Reviewing the Patriots-Colts Mismatch
To put it simply, the Colts-Patriots game this week was supposed to be the NFL’s Alabama-Mississippi State. It was supposed to be the best game of the week.
It’s was also the hardest one to predict. Who would win? Both teams were playing their best football coming into the matchup. The Patriots offense had scored a league-best 40.2 points over the previous five games, but the Colts had the league’s number one ranked offense, and Andrew Luck had thrown a league-leading 26 touchdown passes.
If you paid attention to sports news last week that wasn’t about football, you heard NBA commissioner Adam Silver call for legalized sports betting in the United States. That’s right: the bets you place on NFL games every week are technically against the law – at least for the time being. But hey, since we know you’re betting anyways, here’s hoping you didn’t place a ton of money on the Colts.
The Case for the Colts
As T.Y. Hilton said recently, the Colts will go as far as Andrew Luck takes them. That’s still true, even after Sunday night’s blowout at the hands of the Patriots. In addition to throwing a league-leading 28 touchdowns so far this season, Luck is on pace to break Peyton Manning’s season passing yards record, which stands at 5,477. Luck plays his best at home, where the Colts had won three straight. That was supposed to be bad news for the Patriots, who were just 2-2 on the road this season coming into Sunday.
Luck also had all of his weapons on Sunday, with Reggie Wayne and Dwayne Allen returning from injuries. Thanks to their return, pundits thought Belichick would have to pick his poison. If he took away Luck’s favorite target, T.Y. Hilton, as Belichick’s famous for doing, Luck could target Wayne on third downs and Allen over the middle.
If you listened to Bleacher Report’s Chris Simms last week, Brady isn’t even a top five quarterback in the league right now. But Andrew Luck is, coming in at number two on Simms’ list.
The Colts ability to score, with a league-best 32.2 points per game, and their ability to sack the quarterback, with 24 sacks on the season, could have been the difference on Sunday.
Picking the Patriots
The problem with Simms’ QB ranking? It’s wrong, and it was before Sunday too. By almost any measure. Brady isn’t the quarterback he was in 2007, sure, and he’s not putting up the eye-popping numbers he did back then, but he also doesn’t have the weapons he had back then. Of course, that’s not to say he doesn’t have weapons now. Rob Gronkowski, despite what pundits predicted prior to the season, has returned to his former level, arguably reclaiming the title for top tight end in the league along the way. Julius Edelman, meanwhile, is perhaps the best slot receiver in the NFL, certainly better than the man he replaced, now in Denver.
And Brady used them just fine on Sunday. Over the past six games, Brady has thrown 20 TDs and just three interceptions. While Luck has thrown four more touchdowns than Brady this season, Brady has thrown five fewer interceptions. It’s also worth noting that the Colts defense has now failed its three biggest tests of the season, allowing 31 points against Manning, 54 points against Roethlisberger, and now 42 points against Brady. Add in that the Colts passing defense is ranked 27th in the NFL, and it’s no wonder that Brady was able to throw for 257 yards, even though he didn’t need to, thanks to Gray’s 199 yard, 4 TD run performance. New England’s defense isn’t too shabby either. While not particularly remarkable statistically, they held Peyton Manning to a season-low 80 QB rating two weeks ago, and hassled Luck all night, picking him off once as well.
Looking ahead, what’s scary for the Patriots is how dependent they are on two players. On defense, their whole scheme works because of what Revis allows them to do. Wayne gashed the Patriots early, so Revis switched to him, locking him down and leaving double coverage on Hilton. It worked, and the Colts offense never had a chance running the ball, especially after Bradshaw got injured. On offense, Brady’s obviously the consistent presence, and they can’t compete without him either, but the major focus and mismatch is Gronkowski. He makes the offense so dangerous, and remains one of the few players in the NFL who’s open when he seems to be covered. Without a healthy Gronk, the Patriots flounder yet again in the playoffs.