INDIANAPOLIS – "This team has not faced their team."
That was what Chuck Pagano said a couple of times during his Monday media session.
Of course, Pagano is 100 percent correct in that assessment when asked about past matchups with the Patriots.
The personnel has definitely changed, on both sidelines, but there were some similarities in the two Patriots victories over the Colts last season that can be applied in dissecting Sunday night's contest.
Here, we look at five takeaways from last year's meetings and how the teams have changed coming into Sunday night's matchup at Lucas Oil Stadium
Week 11: Patriots 42, Colts 20
- Jonas Gray was the story of this Sunday Night Football meeting. Gray rushed for 201 yards on 37 carries, scoring four touchdowns and finding himself on the front cover of Sports Illustrated the next week. The Patriots used a tackle eligible (Cameron Fleming) on 38 of their 71 offensive snaps. New England had 17 rushing first downs, compared to just one for the Colts, and held the ball nine minutes longer than Indianapolis.
- Despite the career-night from Gray, the Colts still were down just one score in the fourth quarter. However, the Colts couldn't get the critical stop. New England finished the night 9-of-11 on third-downs and converted all five of their red-zone trips into touchdowns.
- The Colts suffered two critical injuries during the game. Ahmad Bradshaw and Dwayne Allen would exit before halftime, which restricted the Colts offense the rest of the season. Even with Bradshaw playing for a half, the Colts run game struggled to the tune of 19 rushing yards on 16 carries (Andrew Luck had 15 rushing yards on three carries).
- The Patriots were successful in taking away T.Y. Hilton (three receptions for 24 yards on seven targets). With Hilton neutralized, the Colts did move the ball with Coby Fleener (seven receptions for 144 yards) and Reggie Wayne (five receptions for 91 yards).
- The Colts did turn Tom Brady over in the Week 11 loss. A major reason why the Colts stayed in the game for so long came from two first-half interceptions by safety Mike Adams. Any forced turnovers of Brady are rare (he's the only starting quarterback in the league yet to throw a pick this season), but these plays from Adams kept the Colts within striking distance into the fourth quarter.
AFC Championship: Patriots 45, Colts 7
- LeGarrette Blount was the star of the AFC Championship. He pounded his way for 148 rushing yards on 30 carries and three touchdowns. The Patriots continued to use more tackle eligible looks (Cameron Fleming once again played 29 of the 78 offensive snaps).
- A Josh Cribbs fumble early in Foxborough gave New England a short field, and subsequent touchdown. It goes without saying that a turnover early in such a road venue is no recipe for success. After each team went three-and-out to start the game, a muffed punt by Cribbs gave New England the ball at the Colts 26-yard line. A Blount touchdown followed and the Colts were playing catch up the rest of the game.
- New England limited Hilton, again. With safety help over the top of Hilton, the Colts Pro Bowl wideout had just one catch in six targets. Unlike in the first matchup, the other Colts could not take advantage of their individual matchups. The Colts wide receivers combined for just two catches in 12 targets in the AFC Championship.
- The Colts sacked Tom Brady just once in 35 pass attempts. Disrupting the game's top quarterbacks were a problem in the Colts losses last season. In their six defeats, the Colts recorded a total of just two sacks.
- For the second straight matchup, the Patriots were extremely efficient on third-down. New England was 12-of-18 on third-down (the Colts were 3-of-11) and converted six of their seven red-zone opportunities. The Colts defense finished 2014 second in the NFL in third-down defense, but the Patriots combined to convert 21-of-29 on the money down against Indianapolis.
2015 Personnel Changes
- Chuck Pagano alluded to it on Monday---"we are different up front." The Colts new-look defensive line has been very successful in 2015. To compare the turnover in the defensive trenches, the Colts return just eight percent of the defensive line snaps from guys who played against the Patriots last season (34 of the 434 total snaps, all from Zach Kerr). In 2015, starting running backs are averaging 3.3 yards per carry against the Colts.
- The Patriots have replaced their top three cornerbacks from last season. New England's secondary personnel has significantly changed from last season with Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner and Kyle Arrington no longer in the fold. Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler is now the team's top cornerback. With the personnel different, should the Colts still expect the secondary game plan they've seen lately from New England?
- The challenge for the Patriots' revamped cornerback group will be the Colts wide receivers. From a greater role for Donte Moncrief, to the additions of Andre Johnson and Phillip Dorsett, the Colts have some new weaponry opposite T.Y. Hilton. Also, the tight end duo of Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener is healthy. Don't forget about a true lead back now in Frank Gore, too.
- New England has added some new (healthy) faces to their own defensive front. Former first-round pick Chandler Jones (brother of Arthur Jones) is now healthy. Then in the offseason, the Patriots drafted defensive tackle Malcom Brown in Round One and signed edge rusher Jabaal Sheard. With Sheard's team-best four sacks, the Patriots have piled up 16 sacks in just four games this season.
- Perhaps the biggest individual change from last year (opposite Dion Lewis in New England) is the return of Robert Mathis. We mentioned earlier the Colts struggles in getting to the game's best quarterbacks last season. Mathis has had a knack over the years for making some incredibly timely plays. Is another in order Sunday night for a Colts pass rush looking for more consistency?