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Do business as business is done

Refs are letting 'em play, so Patriots have to come out aggressive against Colts

Updated: January 6, 2014, 5:23 PM ET
By Tedy Bruschi | ESPNBoston.com

The Patriots-Colts divisional playoff matchup is set for Saturday night, so let's dive right in ...

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What's your prediction for Patriots-Colts?

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Discuss (Total votes: 9,413)

Q. Will the bye week help or hurt this Patriots squad? The players get an extra week of rest to heal up the battle scars, but I'm worried it might curtail the performance of some of the new guys. It seemed like the final two games of the season guys like Sealver Siliga, Dont'a Hightower, Jamie Collins, and Logan Ryan were starting to gain some positive momentum. I'm hoping this off week doesn't set them back. -- Guy (America)

A. Guy, I trust the mental toughness of this team. They've shown it all year. The coaching staff knows how to handle a week off. But there is one thing and I hope it's mentioned to the team this week, or they recognized it by watching games over the weekend: There is always a new brand of officiating come playoff time.

You could see officials were letting defenses be more physical and more aggressive, whether it was hitting receivers coming across the middle or playing more aggressive pass coverage down the field. So defensively, the Patriots need to come out playing aggressive, especially with the receivers. If it gets called, then you adjust. But from what I've seen, they're letting these guys play.

Offensively for the Patriots, they need to anticipate the Colts' defensive backs playing them more aggressively. This is something the Colts have an advantage with -- they have one game under their belt with playoff officiating. This affects not just pass coverage, but all aspects of the game.

Q. Tedy, as a veteran of many playoff games, what changes the most? Is it the preparation? Physicality? Atmosphere? As a fan, the build-up to watching football at such a high level is exciting, but the thought of having your team play its last game is daunting. I know that players always label it "just another game", but I can't imagine they really feel that way. -- Jimmy (Newton, Mass.)

A. The "just another game" comment is one you hear a lot. But when watching the games, you can tell many players don't act that way. You can see the magnitude of the game in their faces, in the biggest moments of the game. If players on your team get that way, you probably lose. This is where Belichick's mantra of "one game at a time" benefits the Patriots. Bill never makes the players feel like one game is more important than another.

Q. I keep hearing the talk of Aqib Talib on Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton, and I don't dislike the idea. But considering Talib seemed to have more success on big guys, and sometimes being beaten by smaller Hilton-type guys (Steve Smith comes to mind), could you see Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia going a different route and using Logan Ryan or Alfonzo Dennard on Hilton with safety help? -- Tim (Brighton, Mass.)

[+] EnlargeT.Y. Hilton
AP Photo/Michael ConroyT.Y. Hilton has developed into Andrew Luck's go-to guy. How should the Patriots defend him?

A. I do see Talib matched up on Hilton in certain situations throughout the game. The interesting thing about 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 Hamilton wants to be with the Colts' offense. Is it possible that 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.

Q. Should Talib guard Hilton or tight end Coby Fleener? And if Talib is on Fleener, what is the strategy to shut down Hilton? -- Zach (Arlington, Mass.)

A. We've seen Talib on receiving tight ends before. They put him on Jimmy Graham. Fleener is a lesser version of Graham. They list Fleener as a tight end but he's basically a receiver. If they were to put Talib on Fleener, I would assume it would be the red zone. If that happens, then you put another cornerback (Dennard, Ryan, Arrington) on Hilton with multiple double-team options with your safety.

Q. Although Talib has had a great year, isn't Dennard a better matchup against a speed guy like Hilton (if he is fully healthy)? -- Gary (Falls Church, Va.)

A. That's the thing, if they do put Talib on Hilton. I think Talib will know that the majority of his work will be done early in the down. I don't think he should be left all alone on Hilton. You should still have over-the-top help, so Talib being disruptive with Hilton at the line of scrimmage is something he'd need to do in that matchup. I don't think this is going to be "You shadow this guy wherever he goes." Even if that does happen, there is a possibility of having zone behind that -- almost like a box-and-1 in basketball. That's about all the basketball knowledge I have; I'm coaching a 13-year-old team with my son.

Q. Who do you think will have to have a breakout game for the Colts, knowing that Belichick will blanket what they do well, and that's take away Hilton and everything deep? -- Virgil (Arkansas)

A. 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.

Q. What is Step 1 to Belichick's defensive plan for Saturday? -- Anonymous

A. Step 1 is making sure the defense understands the threat that Andrew Luck is, and making them aware of all the possible ways he can beat you. There are many of them.

Q. Do you think if the Patriots apply a lot of pressure with different blitzes it would benefit them? Or is that too risky? -- Bill (San Diego)

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
AP Photo/Michael ConroySaturday's hero Andrew Luck threw three interceptions in his only game against the Patriots.

A. 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.

Q. Is Luck enough of a threat running with the ball to use a player to spy on him? -- David (North Attleborough, Mass.)

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

Q. Obviously, both of these teams are very good at keeping their composure when things go wrong. Both can come back from tremendous deficits to win a game. Which team has the edge in this game that features two teams that have the same habit of starting slow and finishing strong? The team with the rest and the experience, or the team riding a wave of emotion? Thanks. -- Tyler (Minneapolis)

A. I'd still favor the team with the rest and experience. This has the possibility of being a high-scoring game. The biggest aspect of this game will be winning the turnover battle. Luck had problems with turnovers in the 2012 matchup between the teams (three interceptions).

Q. The Colts have had some wild swings this year. Which team will show up against the Patriots? -- Avi (Brooklyn, N.Y.)

A. One thing is for sure, Avi, Andrew Luck will remember what happened the last time he was in Foxborough. The score was 59-24. Luck gave the ball away multiple times. The Colts will put points up on the board. So will the Patriots. Whichever defense makes more big plays to give its offense extra possessions will win this game.

