INDIANAPOLIS --- The Colts and Patriots will have had two weeks to prepare for their primetime affair when they take the field Sunday night, and Indianapolis made one thing clear Monday afternoon. The Colts anticipate the Patriots will make them play left-handed.
"They find a way to gameplan everybody. I'm sure they're going to find a way to take away our game wreckers and make us beat them left-handed, so to speak," said Head Coach Chuck Pagano at his Monday press conference, communicating the respect he has for how New England Head Coach Bill Belichick prepares his team.
"You have to be aware of what they're doing and take what they give you," said Colts quarterback Andrew Luck Monday. "They do a great job of making you play left-handed or forcing you to be one-dimensional. You got to stay balanced. You got to be able to attack the whole field."
In last year's 43-22 AFC divisional round playoff loss at New England, the Colts fell behind 14-0 and 21-7, leading to a pass-heavy offense. Luck threw 41 passes, with the Colts only running 21 times. In Luck's rookie year 59-24 loss at New England, it was another pass heavy split, throwing 50 times and running only 24 times, after trailing in the 2nd half by multiple possessions. The Colts hope it will be different this time at home.
The Colts primary 'game wrecker' this season has been T.Y. Hilton. Pagano said team's this season haven't been able to neutralize him because the Colts have too many other weapons. You cant stop Hilton maybe for a few snaps but not every snap, with so many other pass cathcers to defend. Hilton has also played well against the Patriots. He posted 100-yard games both times at Foxborough, with Luck passing for more than 300 yards in each of those games against New England.
So what was the problem? The same area Pagano identified Monday as a point of emphasis the team has made after self scouting during the bye week - turnover margin.
"We're giving away too many, and we're not getting enough," said Pagano. "Right now we're at 15 giveaways and 15 takeaways. We're tied for 15th in the league (in turnover margin) at zero. Last year we finished #1 in the league (in giveaways) and fewest penalties. We've got to get that cleaned up and protect the football."
There's no better time for the Colts to emphasize turnover margin then this week. In those last two losses to New England, Indianapolis turned the ball over four times in each game with zero takeaways. That's a -8 turnover differential. There's no need to study a box score much more after that.
The Colts come into Sunday night's game middle of the pack in turnover margin, as Pagano said. Meanwhile, the Patriots are #1 in the league with a 12 differential, also leading the NFL with only six giveaways.
So in chapter three of Luck vs. Brady, better to play left-handed than with no hands at all with the offense on the sideline. Protecting the football will be a top priority this week in practice and on Sunday night.