From the time Tom Brady took over the New England Patriots in 2001, the Colts-Patriots rivalry, in my opinion, has been the best rivalry in the NFL. From the dominance of the Patriots beating the Colts six straight times from 2001-2005 (Two of those victories coming in the playoffs), to the Colts finally breaking through and beating the Patriots in Foxborough on a Monday night 40-21 in 2005, to the Colts finally getting over the “big game” hump and beating the Patriots in the 2007 AFC Championship game 38-34, this rivalry has been special. At the core of this rivalry are two quarterbacks who couldn't have started their NFL careers at more opposite ends. Colts QB Peyton Manning was a star at the University of Tennessee, breaking many school passing records and winning a lot of games during his four years playing for the Volunteers. He eventually was drafted number 1 overall by the Indianapolis Colts in 1998. Tom Brady on the other hand, had a very good career at Michigan but did not receive the amount of publicity and hype that Manning did. Brady was eventually drafted in the sixth round (pick 199) by the New England Patriots in 2000. Once they both had starting jobs for their repsective teams, they went in opposite directions again. Manning put up great statistics year after year, but always came up short in the playoffs. While Brady usually never put up the stats that Manning did, but was always automatic in the playoffs (usually at the Colts expense) and won Super Bowl titles in 2001, 2003, and 2004. Peyton Manning soon was lumped into the category of “Great Quarterbacks That Never Won A Ring” with Dan Marino and Dan Fouts Manning however, finally escaped from that group by winning a Super Bowl, defeating the Bears in 2006 29-17. The proverbial monkey had now been lifted off of Peyton's shoulders, and he was a champion.
Fast forward to 2009 and the 12th installment of this heated rivalry. Coming into this game, one team is hitting its stride, and the other is trying to survive. The New England Patriots (6-2) head into Sunday's game winning 5 out of their last 6 games, and outscoring opponents 191-85 during that span. Quarterback Tom Brady seems to be almost fully 100 percent back from his knee injury suffered last year, looking as comfortable as he's looked all year. Wide receivers Randy Moss and Wes Welker are at midseason form and running back Laurence Maroney has finally come out of witness protection and contributed a lot to the Patriots running game. The Colts on the other hand, are coming off two nailbiters against the San Francisco 49ers and Houston Texans, where they've won both games by a combined total of 6 points. The defense is riddled with injuries; three starters are injured for the year, including former defensive player of the year Bob Sanders. The offense has struggled in the last couple of weeks, not with putting up yards, but with scoring points. Peyton Manning as only thrown for 1TD in the past two weeks and the running game has struggled mightily. Looking at the glass half full, for as much as the Colts have struggled the last few weeks, they've found ways to win and keep their undefeated record (8-0) intact. Will this be the week where the Colts fall from the unbeatened? Or will they again find a way to win against their most hated rival? There's only one thing we can do, let's look at the matchups!!!
Patriots Offense (2nd in total offense, 3rd in points per game, 2nd in passing yards per game, 16th in rushing yards per game)
Colts Defense (8th in total defense, 1st in points allowed per game, 9th in passing yards allowed per game, tied for 14th in rushing yards allowed per game)
I know that the Patriots have found a running game in the past couple of weeks, and the Colts have struggled against the run this year, but don't expect the Patriots to go all “3 yards and a cloud of dust” against the Colts defense this week. With Marlin Jackson and Bob Sanders both on injured reserve, expect Tom Brady to throw the ball early and often. In the last three games, Brady has defnitely found his stride and is starting to look like the Tom Brady of old. Brady's thrown for 1,020 yards, with 10TD's and 4 INT's during that stretch. In addition, 50% of those touchdowns came in the second quarter when the Patriots played the Tennessee QUITitans. Expect Brady to try and get the ball to his favorite wide receivers; Wes Welker and Randy Moss. Welker so far this season has 55 catches, for 568 yards and 4 TD's while Moss has 49 catches, for 712 yards and 5 TD's. If the Colts double Welker and Moss, expect tight end Benjamin Watson and wide receiver Sam Aiken to get balls thrown to them. They've both emerged in the past couple of weeks as good number 3 and 4 options for Tom Brady. When the Patriots do throw it, expect a lot of quick passes, such as screens and quickslants, to get the ball out of Brady's hand. This will be to hopefully negate the outright nasty pass rush that the Colts have; especially ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. Freeney has recorded at least one sack in 9 straight games, breaking the franchise record that was held by his fellow defensive end, Robert Mathis. The Colts defense last week played very well considering they were without three of their top players, Jackson, Sanders, and linebacker Tyjuan Hagler. The Colts defense needed players to step up quickly, and that's exactly what linebacker Clint Session did. Session last week had a monster game, recording 13 tackles, 1 assist and picking off Houston's Matt Schaub 1 time. Session, along with Freeney and Mathis are going to need to play excellent again this week in trying to stop the passing attack of the Patriots. I expect the Colts to play a lot of zone coverages this week. With all the injuries they have, it might be better for them to guard areas instead of the Patriots receivers one on one. The Colts defense has to be on it's toes this week, play together, and get pressure on Tom Brady to have any shot slowing down the Patriots offense this week.
