AFC Championship: A rematch of sorts
College Contributor Network
A lot has changed since the Colts and Patriots met in Week 11 of the NFL season. Jonas Gray, who entered the week as an afterthought on a pass-happy attack has since found himself on the cover of Sports Illustrated, benched for sleeping in, and finally sidelined for the Divisional Round of the playoffs with an ankle injury. Since his 201-yard output against Indianapolis, the Notre Dame product has only had double-digit carries once, slipping back into irrelevancy after the Patriots brought LeGarrette Blount back into the fold. Blount, although lacking a huge performance of his own, has picked up where the Patriots leading rusher left off, averaging 4.7 yards per carry to Gray's 4.6. However the Patriots run game was nearly non-existent in their Divisional Round matchup with the Ravens.
With the knee injury to rookie center Bryan Stork, which could potentially hold him out of the AFC Championship Game, and the reconfiguring of New England's backfield it is safe to assume the Patriots will have nowhere near the success they had running up and down the field against Indy's defense. Add the return of Colts defensive lineman Arthur Jones to the equation, and the Patriots run offense might more closely resemble the Colts' putrid attack of 16 carries for 19 yards. Okay, maybe that's a little bit of an exaggeration, but do not expect the Patriots to run wild this Sunday in Foxborough. In their two playoff games this season the Colts allowed 110 and 88 yards to Cincinnati and Denver, respectively.
On the flip side of the coin, Indianapolis has turned to former Buckeye Boom Herron to carry the load. The Colt's leading rusher, the oft-criticized Trent Richardson, is so far into Coach Pagano's doghouse that he was deactivated for the Denver game in favor of Zurlon Tipton and Michael Hill. Tipton, he of 10 carries before the postseason, shouldered the backup duties, while Hill performed on special teams. While it is true that the Patriots' defense held the Colts to just 19 yards, including zero on six carries for Richardson, they were exposed this past weekend by the zone-running scheme of Gary Kubiak and the Baltimore Ravens.
So what can we take away from that mid-season matchup between the best the AFC has to offer? Outside of the running game, both teams look very similar on both sides of the ball. In the first bout the Patriots matched up Darrelle Revis almost exclusively on Reggie Wayne, who has barely been a factor for the Colts since that matchup. I would expect Revis, instead of Kyle Arrington, to take on a little more of the responsibility against speedster TY Hilton. The Colt's also got a ton of production out of their tight ends in the previous matchup, with Colby Fleener accounting for 144 of their 303 passing yards. The Patriots could potentially use Devin McCourty in coverage against the fleet-footed Fleener, which would take some of the pressure off of the Patriots' linebacker core.
The Patriots, to no one's surprise, will rely heavily on Rob Gronkowski once again. However, the key for the Patriots will be if secondary options such as Shane Vereen and Danny Amendola, who stole the show this past week, can continue to step up. Gronk and Edelman should command the majority of the attention from Indy, so the success of the secondary targets, as well as Lafell in single coverage, will determine the fate of this game.
In the end, I think the Patriots arsenal of weapons will prevail. Unlike this past weekend, they will be able to establish a semblance of a run game, and Revis will rebound from his worst performance in a Patriots uniform. Who knows, maybe Belichick has another well-timed trick up his sleeve.
Liam Bevans is a graduate student at Boston College. He has spent the last six years working for the BC football team both as a student and as an intern. Follow him on twitter: @liham_andcheese