Saturday, January 20, 2007

AFC Championship preview !

New England (14-4) at Indianapolis (14-4)

Pats 8-1 on the road
Colts 9-0 at home

Pats rank 11th in yards offense, 7th in scoring offense
Colts rank 3rd in yards offense, 2nd in scoring offense

Pats rank 6th on yards defense, 2nd in scoring defense
Colts rank 21 in yards defense, 23rd in scoring defense

Pats rank 3rd in punt returns, 1 in KO returns
Colts rank 13th in punt returns, 7th in KO returns

The colts also rank 2nd to last in punt return defense, and 3rd to last in KO defense

Pats average 27.1 PF and 14.3 PA on the road
Indy averages 28.9 PF and 17.3 PA at home

The Colts won the last 2 meetings
The Pats won the last 2 meetings in Indianapolis. ( 38-34)(38-17)

Statistically, it looks like the Pats are a more balanced team when you consider offense, defense and special teams. It’s interesting to note, that the Pats actually performed better on the road this year. The Colts are also much better at home, so we should see the best out of both teams.

If the Colts are to beat the Patriots and go onto the Super bowl, they will be the worst defense to EVER go to the Super bowl and the worst run defense. When we look at the bad run defense we must also consider that they were a team that was undefeated for a while and were leading games.

Do you remember when the Rams won the Super bowl and they had the #1 rush defense? It had to do with the fact that when the opposing team was losing the game, they didn’t attempt very many rushing attempts. Teams didn’t get a lot of rushing yards, because they had to pass and catch up.

Colts opponents this year attempt 31.6 rushes per game for a whopping 144.6 yards a game and 4.6 per carry.

Did everybody just forget what happened this season after two playoff games? The Colts run defense was so bad this year, that fantasy football players would play whatever RB was playing the Colts. Do you remember the Jags whooping up on the Colts in Jacksonville while setting NFL rushing records? The Jags almost had 3, 100 yard rushers in one game!

A lot has been made of the Colts last two games. In their first playoff win, they beat the Chiefs who were 3-5 on the road this year. The Chiefs just snuck into the playoffs and completely didn’t show up. The last game was against a Ravens offense that was still only pretenders. Brian Billeck is overrated as an offensive guru, and his offense was still that same boring conservative offense. I guess Billeck isn’t such a genius without one of the most talented offense ever with Cris Carter, Randy Moss, Jake Reed, and Robert Smith.

Now we as fans tend to put too much focus on what happened LAST, as opposed to what we are. The Colts defense was push overs the entire season, and now we think they just put a band aid over it and their ok? If I am an average basketball player, but then I sink an amazing half court shot, does that mean that suddenly I am good? The media is focusing on a bad defense sinking a half court shot as of late. Do people really believe that Safety Bob Saunders is the key to their rush defense? The Colts were still giving up over 100 yards per game during those 4 regular season games he played in.

Not only has the defense struggled, but the Colts special teams have as well. I’m not talking about kicker Adam Vineteri, but the Colts kickoff and punt coverage which has been awful this year. Tony Dungy has countered that by playing starters on those units. I wonder how this will impact those starters late in games. It’s not like the Colts are playing against “average” return units either, but the Pats sport the #1 Kickoff return unit, and are #3 in punt returns. The fact that the game is on that fast dome turf, just speeds up the return game.

The Patriots have won 8 of their last 9 games, and the last loss was December 10th in Miami ( Wouldn’t it be a fitting Super bowl story that the Pats last loss was in Miami?). The Patriots were destroyed by bad field position that whole game. The Fins pinned the Patriots back the whole game, and gave their solid defense good field position to work with, which allowed the defense to be more aggressive.

The Colts have won 6 of their last 10, but all four of their losses have been on the road. Losing @ Hou and Ten seemed more like fluky losses, but the Jags destroyed Indy and it seems like the Colts beat themselves against Dallas with turnovers. The Colts are very lucky that they are playing this championship game at home. The Colts are 9-0 at home, but only 5-4 on the road. The Colts don’t just win at home, but their offense and defense are better including their rush defense.

New England is 8-1 on the road including last weeks playoff win in San Diego. Once again, their only loss was at Miami which would be a good Super bowl story should they make it. I’ve said it before that I believe that winning on the road is attributed to FOCUS. Some teams and quarterbacks have the ability to focus on the game, while others don’t. People always attribute home wins and losses to a loud crowd, but It’s all about focus and execution. Is the visiting team focused on the game, or the cold weather, the history, the stadium, the jeering? When my team in college had our first flight for a road game, a lot of the guys on my team had never flown in an airplane before. These guys were focused on what flying felt like, and what our hotel was like, and the part of the country etc. It’s all about forgetting about EVERYTHING, and just focusing on executing the plays and beating your opponent. They don’t call Tom Brady “ Mr. Cool” for nothing, he’s focused and his 8-1 record proves that. He’s also never lost in a dome before, and only lost 1 career playoff game.

X’s and O’s.

The Colts strike me as the kind of team that will do their thing. They line up, and take what the defense will give them. Last weeks game just showed how balanced they are. Their offense was in the shotgun formation with 3WR and a tight end almost every play. They would have such balance on these formations. 1WR and 1TE on one side, and 2WR on the other side to create balance. Petyon Manning comes up to the line, checks out what blitzes and coverage the defenses is in, and then runs a play with a good chance to succeed. The Colts call two plays in every huddle, a pass play and a run play. COACH Manning will go up to the line and run which ever play has a better chance to succeed. It is extremely frustration for defensive players.

