Indianapolis Colts: Shane Vereen

The Colts will make the playoffs this season because of their talent and their division. The AFC South is the weakest division in the NFL. It's all about getting one of the top two seeds in the AFC playoffs, which means having an extra week off. The Colts' toughest stretch of the schedule starts Oct. 9, when they have go from playing Baltimore Oct. 5 to facing Houston on the road four days later. The Colts then play three of their next four games against teams expected to compete for playoff spots: Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and New England. That string of games will likely determine whether the Colts can get one of the top two seeds in the AFC.

Complete Colts season preview.
INDIANAPOLIS – One back is a speedster that can it to the edge and go. Another has been described in the same frame as Jerome Bettis. Then there's the third-down running back.

Meet New England Patriots running backs LeGarrette Blount, Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen.

Quarterback Tom Brady is rightfully the focal point of the Patriots offense, but the Indianapolis Colts will have to worry to about New England's three running backs in Saturday's AFC divisional playoff game.

"Those three guys will do anything that's needed," Colts defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois said. "They've got three tremendous backs."

Ridley rushed for 773 yards this season. Blount was right behind him with 772 yards despite having 25 fewer attempts. Vereen, the third-down back, rushed for 208 yards to go with 427 receiving yards.

The three of them are an important part of New England's offense because it allows Brady to be effective in the play-action passing game. Brady isn't a runner, having only rushed for 18 yards on 32 attempts this season. The Patriots, who averaged 136.5 yards a game on the ground this season, were ninth in the league in rushing compared to 10th in the league in passing.

The Colts gave up an average of 137.5 yards rushing this season.

"We know how potent that offense is," Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. "We know the signal caller is a future first-ballot Hall of Famer. They are very balanced. You can't just go in and say hey you got to get after Tom and put pressure on him and get him off the spot and try to frustrate him. From a schematic standpoint, disguise, all those type of things, they are balanced."

Blount is the Patriots' lead running back when they go with a more conventional set. His 189 yards rushing in the regular season finale against Buffalo were the most by a New England back in 15 years. Colts defensive coordinator Greg Manusky described Blount as being a big-body guy that breaks through tackles and runs downhill.

The Patriots thrive with Vereen as their third-down back. They were 50-of-114 on third down with him on the field. They were 83-of-221 on third down during the eight games he missed.

"Three different types of situational runners that we've talked about all week," Manusky said. "We'll continue to talk about who is the back in the game because you have to know; pretty good, pretty talented. We have to make sure we surround them with as many hats as possible."

Tedy Bruschi talks Colts-Patriots

January, 6, 2014
Jan 6
9:00
PM ET
ESPNBoston.com NFL analyst and former New England Patriot linebacker Tedy Bruschi held a chat on Monday afternoon.

I pulled out a few of the questions and answers that involved the Colts.

Question: Hey Tedy,I keep hearing the talk of Talib on Hilton, and I don't dislike the idea. But considering Talib seemed to have more success on big guys, and sometimes being beaten by Hilton-type guys (Steve Smith of course comes to mind) could you see Belichick and Patricia going a different route and using Ryan or Dennard on Hilton with safety help?

Bruschi: I do see Talib matched up on Hilton in certain situations throughout the game. The interesting thing about T.Y. Hilton in Pep Hamilton's offense is that he moves around. Do the Patriots want Talib on Hilton if Hilton is lined up in the slot? Usually there are options for double teams with slot receivers. So it all depends on how creative Pep Hamilton wants to be with the Colts' offense. Is it possible that Bill Belichick says to Talib, "You have him no matter where he goes?" It is. But the Patriots usually like to use other players to double-team.

Question: Tedy,Where does the X-Factor for a Pats victory lie this weekend? Vereen? Blount? Stopping TY Hilton? Pressure on Luck? It seemed from seeing last years game pressure on Luck paid dividends, I know he is more experienced but is this this weeks X-Factor?

Bruschi: I think the X-factor is going to be LeGarrette Blount. This Colts defense is 26th vs. the run. I think Blount and the power running game can be successful, but watch out for sub runs with Shane Vereen. That's something the Colts have struggled with, as they like to substitute a smaller defensive lineup against multiple-WR sets.

Question: What's a guy like Austin Collie going through? Being signed, cut, and re-signed can't be easy.

Bruschi: This guy has had multiple concussions in his past. He's bounced around the league, but this is a case of what players will go through to play this game. I'm sure he's just happy to have the opportunity.

Question: Do you think if we apply a lot of pressure with different blitzes that would benefit us or is that too risky?

Bruschi: Andrew Luck is a dangerous quarterback. He does an outstanding job of staying alive in the pocket. Not only that, this is one of the strongest quarterbacks in the NFL. I've seen defenders draped all over him and he still completes a pass downfield. So bringing pressure can be dangerous. If you blitz, you better get there. This guy has a little Ben Roethlisberger in him. He will extend the play and make you pay.

Question: Is Andrew Luck enough of a threat running with the ball to use a player to spy on him?

Bruschi: I would say no, although Luck is extremely athletic. He has exceptional arm talent and you would rather give up a 20-yards scramble than a 5--60 yard pass. You need that extra player in coverage.

Question: Who do you think will have to have a breakout game for the Colts knowing that Coach Belichick will blanket what they do well and that's take away T.Y. Hilton and everything deep?

Bruschi: Donald Brown. This kid makes big plays as a receiver and a runner. He's a guy that has fought all year to earn his keep, starting the year behind Vick Ballard. Then they signed Ahmad Bradshaw in August. Then they traded for Trent Richardson. When all is said and done, he's still been their most productive back.

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