Commentary

Keeping Freeney & friends in check

Despite expected mismatch, Patriots can't let up on the Colts or they might be sorry

Updated: December 1, 2011, 7:57 PM ET
By Tedy Bruschi and Mike Reiss | ESPNBoston.com

Every week during the season, Mike Reiss and Tedy Bruschi break down the New England Patriots' upcoming game. This week's breakdown is on Sunday's game against the Indianapolis Colts at Gillette Stadium.

Mike: This game has lost a lot of its luster with the Colts' free fall. One of the things that surprised me a bit when studying up on the Colts is how poorly they're playing on defense -- ranked last in the NFL in points allowed and having forced a league-low 10 turnovers. It's obvious how much they miss Peyton Manning, but their winless season is about more than just a quarterback.

Tedy: This will be a great test for the Patriots in how professional they can be. There are a lot of pro athletes out there, but to be a professional is to come in and still prepare no matter what the opponent's record is and go through the same process you would if it were a playoff game.

Mike: What stands out to you from the Colts' 0-11 season?

Tedy: I've been surprised. This was a team built around Manning and getting out to an early lead, and then the pass-rushers on defense would be able to go after the opposing quarterback. I relate it back to the experience I had in 2008 with the Patriots when Tom Brady went down. We had Matt Cassel come in, and I felt coach Bill Belichick did a great job developing the depth on the team. I think the Colts are too dependent on their star players. When one goes down, such as a Dallas Clark, Peyton Manning or Reggie Wayne, they don't know where to look. You have to look to the general manager and coach in a situation like that.

Patriots defense vs. Colts offense

Mike: Colts coach Jim Caldwell announced this week that Dan Orlovsky will start at quarterback over Curtis Painter. Orlovsky, 28, was born in Bridgeport, Conn., and went to UConn.

[+] EnlargeDan Orlovsky
Scott Boehm/Getty Images The Colts will want to make life as easy as possible for QB Dan Orlovsky, and that would mean trying to get the running game going.

Tedy: This is his seventh year. He's been with the Lions, the Texans and now the Colts. He's 6-foot-5, 230 pounds. He has a good arm, but I wouldn't say he is extremely accurate. He's not the type of quarterback who will beat you with his legs and scrambling. He is smart enough to decipher coverages and find the right answers, but there is a question whether he has the talent to match that.

Mike: Orlovsky was on that winless Lions team in 2008, starting seven games, and now he's in position to be the starter for another winless team. The Colts will want to make life as easy as possible for him, and that would mean trying to get the running game going. That's where Donald Brown comes into play.

Tedy: I've been watching the Colts, and one of the things you watch for is how much effort they're giving, and Brown was one of their best players in Sunday's loss to the Panthers. He looks like he still has a bit of fight in him. He ran hard, totaling 80 yards on 14 carries. I'd include Wayne in that group, too; he showed some fire after drawing a pass interference penalty last week and had a touchdown pass.

Mike: We know how much Belichick respects Wayne, who is in the last year of his contract. Another player of note is center Jeff Saturday, who, of course, made headlines in the offseason with his work in the labor negotiations and his remarks on Robert Kraft. Maybe he could be a free-agent target for the Patriots next season if Dan Koppen isn't back? We won't be seeing tight end Clark, who is injured.

Patriots offense vs. Colts defense

Tedy: We're not seeing the production we're used to seeing from defensive ends Dwight Freeney (5.5 sacks) and Robert Mathis (5.5 sacks). But they still have it in them to get there. With pass-rushers, no matter what your record is, it's still a one-on-one situation. It will be defensive end against offensive tackle, and to sack the quarterback is satisfying. Take it one step further, and a sack against Brady is extremely satisfying. I think they'll be ready to play.

Mike: The Colts fired defensive coordinator Larry Coyer on Tuesday, and linebackers coach Mike Murphy now takes over. I'm not sure how much that move can spark a change at this point.

Tedy: Who they are, and who they've been, is a Tampa 2 defense. Pat Angerer, the middle linebacker, drops deep to the middle of the field. The other linebackers drop in their zones, and the cornerbacks are trying to get a jam with two safeties over the top. It's Cover 2. Just like I said last week, when Brady has a zone defense in front of him and knows where you're going to be, he's going to pick you apart. Will Murphy install a magical game plan that is going to change things up? Probably not. But it's possible there will be some wrinkles, so I'm sure the Patriots' offensive staff will be watching the Colts early to see whether they're doing anything different and go from there.

Mike: On the Patriots' side, keep an eye on the offensive line, where starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer (right foot) isn't expected to play, and the Patriots could be down to a fourth-string center if Ryan Wendell (calf) and Dan Connolly (groin) are out. That probably would mean a promotion for practice squad center Nick McDonald. You touched on how this Colts defense was built around Manning and getting a lead so they can get after the opposing quarterback, but now we're seeing the unit get exposed.

Tedy: Since the Colts are playing from behind, opposing offenses are just running the ball to eat up the clock. The Colts are 31st against the run, giving up 150 yards per game. That's the trickle-down effect of losing Manning. If I had to pinpoint two goals for the Patriots this week, the first thing would be getting off to a fast start. You get out to a 10-0, 14-0 lead early, a team that is 0-11 and playing on the road will fold. The second thing is just making sure the pass-rushers, Freeney and Mathis, don't ruin the game.

Special teams and predictions

Mike: Belichick gave kicker Adam Vinatieri a compliment this week when reviewing the Colts' personnel with the media. He called him "outstanding" and "clutch," which, of course, isn't exactly breaking news. This will be Vinatieri's third game back at Gillette Stadium since signing with the Colts in 2006.

Tedy: It will be nice to see him kicking again at Gillette Stadium, but I still can't get used to seeing him in that uniform. I think a lot of Patriots followers agree with me on that. He's had an outstanding career, and I think he belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. What is being a kicker in the NFL about? Making the kick when the game is on the line. He made kicks when the game was on the line, and they were the biggest games in the history of the league.

Mike: Let's get to our predictions for a game in which the point spread was Patriots favored by 21 at the start of the week. The Colts are averaging 13.6 points per game, and I don't see them being able to keep pace with the Patriots. The biggest question to me is whether the Patriots keep the foot on the gas pedal all the way through and make this like the 52-7 win over the Redskins from the 2007 season. I think it could be that lopsided if they want it to be. Patriots 42, Colts 10.

Tedy: Will the Patriots keep the foot on the gas pedal? Absolutely. I remember Belichick saying many times, "You only play one game a week." This team will want to produce at a high level. Patriots 38, Colts 14.

Tedy Bruschi played 13 seasons for the New England Patriots and is a member of the franchise's 50th anniversary team. Mike Reiss is the Patriots blogger for ESPNBoston.com. You can reach Mike by leaving a message in his mailbag.

Tedy Bruschi

Columnist, ESPN.com
Tedy Bruschi spent his entire 13-year career with the New England Patriots after being drafted in the third round out of Arizona. He played in five Super Bowls, winning three. He retired prior to the 2009 season.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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