Sunday, January 18, 2015

Prelude To A Title - Part 4: Heavy Rains After Halftime Could Shift Game Plans

The weather forecast for Foxborough on Sunday night is for bleak conditions - especially in the second half - with heavy rain and a sustained wind out of the southeast at 12-15 miles per hour - gusting to 25 mph at times - with temps in the low 40's at kickoff, dropping to the high 30's by the final snap.  It is estimated by the National Weather Service that more than an inch of rain could fall at Gillette Stadium during the course of the game.

Belichick can become the all-time wins leader in the postseason with 21
Naturally, the rain puts a premium on ball security and, mixed with the winds, could bring the running game more into focus.  While this shouldn't affect the Patriots' game plan coming in, it could cause the Colts to alter theirs a bit.  Look for them to put the ball in the air early and often to try and gain a halftime lead, then go to a more ball control offense in the second half to eat the clock.

Both quarterbacks, New England's Tom Brady and Indianapolis' Andrew Luck have strong arms and can zip the ball through a tempest, but where the wind could play a factor is on the outside down the field, which affects Luck more than Brady - particularly if Luck is forced to throw from the pocket.  With the field conditions likely to be slippery and the wind playing a factor, the Patriots' safeties could enjoy some wind-driven, off-target throws to feed off of, especially if the Colts enter the second half down.

other items of interest for Sunday's AFC Championship Game:

* Defensive tackle Joe Vellano has been activated from the practice squad in favor of tight end Steve Maneri, who was released.  The team has been down a three-tech since Dominique Easley went on the IR, and while it seems improbable that Vellano will find his way onto the game day roster for the AFC Championship, perhaps the move is part of long-range thinking, looking forward to a Super Bowl matchup where both NFC teams still in the hunt have superior ground games than Indianapolis.

* With center Bryan Stork already ruled out for the title tilt, veteran brawler Ryan Wendell will likely get the nod at the pivot.  Wendell is undersized for the position, but if there is one thing that has become evident throughout this season, it is that Wendell has plenty of grit and seemed to really take to mixing it up with defensive tackles at the right guard position.  That job now likely falls to Josh Kline, who has had an up-and-down season, to say the least.

To help Kline hold the line in the running game, the Patriots have many options, from wham blocks from the tight ends to two-back sets with a fullback leading the way through the hole.  But in pass protection, be looking for one back to stay in for max-protect.  Of course, getting the running game going early will negate much of the Colts' pass rush, so that should be a priority.

*There is still the chance that cornerback Brandon Browner could be a scratch for the game.  Perhaps it comes down to a gametime decision, but if he's not able to go, Logan Ryan will go in his stead, as already spoken of in part 3 of this series.  It could be that Ryan sees a lot of the field anyway, as Browner's knee could limit his lateral movement, so he could be more of an in-the-box safety type entity in the middle of the underneath zone.

* Should the Patriots prevail, they will tie the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers for most all-time appearances in the Super Bowl with eight.  Of course, all but one of those appearances have come under the ownership of Bob Kraft, whose business savvy has been highlighted recently in this blog.  Going to the big game 7 times in 20 years is all the evidence anyone should need to confirm Kraft as one of the most successful owners in NFL History.

* A few other individual honors are at stake in this game as well.  With a win over Indianapolis, head ball coach Bill Belichick will overtake Tom Landry as the all-time leader in post-season wins in NFL History with 21, and Tom Brady will pass John Elway for the most apprearances in a Super Bowl by a starting quarterback with 6.

At halftime in the NFC Championship Game, the Green Bay Packers are playing their game plan to perfection and are leading the defending World Champions Seattle Seahawks 16-0.

Part 1:  Patriots enter championship Sunday fully loaded
Part 2:  Patriots' offense ready for encore performance
Part 3:  Colts offense custom built....

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