NEPD Staff Writer: Matthew Jones
Almost everything worked today for the Patriots, as they completed a 59-24 victory over the Indianapolis Colts; New England is now 7-3 on the season. The Patriots were able to score on offense, on defense, and on special teams in the win. Read on for more points from New England’s most exciting win of the season.
1. Patriots get pressure on Andrew Luck, protect Tom Brady
New England only sacked Andrew Luck once, but they continuously forced him into making bad decisions by hitting him six times and drove him from the pocket on a handful of other occasions. Conversely, the Patriots were able to protect their own quarterback, Tom Brady, even without starting guards Logan Mankins and Dan Connolly; Donald Thomas (left guard) and Nick McDonald (right) were adequate as replacements, and Brady avoided being sacked all day, sustaining just two quarterback hits. With enough time in the pocket, Brady dissected the Colts for three touchdowns and no interceptions, passing for 9.5 yards per attempt. The Patriots surprisingly struggled to block for their running backs – Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen scored twice but combined for just 68 yards on 24 carries – but nonetheless this week’s performance must be considered a success for the offensive line.
2. Career day for Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman
Julian Edelman was dangerous as a rusher, as a receiver, and as a return man this afternoon; he deserves this week’s game ball from head coach Bill Belichick for his contributions on offense and special teams. Edelman’s second quarter 68-yard punt return touchdown tied the game, and he added another 48-yarder later. He caught five passes for 58 yards and a touchdown, including one impressive screen pass which was facilitated by pulling right guard Nick McDonald in the opposite direction; Edelman’s receiving touchdown came on a slant route. Later, Edelman nearly added a third total touchdown on a 47-yard reverse. Wide receiver Deion Branch’s release earlier this week foreshadowed an increased focus on getting the ball into Edelman’s hands; his role is destined to continue its expansion in weeks to come, even after tight end Aaron Hernandez returns from his nagging ankle injury.
3. McDaniels focuses playcalling on Patriots’ best players
Playcalling was one of the points highlighted in my Ten Keys article preceding the game, but Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels did not disappoint in that regard. Before shifting the focus to Shane Vereen in the fourth quarter, New England’s playcalling had emphasized their five most significant offensive performers: running back Stevan Ridley, wide receivers Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, and Julian Edelman, and tight end Rob Gronkowski, who accounted for almost all of New England’s offensive touches. Only Ridley was ineffective (rushing 13 times for 28 yards and a touchdown before being replaced by Vereen), with New England’s receiving options all manging to get open often against Indianapolis’ depleted secondary. Tom Brady was expected to be successful this week, but the performance was impressive nonetheless: 24/35 passing, 331 yards, and three touchdowns, including 137 yards and two scores on seven completions to Gronkowski.
4. Offense gets help from aggressive defense/special teams
New England’s defense was aggressive all day, forcing four Andrew Luck turnovers: cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Alfonzo Dennard both returned Luck interceptions for touchdowns, defensive end Rob Ninkovich forced and recovered a fumble in the third quarter, and Tavon Wilson intercepted Luck late in the fourth. The Patriots showed Luck different looks defensively and were able to get pressure despite losing defensive end Chandler Jones to an ankle injury in the first quarter (Jones was replaced by Ninkovich, with Jermaine Cunningham stepping in at left end.) The two defensive touchdowns were complimented by Edelman’s 68-yard punt return touchdown in the second quarter, and Edelman almost scored another on his 49-yard return in the fourth quarter; New England also forced a pair of T.Y. Hilton fumbles (on a kick and a punt) and a Vick Ballard fumble, although none of those three were recovered by the Patriots.
5. Patriots must still work on allowing less total yardage
Despite the margin of victory and success of New England in all three facets of the game, they must still limit the amount of yardage they allow on a weekly basis. The Colts ran over 70 plays and gained over 400 yards of offense; incredibly, Indianapolis converted more first downs than the Patriots did, including on the ground. New England also got called for four penalties totaling 70 yards; Kyle Arrington’s 40-yard defensive pass interference call allowed the Colts to move downfield in a hurry on the game’s opening drive. Although the Colts ran quite a few meaningless plays after the game’s outcome had already been decided, Andrew Luck’s 334 passing yards and two touchdowns still stung. Left cornerback Aqib Talib debuted this week and impressed with an interception returned for a touchdown, but Talib was also responsible for both Luck touchdowns, one on a well-defended catch by T.Y. Hilton in the back of the end zone, and another when Talib sat on a deep route and get beat by Hilton once again for a 43-yard score.