The New England Patriots will always try to take away the opponent’s best skill position player, and it’s something that Bill Belichick usually succeeds in doing. In the cases where he doesn’t take away the top player because that player is just too good and important to the opposition to fully take away from the game, that player’s impact becomes mitigated enough that the Patriots have a significantly easier time winning.
I’d say that’s what happened to the Indianapolis Colts in yesterday’s 43-22 loss to the Patriots, and Belichick and the Pats came in with a great gameplan and executed it perfectly. If you look at what the Patriots were able to do on defense, they disguised their coverages perfectly and ran an awful lot of zone. Andrew Luck struggles in zone coverage, because that’s when he tries to make too many risky throws and will throw interceptions. He tossed three against the Kansas City Chiefs but won due to an amazing second half (and poor game-planning by the Chiefs), but he wasn’t about to get lucky twice, especially against Belichick and the Patriots.
Luck finished the game with 331 yards passing, but he also completed less than 50% of his passes and threw twice as many interceptions as touchdowns. He averaged plenty of yards per attempt and got the deep ball going, but his lack of consistency killed him against a Patriots offense that is one of the most consistent in the NFL.
I stated several times last week that T.Y. Hilton- not Andrew Luck- was the real hero in the Colts win over the Chiefs, and Hilton has been the one carrying the offense with Reggie Wayne out. Hilton is the only skill position player on the Colts who can single-handedly beat you if you are dumb enough to let him, and the Chiefs coaching was at mind-blowing levels of incompetence on defense last week. Again, you aren’t going to get stupidity out of a Patriots-created gameplan.
Although Hilton finished with big plays and had 103 receiving yards, he didn’t go off for a ridiculous 13 catches and 224 yards like he did against the Chiefs. He made huge plays and got those 103 yards on just six targets, but the stat that is truly important is the four receptions he had. You can’t win games when the guy who is easily your best skill position player touches the ball four times, because you can’t sustain your offense on those big plays in the playoffs. The Colts needed Hilton to consistently get the ball, but the Patriots covered so well that it wasn’t a possibility. They then took advantage of gambling to get picks in coverage against the weaker receivers around Hilton, and I’d say that the gameplan worked out perfectly.
The Patriots planning and execution were also flawless on offense, where they pounded the ball against the Colts on the ground and used that to try and burn the Colts deep. Whenever the Colts blew a coverage assignment or took a bad angle, the Patriots were sure to take advantage. Two big plays came as the result of horrendous misplays by Colts strong safety LaRon Landry, as he played a big role in Danny Amendola‘s 53-yard touchdown and missed a key tackle in a brutal manner to clear LeGarrette Blount for a monstrous 73-yard touchdown run.
It’s annoying to see people write about how the Patriots identity has changed to a run-based team, when the whole talk before the season was focused on how the Patriots would indeed base their game on running the football due to a deep stable of backs. The thing about the Patriots is that they aren’t necessarily run-based or pass-based, but rather choose on or the other based on matchup. If they need to throw the football, then they have the fire to win in shootouts due to Tom Brady. But in most cases, running the football to set up the pass works the best, especially when you have backs like Blount and Stevan Ridley mashing out yardage on the inside. That’s exactly what both players did, and Blount deserves all the plaudits he is getting for his big game.
Just make sure to pass some of that love to Bill Belichick, Josh McDaniels, Matt Patricia, Ivan Fears, and the rest of the coaching staff.