New England Patriots: 2014 Quick Takes

Quick Take: Patriots at Broncos

January, 12, 2014
Three thoughts on New England Patriots vs. the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship Game at 3 p.m. Sunday at Sports Authority Field at Mile High:

1. Just as Bill Belichick predicted: In a postgame meeting with receiver Wes Welker after the Patriots' 34-31 victory over the Broncos on Nov. 24., Welker relayed what was discussed. “He came over and he was like, ‘Good job, we’ll see you all again, I’m sure.'" Nice call, Bill. From start to finish, the Broncos and Patriots were the AFC's best, most consistent teams this season. And we never get tired of another Peyton Manning-Tom Brady duel. So it seems fitting, from this viewpoint, that these teams will meet to decide the AFC champion.

2. Broncos didn't get a heavy dose of Blount: The Patriots' offense has almost reinvented itself over the past three games into more of a ground-and-pound attack, with 6-foot, 250-pound bruiser LeGarrette Blount leading the team's three-man committee at running back and turning in two record-setting performances. Guard Logan Mankins said after Saturday's victory over the Colts: "Right now, I don't know if we're a better running team than a passing team, but the running is working. So why go away from something that's working?" Blount played just two offensive snaps against the Broncos on Nov. 24, in part because the Patriots fell behind 17-0 in the first quarter and became more one-dimensional toward the pass. From an instant analysis perspective, this is the key for the Patriots this week. If they can play the game on their terms and get Blount going, I think they have matchup advantages against a suspect defense that could be exploited and ultimately result in a win. If they are forced into a spread game like they were Nov. 24, the chances of victory decrease significantly.

3. In a sub defense game, secondary is as strong as it has been: In the Nov. 24 game between the teams, the Patriots were in a sub defense (five or six defensive backs) for all 90 snaps (including penalties). That's usually the way it goes when playing a Manning-led team and Manning was content to hand the ball off against the lighter box (280 rushing yards, 48 carries). That chess match figures to be in play once again. For the Patriots, they are as healthy and as deep as they have been all season in the secondary, which is ideal in this type of X's-and-O's chess match. Aqib Talib and Alfonzo Dennard are locked in as the top cornerbacks, with Devin McCourty and Steve Gregory the starting safeties. Nickel back Kyle Arrington played a solid game in the slot against Welker on Nov. 24 and the Patriots also have impressive rookie Logan Ryan.

Quick Take: Colts at Patriots

January, 5, 2014
Three things to know about Saturday's Indianapolis Colts-New England Patriots divisional round playoff game at Gillette Stadium (8:15 p.m.):

1. Luck and Mathis can control/take over a game: When dissecting the three possible Patriots opponents -- Bengals, Colts and Chiefs -- the feeling was that New England should beat them all if playing its best game. But the reason the Colts were listed as the least preferred matchup was because they had the difference-making quarterback in Andrew Luck. I don’t think the Colts' team is as good as the Patriots' team, but with Luck and defensive end Robert Mathis they have two players who can control/disrupt a game. That makes this matchup potentially dangerous. Also, while it might be tempting to label the Colts a dome team that will struggle playing in what figures to be challenging New England elements, it should be noted that Indianapolis played an excellent game in a decisive Week 16 victory at Kansas City. They have had some duds on the road this year, a 40-11 loss to the Cardinals on Nov. 24 comes to mind, but they’ve also had two impressive wins away from home -- the 27-7 win over the 49ers in Week 3 and the 23-7 win over the Chiefs in Week 16. The Patriots and Colts didn't play each other this season. The last meeting between the teams came in 2012, with the Tom Brady-led Patriots thumping the Luck-led Colts 59-24 on Nov. 18.


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2. Talib on Hilton: With Reggie Wayne on season-ending injured reserve, T.Y. Hilton has emerged as the Colts’ go-to target. He was dynamic in the wild-card round win over the Chiefs (13 catches, 224 yards, 2 TDs) and it wouldn’t be surprising if cornerback Aqib Talib is called upon to match up against him. The Patriots haven’t had a matchup corner like Talib since Ty Law (1995-2004). The second-team All-Pro hasn’t matched up every week, but when he has, he’s mostly been very competitive.

3. Scouting the Colts’ defense and other connections: Colts teams under coach Tony Dungy and Jim Caldwell were known for a 4-3 defense that was undersized but quick. This Colts defense has more of a Ravens-type look, which makes sense as second-year head coach Chuck Pagano was Baltimore’s defensive coordinator prior to coming to Indianapolis. They are bigger at the line of scrimmage and will vary their pressure calls. The Colts are banged-up in the secondary as that unit looked vulnerable in the wild-card round. If Brady gets protection -- and this is an obvious pregame storyline -- he should find some favorable matchups. In a bit of a local touch, the Colts come to town with two former Boston College players as their bookends on the offensive line -- left tackle Anthony Castonzo and right tackle Gosder Cherilus. Also, former Patriots cornerback Darius Butler is the Colts’ nickelback. The kicker, of course, is former Patriot Adam Vinatieri.