It wasn’t long ago that Indianapolis vs New England in the postseason meant Manning vs Brady. Now there’s a new sheriff in town, but unfortunately for the Colts, it was their old adversary who came out on top once again. Fresh from his heroics against the Chiefs, Andrew Luck was unable to carry the team on his back and in fact was responsible for much of the hole the Colts dug for themselves at times this game.
The Patriots avoided questions about their passing attack and relative lack of receiving weapons by simply running the ball all day. The short fields they were gifted multiple times certainly helped, and then LeGarrette Blount was able to pad his stats a little as the team ran out the clock in the 4th quarter.
As impressive as the Kansas City comeback was a week ago, that game exposed the Colts as a team with a lot of weaknesses and holes. The Chiefs weren’t able to put them away after exploiting those weaknesses, but the Patriots certainly were.
Let’s dive a little deeper and see who stood out.
Indianapolis: Three Performances of Note
Now that the season is over it’s time to start looking at where the Colts need to improve going forward. If there is one area that needs a major overhaul it is inside on the offensive line. Their tackles are fine with Anthony Castonzo and Gosder Cherilus, but any of the three players inside could be upgraded. Both guards, Hugh Thornton and Mike McGlynn, had poor games again especially when it came to run blocking.
Andrew Luck seems at his best sometimes when he has to carry the team, but there is little doubt that an effective running game would take some pressure off his shoulders and allow him to execute a little better. Trent Richardson was once again nowhere in the game and while Donald Brown’s numbers don’t look disastrous, 16 of his 63 rushing yards came deep in garbage time with the Patriots essentially playing prevent defense. Take that carry away and he averaged less than 3.0 yards per carry as well, and had to gain half of those after contact. Samson Satele, a -12.9 graded center on the season, actually had a pretty good game. He rounded off his year with a +2.2 effort but it was only his 4th green graded game of the season.
Hit or Miss Coverage
Vontae Davis doesn’t tend to do consistency. His season is a roller coaster of poor then strong games, ridiculous peaks and a few ugly performances. Unfortunately for him this was one of the latter, and was by far his worst game of the season. His -3.5 coverage grade was more than twice as bad as his next poorest outing this year as he allowed six catches for 70 yards and a passer rating of 101.0 on throws into his coverage.
Those numbers don’t look too horrendous on the face of it but he accounted for four first downs by the Patriots on those six catches and they featured a couple of significant mental errors, not to mention a missed tackle into the bargain. Davis wasn’t alone in an ugly coverage day though. LaRon Landry allowed Danny Amendola to get in behind him when he slipped on a play-action pass. Josh Gordy was also beaten up a little in coverage, coughing up a big defensive pass interference penalty down the right sideline when he failed to find the football in man coverage.
The Players that Needed to Play Big
If the Colts were ever to win this game they were going to need big days from a few of their studs. Luck needed to be at his best, Robert Mathis was probably going to need one of his patented strip-sacks, and T.Y. Hilton was going to need some big plays. Much as the talk pregame was about how Belichick would go out of his way to take Hilton away from the Colts in all honesty they didn’t look to do much out of the ordinary. The combination of good coverage from Aqib Talib and Hilton picking up a knock or two limited him to a bit-part threat. Despite that he still managed 103 yards on four receptions including a fantastic diving catch over Talib.
Mathis got his strip sack late in the game but couldn’t find the football after he had knocked it loose and the Patriots ultimately recovered it. By that point it was too late anyway. His chance came much earlier in the game when he roasted Michael Hoomanawanui around the outside but missed the strip sack and Brady was able to throw the ball away for an incompletion. At that point in the 3rd quarter it was a six point game and a turnover would have been huge. The Patriots kept that drive alive and added another eight points by the end of it.
As for Luck, four interceptions mark a career high and while one was deep in garbage time and another was a relatively unlucky bounce off his fullback, all were poor throws and the one that marked the first step into the hole was downright terrible. Ultimately, this was the same Andrew Luck that we saw most of the season but he had to do too much this time.
New England: Three Performances of Note
Mauler Up Front
I love watching Logan Mankins play. He’s not dirty as such, but he certainly plays to the whistle, beyond a point that most linemen – offensive or defensive – do. When the run bursts through the line defensive linemen might stand up and ease off their block, because their part in the play is likely over. Do that near Mankins and you run the risk of being blasted over a pile of bodies to the floor, regardless of how far down field the runner might be now. That is the kind of nasty that scouts and coaches love, and its part of what makes him so great at his best.
This +5.1 grade marks a season’s best and showed us that he can still play with the best guards in the league when he’s healthy and motivated. It was also only the fourth game of the season in which he has earned green grades for both pass protection and run blocking. His run blocking skills were easy to spot in the game, but he also had a perfect day in pass protection for only the second time this season, and the first time since week three.
The numbers make it look like the Patriots were gashing the Colts all day long. In reality, they had to work for a lot of that yardage and both LeGarrette Blount and Stevan Ridley will know they were in a game this morning when they wake up. Of Blount’s 166 rushing yards 89 of them came after contact and half of Ridley’s 52 did also. Between them they had to force six missed tackles from Colts defenders to get that entire yardage and the scores were helped by being set up in good field position.
What was most impressive was how well both players ran on the plays that won’t make the highlight reel. Those ugly, hard yards for minimal gains were what really put the Colts under pressure and allowed the Patriots to consistently move the chains without needing to lean on their receivers and passing game. The Patriots may not have an all-world receiving corps anymore, but their backfield of Blount, Ridley and Vereen suddenly looks like arguably the best unit left in the postseason.
Brandon Spikes landed on injured reserve prior to the game leaving a pretty big hole in the New England linebacking corps. With Jerod Mayo already missing that left them playing with Dane Fletcher, Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins as their three for this game. All three graded positively, though in truth Fletcher’s grade would better be characterized as average and he only played 16 snaps. Hightower and Collins in particular were fantastic in the game.
Hightower’s +3.8 grade was a season’s best mark and represents his fifth straight strong game. He was rewarded with an interception for his hard work as a pass bounced off Stanley Havili’s chest right into his arms but he was outshone by Collins who earned a stout +7.4 grade for his performance. Collins ended the day with a sack, two hits and two more hurries on the nine snaps he was sent on the blitz. He also earned himself an interception and displayed some very close coverage from the five passes thrown his way. Collins came up strong against the run a few times as well for one of the better all-around linebacker displays you will see. The Patriots needed some big plays on defense and they got some from Collins and Hightower.
- When kept clean Andrew Luck’s passer rating was just 42.8, but on the 15 snaps he was pressured it shot up to 116.7
- The 66 snaps played by Jamie Collins (100% of New England’s) is a career high for a game and the first time he has played more than 73% of the team’s snaps.
- The Colts missed 10 tackles on defense to New England’s three.
PFF Game Ball
There were some fine performances in the game, and LeGarrette Blount can count himself unlucky to miss out, but Jamie Collins truly had the best performance of the day.
Follow Sam on Twitter: @PFF_Sam