INDIANAPOLIS – The Colts meet New England on Sunday at 4:25 p.m. in one of the day’s top games.
The battle will be beamed to most of the nation, and it pits the Colts, winners of four straight, against New England, a team that has won five-of-six.
This is the tenth straight season the teams have played, the 13th overall time since 2003.
There is some familiarity among playing and coaching personnel but like everything in the NFL, the only thing that counts is what happens over these 60 minutes.
Head Coach Chuck Pagano’s message to the team this year is for 53 players to play for 60 minutes with all they have. Players took hold of the message early this year, and it has been a preparation mode since.
Indianapolis is nine games better than it was a year ago at this time. There are only 18 players on the active roster who were with the club before this year. There are newcomers, veterans and rookies alike, who are playing major roles for the team, and Indianapolis currently has separated itself a bit from the 16-team AFC field.
The Colts and Patriots are two of six teams with a least six wins. Each very much wants to get to win number seven to keep ahead of the full pack. Houston leads the conference at 8-1. Baltimore is 7-2. Denver leads the AFC West at 6-3, while Pittsburgh, like Indianapolis, is second in its division at 6-3.
Getting their seventh victory is the aim for the Colts on Sunday, and here are SEVEN THINGS NEEDED TO WIN:
EXECUTE – Indianapolis has more players new to its program than does New England. Colts players have bought into the system in all three phases, and they will be up against a team that is more established in its program. For Indianapolis, it must just do what got it to 6-3 and be sharp on all details.
PROTECT THE BALL – New England is adept at takeaways, leading the AFC with 23 and ranking third in the NFL. Their seven giveaways mark the league’s best total and New England’s +16 ratio is two spots better than any current team. Their success at this is historic, with a league-best +138 turnover margin since 1994. Many statistics can be manipulated to make a point. This area speaks for itself, and success in the category breeds success.
CONVERT SHORT YARDAGES – The club’s running game has taken root recently, with the three best rushing games coming during the current winning streak. Converting first downs in short-yardage situations was a problem earlier this year. It has been a strength of late. Keep it that way.
NO YARDS AFTER CATCH – New England’s receivers, Wes Welker in particular but not him alone, are skilled at chalking up yards after the catch. This was something mentioned earlier in the week by Interim Head Coach Bruce Arians as a must for the club to accomplish. Welker has 3,720 yards after the catch since 2007, an NFL-high by more than 1,000 yards over Baltimore’s Ray Rice. More than 55 percent of his career receptions have produced first downs. Watch him…and others.
STOP THE RUN – Indianapolis has had some of its best success in the past few games, but the club played Jacksonville last week without Maurice Jones-Drew. New England is a top five rushing team that has out-gained six opponents and twice has been at the 250-yard mark this year. Do not lose sight of the Patriots’ ability to move the ball on the ground – they lead the league in rushing first downs.
CONVERT IN RED ZONE – The Colts have scored 14 touchdowns in 30 red-zone chances (46.7%), 12th in the AFC and 22nd in the league in percentage. New England is 3rd and 6th at 65.1%. When Indianapolis moves the ball against the highest scoring team in the league (33.2 points a game), it must cash in. Seven beats three seven days a week, more so on Sundays.
A LITTLE EXTRA – The Colts have won two straight road games after two double-digit road losses earlier in the year. It is a tightly-knit locker room, with players competing for a purpose. Nine games have been a period of growth. Sunday is another day to make plays, plus do a bit extra. Arians urged it at Tennessee – perform within the framework of your assignment, then do a bit more. This is a “bit more” Sunday.
QUOTE TO NOTE: Bruce Arians (on preparing for New England’s offense)
“You don’t know exactly how they’re going to use all those tight ends, or how Wes Welker is going to get open, but he’s going to go in there and dance around and get open. You just have to have enough pass rush and patience to get there and make sure you tackle extremely well. (Danny) Woodhead and all those guys are great run-after-the-catch guys. You can’t let them take a five-yard pass and turn it into a 50-yard gain. If you minimize run-after-the-catch with these guys, you’ll do a pretty good job. (You need to) mix up your coverages, because you’re not going to show Tom (Brady) anything he hasn’t seen. You just have to hopefully change it to where he can’t get comfortable.”