For the eighth time in their respective careers, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are headed to the AFC Championship game. This past Saturday, fans were treated to a Divisional Playoff matchup between the Indianapolis Colts, fresh off of their historic 28 point comeback victory over the Kansas Chiefs, and the New England Patriots, a team riddled with injuries that once again finds themselves in the midst of a title run.
New England came into this game with a gameplan of containing Colts’ wide receiver T.Y. Hilton. Hilton went off the previous week against Kansas City, racking up 13 catches for 224 yards and 2 touchdowns, and New England certainly wanted to prevent Hilton from putting together another performance like that.
While the Patriots did not shut down Hilton, they certainly prevented him from taking over this game. Hilton ended up catching 4 balls for 103 yards, but he was kept out of the endzone, and he was limited to just 6 targets all game, one of the lowest totals of the season for him. Meanwhile, tight end Coby Fleener was targeted 11 times, the highest number for him this season and twice his per game average of 5.5. LaVon Brazill and Griff Whalen also ended up getting more targets than Hilton as they both got 7 targets this day. Basically, the Patriots were willing to give up more opportunities to Fleener, Brazill, and Whalen as long as it meant limiting Hilton’s opportunities. They were able to accomplish this through a variety of man and zone coverage schemes and constantly double and at times triple teaming him.
So let’s get into breaking down the game and see how the Patriots were able to come away with the victory.
We start with Andrew Luck’s interception from the first drive of the game which lead to a Patriots touchdown. On this play, Hilton is double teamed as he runs a slant in the middle of the field. Luck looks to throw a pass to LaVon Brazill on a square-in route, but cornerback Alfonzo Dennard does a great job of jamming Brazill at the line, and then getting inside position on Brazill to pick off the pass.
In these next few plays, I’ll show the type of coverage T.Y. Hilton was facing early in the game that kept him from making plays.
On this play, Hilton runs a crossing route and ends up with a 1 yard catch. Cornerback Aqib Talib has man coverage, and safety Steve Gregory reads the crossing route to provide help in coverage. Talib does a great job of staying with the speedy Hilton to prevent any yards after the catch, but just in case he were to break a tackle, Gregory was there to help clean it up.
On this play next play, Hilton again runs a crossing route. This time, the Patriots are in zone coverage. When Hilton stops his route to sit in a hole in the zone, nearby cornerback Kyle Arrington is going to leave his spot to cover Hilton. This opens up a hole for tight end Coby Fleener to make a 9 yard catch, but from the Patriots viewpoint, this is a more desirable position than to let Hilton catch a pass in the middle of the field in open space.
On the following play, the Colts send Hilton deep but the Patriots have him double covered, forcing Luck to throw a short pass which ends up incomplete.
On this next play, the Colts look to go downfield off of playaction, but again the Patriots have 2 players surrounding Hilton downfield, preventing a throw in his direction. Luck ends up scrambling for a first down on this play instead.
On this play, the Colts take advantage of the Patriots’ defensive scheme as Luck is able to connect with Brazill for a 38 yard touchdown. Once again, the Patriots are paying a lot of attention to Hilton as 3 defenders are around him, leaving Brazill single covered.
Safety Devin McCourty is the closest Patriots’ defender who can give over the top help, but he is occupied with ensuring that Hilton doesn’t get open downfield, and therefore is not in position to be able to make a play on this ball. Here is the endzone view to give you an idea of the distance between McCourty and the ball by the time Brazill makes the catch.
On the Patriots’ side of the ball on offense, they were able to move the ball effectively with a consistent ground game and a few key passes from Tom Brady. Runningbacks LeGarrette Blount, Stevan Ridley, and Shane Vereen combined for 235 yards on 43 carries, for an average of 5.5 yards per carry. Blount carried the load with 166 yards on 24 carries. What was really interesting about the Patriots’ run game this day was that out of those 43 carries, they only got 10 yards or more on a run three times all day. However, they did pick up at least 4 yards on 17 of their carries. This was just an efficient north south running game that constantly was picking up yards small chunks at a time.
Here are two runs by LeGarrette Blount that showcase how the interior linemen of the Patriots were able to seal off their blocks to open up lanes for the run game.
On this play, left guard Logan Mankins is going to pull and put a block on linebacker Kelvin Sheppard to spring Blount for an 8 yard gain.
This next play is just a basic “hat on a hat” play from the offensive line. Blount does a great job of reading the hole, cutting to his left and bursting through the hole for another 8 yard gain.
This next play in the passing game for New England is typical of the type of plays they’ve had success with all season long, criss-crossing routes to open up space in the middle of the field. On this play, tight end Michael Hoomanawanui runs his route right at linebacker Kavell Conner while Julian Edelman runs a crossing route underneath. Hoomanawanui’s route prevents Conner from being able get to Edelman, giving Brady an easy pitch and catch which turns into a 25 yard gain.
On the following play, Brady connects with Danny Amendola for a 53 yard gain off of playaction. They key to this play is how hard LaRon Landry bites on the play fake, leaving Amendola wide open deep downfield.
Back to the Colts offense. In the second half, they were able to finally get a connection going between Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton. On this play, Hilton is going to be left single covered downfield and gets wide open and hauls in a 40 yard catch.
On this next play, the Patriots go back to covering Hilton at multiple levels, but this time it doesn’t matter as Luck throws a perfect pass to him for a 46 yard gain.
Here is the endzone view so you can see what Luck was dealing with as he was making this throw. Luck shows off his great arm strength as he is able to sling this ball downfield as he’s getting brought down to the ground by linebacker Jamie Collins. It’s amazing that he’s still able to hit Hilton perfectly in stride on this play.
On the very next play, Luck connects with LaVon Brazill on a 35 yard touchdown pass. The Patriots have 2 safeties deep on this play, but Brazill is still able to use his speed to get behind the defense on this play.
With the Patriots leading 29-22 early in the 4th quarter, they added 7 points to their lead when LaGarrette Blount scored on a 73 yard touchdown run. Blount does a great job of being patient behind his line, allowing his blocks to develop before bursting through the hole. Laron Landry is the last line of defense on this play, but he is unable to bring Blount down, and once Blount gets by him, there is nothing but green in front of him.
On the ensuing drive for the Colts, the Patriots are able to pick off Andrew Luck for the 3rd time this game, which lead to another Patriot touchdown which just about sealed the deal. Luck is looking to go downfield to Coby Fleener on this play, but linebacker Jaime Collins has this play covered all the way, and the ball was underthrown as well.
Well that does it for this week’s All-22 film review. Be sure to check in next week when I breakdown the NFC and AFC Championship Games.