Did you ever wonder why Edge wasn’t so successful in Arizona, and why Addai put up solid numbers? It’s because of the good positive situations that Manning puts them into. That stretch run play the Colts run is called at very good times and against the strength of the defense.

The Patriots on the other hand are know as a hybrid team. The media loves to talk about how the Pats “take it one game at a time” and change their entire philosophy. They ran a dime defense as their base defense against the Rams in their first Super Bowl win. They ran ball control offense against Manning in the past. Bill Belichick will try and take away the opposing offenses strength.

One thing I’d like to point out is that the Patriots might not have the BEST offense in the league statistically, but they have one of the best REAL offenses in the league. Not every offensive possession’s goal is to score points. There is a big difference between scoring points, and a long, time consuming drive that scores points. There is a difference between scoring a garbage touchdown at the end of a game, and scoring a go ahead touchdown to win a game. Belichick likes to get his team a solid 10-14 point lead and then suck the life out of the opponent. The Pats can be pretty aggressive early on ( remember that streak they had where they scored first in 15 games in a row or so)? The reason being is that if they take some chances early and are losing, they have the entire game to play catch up ball. If they take some chances early and succeed, they are playing ahead. Bellicheck does run a more conservative offense with the lead. The Pats get up by a couple of scores and just execute and keep drives alive and kill the clock and the opponents drive. The fact that the Pats are just running that 4 minute offense all the time doesn’t show statistically that they are very good. There is no doubt in my mind that if Brady was on a bad team that had to throw a lot that he would have 4,000 yards and better passing numbers.

Did you ever notice how teams in sports are built to HOLD leads? Think about a closer in baseball? What about good defenses in any sport? The objective is to get the lead, and then hold onto it. The Patriots are excellent playing aggressive early on, building a lead, and then holding onto it with brilliant executing in their 4 minute offense.

The Patriots really do have a hybrid type offense. One one hand, they have 2TE sets where Corey Dillion will just play some good old fashioned smash mouth football. The Pats love this offense late in games, or on grass fields where it serves a very good purpose. Not only can they run the ball, but they have a number of talented and versatile tight ends in the passing game and red zone as well. In the redzone, the value of smaller speedy receivers goes down, and the value of big and tall tight end targets goes up.

The other offense the Pats run, is that 4 WR offense with Kevin Faulk in the backfield. This “passing” offense is also very efficient. A few years ago an announcer identified this as a “ ball control “ passing offense . Brady is just so damn efficient in this offense as well. He comes up to the line, reads the blitz, and then throws the ball to the open receiver. When you combine the two different offensive philosophy, it really gives the Pats a top 5 offense in the league. When you combine that with Bill Belichick and a defense on the other side of the ball, it means championships.

Besides special teams, the other biggest mismatch is coaching. Bill Belichick is correctly labeled a defensive genius while Tony Dungy is not. Bill Belichick is known for making adjustments and taking away an opponents strength. He will try and game plan so that his opponents will have to beat you with their secondary players as opposed to the star. A lot of people love to call Peyton Manning a choke artist, but what has Tony Dungy ever won? It just seems like Dungy gets a free pass, where a guy like Marty is bashed over and over. Dungy had very talented teams in Tampa that couldn’t get it done in the playoffs and they finally won the year AFTER Dungy left. Now Dungy has these Colt teams that are winning by offense, but get beat in the playoffs. Dungy actually has a losing career post season record, while Bill Belichick has a hand that is littered with Super bowl rings from New York and Boston.

If I had to make a prediction, I think New England wins this game. New England is a 3 point underdog so they will win straight up and against the spread. I also think the OVER 48 points will hit as well. The last time these teams met in Indianapolis, the Patriots won 38-34. The Pat’s won’t have the luxury of cold weather and grass to slow down the Colts offense. We might see the Pats employ a defensive strategy like the Chiefs and Cowboys ran. They would play back on defense and force the Colts offense to dink and dunk the ball down field and hope for mistakes ( fumbles, or tipped passes to be intercepted). Then, they would start to really play defense in the red zone and try and limit the Colts to field goals instead of touchdowns.

One of the things that kills me about red zone offense is down and distance. It’s a hell of a lot harder for an offense with 1st and goal from the 9, as opposed to first and goal from the 2 yard line. Not every red zone opportunity is created equally. The Red zone is where this game will be won or lost. The Red zone is the ultimate gamble, there are 11 defenders packing into a shorted field which limits the separation and tight ends and receivers can make in the passing game. Defense also don’t have to employ two deep safeties over top, but can use them as extra blitzers or to take away shorter passing routes like slants. So will Belichick use confusing schemes that could cause turnovers in the red zone? Will Peyton Manning try and make a play and force something, or will he simply take the field goal? With the way the defense has been playing, I think Peyton takes the conservative field goals. This game will come down to the Red zone scoring opportunities. Which team is scoring touchdowns, and which team is kicking 3 pointers?

The other factor that over betters are scared about, is they think the BB might try and run a ball control offense and keep Peyton off the field. While this might be theory, theory and reality often differ. Did you see in their last meeting how BB was very liberal to go for it in 4th down situations? That tells me that he thinks the Dam can only hold the river back so long. I think BB is more concerned about SCORING points as opposed to how they do it.

Patriots 34
Colts 30

Enjoy the game.

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