he’s got the all-around skills to play the position. He doesn’t have to leave the field on passing downs or short-yardage plays. He stays on the field for either situation. Allen played 858 snaps, which was first most among tight ends in the league, last season.

Allen slid to the third round of the 2012 draft because he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.9 seconds, which turned teams off. There was only one other tight end selected in front of him – teammate Coby Fleener – in the draft, but Allen believes teams that needed help at tight end could have selected him sooner.

“I play faster than the 4.9 I ran,” Allen said. “That was one of the things I talked about throughout the whole draft process. Let my film speak for itself.”

Fleener was taken 29 spots ahead of Allen last year, but Allen was the one who had the better season.

But it’s not about which tight end is better because the Colts plan to showcase both of them in the offense and at some point they could be the best tight end duo in the league.

“To be honest with you, coming out as hyped up -- which was definitely well deserved == as Andrew (Luck) was at the quarterback position, I was at the tight end position and people just didn’t realize it," Allen said. "I go out and have a good year and it’s a surprise to all of them, but it’s expected by me. As long as everything goes well this season, I’m looking forward to having a great season."

Allen has yet to transfer his anger onto the field because he missed the entire preseason with a foot injury. He’ll make his debut against Oakland on Sunday.

“Whether it’s Dwayne being down with something or me being down with something, we’ve kind of missed each other a little bit in the preseason,” Fleener said. “It’s always nice to have him out there because he’s a constant threat.”

Don’t expect Allen’s catching ability to be a primary focus. Offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton said Allen’s responsibility is to play without the ball first and “if the opportunity presents itself, make a play in the passing game.”

“He’ll play a big role without a doubt,” Hamilton said. “We got to be able to run the ball and Dwayne is a major component to that process of being able to hold the point of attack.”

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