Q. The Colts' comeback win over the Chiefs was impressive and showed mental resilience. What differences do you see in the Pats defense versus KC that should allow them to contain the Colts more successfully? It seemed incredible that Luck and Co. could put up 45 against an Andy Reid-coached playoff team. -- Shashank (Boston)

A. That comeback also surprised me. I thought the Chiefs' defenders viewed the game as being over. They thought a 28-point lead was enough. By the time they tried to turn it around, it was a ballgame again. The one play that concerned me was the Donald Brown fumble on the goal line. It looked like it bounced off another player and into the hands of Luck, who ran it in for a touchdown. To me, that's a "destiny" play. The 49ers had a similar "destiny" play on kicker Phil Dawson's game-winning field goal that went through the arms of a Packers defender. When I see these plays, it makes me think someone is watching over these teams. LOL.

I've been on teams like that before.

Q. Is the Colts secondary as bad as it looked this weekend? Was that a one time, game-specific, breakdown? The Colts are a very tough and talented team, but if their defense is that easy to expose ... -- EJ (Hollywood, Calif.)

A. EJ, you're only as good as your last game and from what I saw, they can be exploited. Also, Darius Butler is a former Patriot and the coaching staff knows his strengths and weaknesses. Look for them to attack Butler with Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola.

Q. Tedy, who is your sleeper defensive star this weekend for the Patriots? -- Mike (Newton, Mass.)

A. Safety Steve Gregory. He's had some injuries to deal with and has struggled at times. Maybe he turns that all around with a big play in the divisional round.

Q. Where does the X-factor for a Pats victory lie this weekend? Shane Vereen? LeGarrette Blount? Stopping T.Y. Hilton? Pressure on Andrew Luck? It seemed from seeing last year's game, pressure on Luck paid dividends. I know he is more experienced but is this the X-factor? -- Kasey (Hopkinton, Mass.)

A. I think the X factor is going to be Blount. This Colts defense is 26th against 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-receiver sets.

Q. It seems to me that LeGarrette Blount has done nothing but gain yards every time he touches the ball. His running style uncannily resembles Corey Dillon, minus the stiff-arm, and he bruises opposing defenses. Fully acknowledging Stevan Ridley's skills, I think this team has to stay with Blount. Does he remind you of Corey? Is he the clear No. 1? -- Bobby (Watertown, Mass.)

A. I do think Blount is now the Patriots' No. 1 back. But the Patriots' idea of a No. 1 back is different from everyone else's. You can be the No. 1 back going into a game, but if someone else comes in for you and they're being more productive, that player will become the new No. 1 back for that game. I still think that's the way the Patriots should handle it. Start Blount, see how he does within the first 5-10 carries, but you also have to mix in Ridley and sub runs with Shane Vereen. Whoever Josh McDaniels thinks is performing the best that day will get the most carries in the fourth quarter.

Q. What do you foresee in terms of the offensive game plan? A heavy dose of Blount to keep the pass rush at bay? -- Max

A. They're going to try Blount, definitely, but this defense can be taken deep. Kansas City showed that last week and safety LaRon Landry is an in-the-box, stop-the-run, physical player. They will test his range.

Q. What can we expect from the other receivers if Julian Edleman gets double-teamed? Who has to step up? -- Charlie (Georgia)

A. At the receiver position, I would look to Danny Amendola. Then, out of the backfield, I'd look for Vereen.

Q. How do you think the Pats will try slow down Robert Mathis? Running the ball? Screen passes? -- Ross (Washington, D.C.)

A. Mathis is an undersized outside linebacker/defensive end. Running at those undersized players is always an option, although Mathis always counters that with penetration through the gaps. Extra help in pass protection would be smart for tackles Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon, but there is going to come a time when they are one-on-one. Tom Brady will know that and he will have that clock in his head, telling him how much time he has to get rid of the ball.

Q. What was your welcome-to-the-NFL-playoffs moment? -- Billy (Los Angeles)

A. It was the Super Bowl XXXI after the 1996 season. I was on the punt team and I had to block Reggie White. He tossed me about 10 yards. LOL.

Q. Do you think letting Danny Woodhead walk for peanuts was the worst move of Belichick's tenure? I can't remember one that he missed on besides maybe sending Mike Vrabel in the Matt Cassel trade. -- Tony (Saugus, Mass.)

A. It was tough to see Woodhead go to San Diego, especially with the production he's had this year -- 76 receptions. There is only one running back who caught more: Pierre Thomas of the Saints with 77. But he had to be let go. Especially with an up-and-coming Vereen, who does things very similar to Woodhead. At this point in time, I'd take Woodhead over Vereen. But Vereen has a bright future and he's working for less money.

Q. What's a guy like Austin Collie going through? Being signed, cut, and re-signed can't be easy. -- Caleb (Provo, Utah)

A. 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.

Q. If you had to pick one, which was your favorite Adam Vinatieri moment from your time as teammates? -- Billy (Los Angeles)

A. The obvious answer is all the game-winning field goals, especially in the Super Bowl. But when Adam and I were rookies, I was on kickoff coverage when he kicked off to Herschel Walker and ran him down to make a tackle. He gained instant credibility from all of us.

Q. If you could put one player on the 2004 championship team to give the Pats a boost (aside from you), who would you pick? -- Maddie (Dartmouth, N.H.)

A. This is an interesting question, Maddie. For this game, facing Luck and his talented right arm, I'd give them Ty Law. And on offense, I'd give them Matt Light to slow down Mathis.

Q. Final score? -- Tedy (New England)

A. Wait for the breakdown on Thursday, Tedy. Come on, man!

Join Tedy's weekly chat every Monday to have your question considered for the weekly Bruschi on Tap Q&A.

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.

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