]()The Patriots take on the undefeated Indianapolis Colts tonight in front of a national television audience. The wounded Pats face a tall order against the Colts. Here are some of the keys for the Patriots to win the game and send the Colts home with another loss in Foxborough.
1. Jump on them early
This is a huge game for the Colts, whether they want to admit or not. They know this is a great chance to come in here and finally knock off the Patriots. But what happens if the Pats jump out to an early lead? How will the Colts respond? The Patriots have been able to frustrate the Colts in the past and have a huge mental edge over Indy. The Patriots know they can beat the Colts while the Colts are hoping they can beat the Patriots. That won't matter if the Colts jump out 21-0 but it could be a factor if Indy falls behind early. The Patriots have had success in the past running a no-huddle offense and throwing all over the Colts secondary. Expect New England to try and grab momentum early by being aggressive on offense. Then we'll see if doubt starts to creep back in the minds of the Colts players.
2. Contain Dwight Freeney
The matchup between Freeney and rookie Nick Kaczur is probably the most important individual battle of the night. Freeney stated earlier in the week the Patriots haven't had success against him because he has registered a sack almost every time the two teams have played. While that may be true, the bottom line is Freeney has never made a huge, game-changing play against the Patriots. Now the All-Pro gets to feast on a rookie who is making only his fifth career start. The Patriots will no doubt keep Daniel Graham and other tight ends in to help Kaczur but how the rookie plays when he is matched up one-on-one with Freeney will go a long way in determining which team wins the game.
3. Play physical in the secondary
Usually this is a given for a Bill Belichick-coached defense but that hasn't been the case so far this season. Receivers have been able to run freely through the middle of the Patriots defense, unlike in past years when they often paid a price for going over the middle. In previous meetings, Colts receivers have been taken out of their game early because of how physical the Patriots secondary has played them. We just haven't seen anything like that this year from the Patriots defensive backs. If Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and Brandon Stokley are allowed to run free all night long, Peyton Manning is going to have a field day. Rodney Harrison may be gone, but this is the game where someone else needs to step up and set the tone early for the Patriots.
4. Make the Colts kick field goalsThe Colts offense is going to move the ball; there is no doubt about that. If anyone thinks the Patriots are going to hold the Colts to three points this time around, they are going to be disappointed. The Patriots have struggled with red zone defense this season and if those struggles continue against the Colts, they will probably come out on the losing end. Manning and company have shown more patience on offense this year but if the Patriots get a lead, it will be interesting to see if they stay patient. Manning and Edgerrin James are going to get their yards. The important thing for the Pats is to make the Colts kick field goals and limit the big plays. That is easier said than done seeing the Patriots have given up 23 pass plays of 20 yards or more this season. The Patriots better sure up their leaky secondary and not let the Colts receivers behind them like they did in Denver. It's not easy to hold a team to field goals if they are scoring from 70 yards away.
5. Test that new Colts defenseThe Colts are 7-0 and you can't take that away from them. Their defense ranks fourth in the NFL in total defense, giving up only 11 points a game and you can't take that away from them. However, the Colts have played only one explosive offense – the Rams – and St. Louis was able to score 17 quick points on the Indy defense before starting quarterback Marc Bulger was lost for the game. The Rams moved the ball on the Colts by pounding Steven Jackson between the tackles and throwing down the middle of the field. This is going to be the Colts first true test for a full four quarters, facing a productive offense with a veteran quarterback. If the Patriots can get Dillon going, it will open things up down the field. Look for the Patriots not only to run Corey Dillon between the tackles but also at Freeney, to help slow down his pass rush. If the Colts defense can hold the Patriots to 21 points, 10 points over their season average, they should win. If the Patriots score more than that, then it comes down to a shootout between Manning and Brady and it's anyone's ball game.
NotesEllis Hobbs was added to the injury report with a thigh injury on Saturday. Hobbs missed some practice time and is now questionable for tonight's game…The Colts added defensive end Josh Thomas to the injury report with a chest injury and starting tackle Tarik Glenn is listed as probable with a bad back…In all, the Patriots have 14 players listed as questionable for the game, while the Colts have only four.