Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia is hedging his bets when it comes to preparing for the opposing quarterback his defense will face Sunday night in Indianapolis.
No one could blame him because star quarterback Andrew Luck has missed the last two games with an injured right shoulder while Matt Hasselbeck came off his “deathbed” to lead the Colts to their second straight win last Thursday against the Texans.
“Obviously, you’ve got to be ready for both guys,” Patricia said during a Tuesday conference call. “I think Andrew Luck is appearing to be moving in the right direction. We’ll find out on Sunday, but extremely great quarterback. [He] provides a whole level of depth to their offense with his mobility, his arm strength. He’s a great quarterback in the NFL, so certainly somebody who brings a huge element of challenge and competition.”
What’s intriguing is that Hasselbeck, a 40-year-old veteran, might have a better chance than Luck, who has been simply brutal in four losses against the Patriots. In two regular season games, Luck is 39-for-89 for 637 yards, with four touchdowns and four interceptions. His Colts have been beaten 59-28 (2012) and 42-20 (2014).
In 2013, Luck was 20-of-41 with two touchdowns and four interceptions in a 43-22 loss in the divisional playoffs. And last year, in the AFC championship, the Colts were obliterated 45-7, as Luck went a miserable 12-of-33 for 126 yards and two interceptions.
Luck’s Colts have been incapable of sustaining drives, exposing their undersized and overmatched defense to Tom Brady and the Patriots offense. In four games, the Patriots have beaten the Colts by an average score of 47-19.
Hasselbeck is 0-2 against the Patriots in two regular season losses, with no touchdowns and two picks. in two wins over Jacksonville and Houston, Hasselbeck is 48-of-76 for 495 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
“I think Hasselbeck has done a phenomenal job of coming in and obviously putting some good games together here and running this offense,” Patricia said. “And I don’t think they’ve missed a beat. I think they’re really right on track, so I think both quarterbacks are excellent. I think we’ve got to be ready for both, and we’ll find out on Sunday who’s out there.”
Other takeaways from Matt Patricia on Tuesday:
MP: I think you take a look at Indianapolis, obviously a very, very explosive team, would be a great word to use to describe this offense ‘ explosive skill players at the wide receiver position, dynamic players at the tight end position and then obviously with the addition of Frank Gore, I think their running game has really stepped up to another level. They’re top in the league in big-play runs. They’re top in the league in big-play passes. So, it’s really allowed them to open up the complementary offense that they want to run. So, they run the ball really well. You get guys down in the box to try and stop the run, and then they can throw it up over your head and get the big plays downfield.
“If you stay deep downfield so they can’t throw up the big plays, and then they have the ability to hand the ball off and obviously then Gore, who’s doing a great job, looks really, really good. He’s got great vision, great ability to move and jump and cut and see the plays develop. A very patient runner ‘ he’s got enough speed to get to the edge and turn those into big plays. So, he’s doing an excellent job in the run game. I think it’s really opening up everything else. The tight end position is another strength for them. They have some matchup problems that they create with their tight ends. All three of them will be out there ‘ [Coby] Fleener, [Dwayne] Allen and [Jack] Doyle. You’ll see them in some different spots. Fleener, you know, big target, huge catch radius, a guy who can really push vertical down the field. [He’s] another one of their big play guys who can get vertical.
And then Allen who’s a really, just a good tight end, a strong tight end in both the run and the pass game, another guy who has some vertical speed and can really push downfield also, does a good job of blocking, so you can see where they can use him in the run game. And then Doyle who will come in, he’s another big-bodied guy. He’ll line up in multiple different spots. Put him in the backfield. Put him on the edge. He can block the edge. He can block from the backfield. He can catch the ball from the backfield, especially when it’s in certain situations, so you’ll see that also. And then obviously just tremendous speed at the wide receiver position, guys who can just flat out fly and push vertical downfield for the deep-ball throws, but also guys who have great catch-and-run ability.
“I think they’re complemented with Andre Johnson, his ability now as just a big wide receiver who does a great job of separating at the top of routes, finding open spaces in the zones, really has a deep-threat ability and a possession-type of ability. So, they certainly have a complement of weapons on offense, and obviously the quarterback play here, [Matt] Hasselbeck has stepped in and done a great job as far as understanding what they’re trying to do and distributing the ball to the players out on the field and protecting the ball. So, they’re doing a great job.
Q: How do you define big-play runs and big-play passes? Have the Colts changed what they’ve done schematically with Gore and Johnson?
MP: Well, I think, like I was mentioning, they’re the tops in the league, one of the top teams in the league, in both those categories. I think you just watch the film, and you can see the run plays that they’re able to get. And again, whether it’s [Josh] Robinson or Gore, those guys are doing a great job of taking advantage of the opportunities in the run game to get those long runs and get through the first and second level and try to break into the secondary. So, you can really take a look at that. And then the explosive plays in the passing game, whether it’s just getting the ball downfield, but there’s also the catch-and-run element where they break a lot of tackles and they make a lot of people miss in space. You can certainly see that on film, too, so really good production with the ball in their hands, whether it’s getting it downfield or catch-and-run-type of plays. That’s where they really, you can see a lot of production from their offense. Again, with Gore and Johnson, I think their roles, whatever it is week-in, week-out, it’s going to be whatever their particular game plan approach is that week, and whatever they decide to attack their opponent with, I think those guys are just kind of doing a great job of fitting in the system and doing what they’re asked to do, and whether that’s in the passing game or the running game, I think those guys have acclimated to the system very well and have been productive players for them.
Q: What’s the importance of tackling on defense? How important is tackling in the evaluation of assessing a cornerback’s skills?
MP: I think everybody on the defensive side of the ball, one of the goals for the defense is to get the guy with the ball. And when you get to the guy with the ball, you need to be able to tackle him. So whether you’re a corner, a lineman, a linebacker, a safety, whoever it is, the idea is to tackle the guy with the ball. So, it’s something we work extremely hard at. We put a lot of emphasis on it. I think it’s part of our fundamentals that we always talk about every week about trying to improve our fundamentals and trying to get better at the basics of the game. Certainly, if you’re not very good at the basics then that’s got to be your starting point. So, it’s something we spend a lot of time on. We really try to improve that every day, every week. Tackling, it’s a huge point of emphasis for us, and it’s a skill that I think needs to be worked and developed all the time. I don’t think that you can just kind of look at it and say, “I’m a good tackler,” and that’s it. I think it’s something that you’re continually trying to improve, so we try to put a big emphasis on it defensively from all the way across the board and just try to make sure we can get the guy down with the ball.