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Patriots Playbook Thu Dec 03 | 02:00 PM - 04:00 PM

Game Matchups: Brady knows how to dial it up this time of year

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WHEN THE PATRIOTS RUN


The final numbers weren't all that impressive, but the Colts peaked at the right time toward the end of the season, limiting Jeremy Hill, DeMarco Murray and Arian Foster to fewer than 4 yards per carry during the stretch run, and they also kept C.J. Anderson relatively quiet in last week's playoff win. The Patriots barely made an attempt to establish the run against Baltimore, rushing just four times in the second half. They didn't even activate Jonas Gray, who burned Indianapolis for 200 yards and four touchdowns in November. Logic would suggest the Patriots will use plenty of LeGarrette Blount and Gray this week, and while a repeat of the November magic may not be in the offing, expect the Patriots to enjoy some success on the ground. ADVANTAGE: PATRIOTS

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WHEN THE COLTS RUN


Based purely on regular-season numbers, the Patriots would have a significant edge in this category, but the playoffs have cast a new light on how each team has handled the run game. The Patriots beat the Ravens last week despite a big day on the ground from Justin Forsett. Now they have to deal with Dan Herron, a former sixth-round draft pick buried on the depth chart when these two teams last faced one another in November. Herron helped led the Colts past the Broncos with his ability to contribute in both the running and passing game and gives Indianapolis a look the Patriots have yet to see. Vince Wilfork and Sealver Siliga can't afford to lose the battles in the trenches this week like they did against Baltimore. ADVANTAGE: PATRIOTS

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WHEN THE PATRIOTS PASS


The Colts are coming off arguably their best defensive performance of the season, limiting Peyton Manning to just 211 passing yards. Vontae Davis, the heart of their defense and the No. 1 cornerback in football in terms of opposing passer rating, made several key plays last week and figures to be a factor again Sunday, but Tom Brady knows how to dial it up at this time of year and is coming off one of his best playoff games with 367 yards and three touchdowns. Even Danny Amendola, nearly the forgotten man in this passing game, is making key plays, which only gives Brady more weapons to work with. As good as the Colts were last week, Manning was equally as bad. Brady gets the ball out much quicker and has more zip on his throws. ADVANTAGE: PATRIOTS

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WHEN THE COLTS PASS


Andrew Luck is one of the league's most dynamic young cornerbacks and is a threat to air it out down the field or tuck the ball and scramble for big yards, but he's never beaten the Patriots, including last year's playoff loss at Gillette Stadium. He threaded the needle several times in last week's win at Denver, specifically on his touchdown pass to Dwayne Allen in tight coverage, but he also got a bit pass-happy and threw a pair of interceptions on ill-advised deep balls. Mistakes have hurt him against New England and this secondary is as good - and as deep - as it's been in more than a decade. Darrelle Revis should be able to keep T.Y. Hilton in check but how Brandon Browner, who is dealing with a knee injury, handles his assignment is less certain. Luck should find a way to make his share of plays against a secondary that was less-than-stellar a week ago. ADVANTAGE: COLTS

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SPECIAL TEAMS


The Colts are a dual threat in the return game, both on kickoffs and punts, where they rank among the best in the league in yards. This is arguably the biggest challenge the Patriots will face on special teams for the remainder of the postseason. Griff Whalen and Joshua Cribbs helped lead the Colts to the 12th best average starting field position offensively, but Cribbs also made two critical mistakes last week against Denver when he absorbed big hits on punt returns by failing to call for a fair catch. The Patriots have had a knack for blocking field goals or punts at critical times and are always a threat to make a big play on special teams. The added threat of Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola in the return game is tough for anyone to overcome. ADVANTAGE: PATRIOTS

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OTHER FACTORS


As hot as Luck is right now, he's never beaten New England, including an ugly playoff loss last season at Gillette Stadium, and while the Patriots haven't been nearly as impenetrable at home in the postseason as their history would suggest, they exorcised some major demons last week in their come-from-behind win against the Ravens. The key will be the new-look Indianapolis running game with Herron, which the Patriots have yet to see. This is not the same team they beat by three touchdowns in November and in each of the last four years they lost in the playoffs to a team they had already played during the regular season. The Colts can use that as a talking point this week, but it's still difficult to bet against the home team in a game of this magnitude. ADVANTAGE: PATRIOTS

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