It doesn't take a Knute Rockne to understand how the Patriots smashed the Colts during their regular-season meeting back on Nov. 16. Bill Belichick dialed up a steady diet of Jonas Gray that night, and the overmatched Colts front seven simply couldn't handle it.
Gray piled up 201 rushing yards and the Patriots emerged with a 42-20 victory on Sunday Night Football. Gray hasn't really been part of the mix since, and sat out the Ravens game – ostensibly with an ankle injury but that may well have been a coach's decision as well.
Since that Colts game the Patriots added LeGarrette Blount to the mix and when the team has needed an every-down back since it's generally been Blount and not Gray carrying the load. Both could see their share of carries against Indy this time around, but expect to see Blount get the bulk of the carries considering Belichick's apparent faith in the veteran.
Regardless of which player the Patriots choose to hand the ball to the Colts will need to be tougher up front. Defensive tackle Arthur Jones, brother of Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones, was not active for the regular-season matchup and but has since returned. At 6-3, 337 pounds he is a bigger than some of the Colts other defensive lineman and he is considered a solid run-stopper. He will make life more difficult on the Patriots interior linemen.
What also could factor into the mix is rookie center Bryan Stork's knee injury suffered Saturday night. Stork left the game in the second quarter and did not return. He was not seen in the locker room following the win over the Ravens and his status for Sunday night is unknown at this time.
If Stork can't go, expect right guard Ryan Wendell to move to center with either Josh Kline or Marcus Cannon moving into his guard spot. Either way that's not a good development for a Patriots line that has struggled to maintain consistency down the stretch.
The Patriots are famously a game-plan oriented team so just because they chose to run it 45 times on the road in November doesn't mean they'll try to do that again this time. But it's a pretty safe bet that they'll attempt to run it more than the 13 times they did so against Baltimore, and the Colts will need to be ready to stop it.
Linebackers Jerel Freeman, D'Qwell Jackson and Erik Walden will need to support Jones and Cory Redding more effectively than they did the first time around. The group was a bit stouter against Denver last week, although C.J. Anderson averaged roughly 4.5 yards per carry on his 20 attempts.
Indy can likely live with the type of production it allowed against the Broncos but if Blount or Gray start to take over the game – as was the case in last year's playoff game in Foxborough as well – then the visitors will have no shot at pulling off an upset.