AFC Playoffs: Indianapolis Colts Can’t Fall Behind Early Against New England Patriots
In the wild card round of the NFL playoffs last week, the Indianapolis Colts completed the second-largest comeback in playoff history, trailing by four touchdowns in the third quarter and coming back to win by a single point against the Kansas City Chiefs. But if the Colts think that they’re going to be able to get away with something similar this week against the New England Patriots, they have another thing coming.
The Colts have become notorious this season for getting off to slow starts, falling behind early in games and having to erase a deficit in the second half. On several occasions, the Colts have managed to crawl back into games and ultimately win, but it’s a trend they’re going to have to break against New England because the Patriots are a team that isn’t going to relinquish a big lead at home.
Part of what allows Indianapolis to come from behind in games is their defense shutting teams down in the second half while Andrew Luck and the offense play catch-up, but that won’t happen against Tom Brady and the Patriots. Despite playing with a watered-down group of playmakers compared to previous seasons, Brady will be tough to keep off the scoreboard for an entire half, especially against an Indianapolis defense that’s banged up, most notably in the secondary.
If Brady and the Patriots continue scoring throughout the game, a comeback would become virtually impossible.
The other issue the Colts will have if they fall behind early is the New England pass rush. The duo of Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich has combined for 19.5 sacks this season, and those two can be dangerous when the Patriots have a lead. They could be especially troublesome this week against an Indianapolis offensive line that has struggled for large chunks of the season.
If the Colts fall behind and are forced to abandon their running game, Luck could be under constant pressure from Jones and Ninkovich, making it much harder for him to lead a comeback.
Another problem the Colts could have is New England’s Aqib Talib being matched up against T.Y. Hilton, who had 224 yards receiving and two touchdowns during last week’s comeback against the Chiefs. Hilton has become Luck’s favorite target following the season-ending injury to Reggie Wayne and is the team’s best playmaker, but Talib is one of the best cornerbacks in the league. Even if he can’t completely shut down Hilton, he’s capable of slowing him down enough to force the Colts to rely on other playmakers.
If Indianapolis falls behind early once again, they’re going to need a big game from Hilton in order to come back, and that may not be possible with Talib defending him.
To a certain extent, it’s become their MO, but if the Colts think they can fall behind the Patriots by two or more touchdowns on Saturday night and still come back to win, they are sadly mistaken. It’s imperative that Indianapolis gets off to a fast start because the Patriots are too good to blow a sizable lead.