Colts Offense (4th in total offense, tied for 5th in points per game, 1st in passing yards per game, 29th in rushing yards per game)
Patriots Defense (7th in total defense, 2nd in points allowed per game, 4th in passing yards allowed per game, 20th in rushing yards allowed per game)
The big test this week for the Colts offense will be scoring points and converting on opportunities in the red zone. In the last two games they've only averaged 19 points per game, as opposed to 29.8 points in their previous 6 games. Peyton Manning has only thrown 1 touchdown pass in the last two games, as opposed to 15 in the first six games. In my opinion, they've had trouble on their opponents side of the field because they don't have a running game. When you get into the red zone as a team, it's hard to throw the ball because the defense doesn't have a lot of field to cover and it makes passing lanes hard to throw through. Hopefully rookie Donald Brown can help the Colts in the running game, he's been injured the past couple of weeks and the Colts running game in that time has been worse than normal. Expect wide receivers Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon to have plenty of opportunities to make plays this week. Being that Bill Belichick is a master strategist, expect four Patriots defenders always keeping an eye on tight end Dallas Clark and Reggie Wayne, seeing that they're the best two weapons that the Colts have on offense. The Patriots defense this year has been definitely a surprise. When they let go of Richard Seymour before week one, a lot of people, including myself, thought that the Patriots defense was going to be a very weak link this year. To everybody's surprise, in the first couple of games they were the Patriots strongest link, keeping the team in ball games due to the offense struggling. Safety Brandon Meriweather and linebacker Jerod Mayo have developed into the playmakers on this defense. Merriweather's breakout game this year came when they Patriots traveled across the pond when they played the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Wembly stadium. That game Merriweather picked off Bucs QB Josh Johnson two times, taking one of them back for a touchdown. Mayo has been a little knicked up this year, but at times he shows why he was named defensive rookie of the year last year. The Colts need to try and establish the run this week and get some balance on offense. With Peyton Manning hrowing the ball 50 times last week, don't think that Belichick and the Patriots defense aren't scheming to stop the Colts passing attack and try and get pressue on him. Establishing the run creates balance, and it creates the ability to go play action, something that the Colts have burned the Patriots on in the past.
New England Patriots (+3) 28
Indianapolis Colts 17
Sorry Colts fans, I know being the blogger for them I have to be behind them, and I am, but I just don't see it this week. I think that the injuries are starting to catch up with the Colts defense and I think this is the game where the lack of a rushing threat is going to catch up with the Colts. With Sanders, Jackson, and Hagler out for the Colts defense, I expect that Tom Brady is going to pick apart the Colts secondary. I also think that the Patriots throw a lot of screens and quick passes to keep Mathis and Freeney at bay. Even with Donald Brown coming back, I don't expect the Colts to be effective running the ball. This makes Peyton Manning carrying the load on offense, and he's struggled in the past couple of games when that's the case. I expect him to struggle in this game as well. The past couple of weeks the Colts have been able to scrape out a win, this week I don't think their as fortunate. Colts fall from the unbeaten.
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Written by Andrew Gifford