AFC Championship game film breakdown: Trampling the Colts

Tom Brady and LeGarrette Blount celebrate a third quarter touchdown. Getty Images
"Deflate-gate" may be the hot-button topic of the day, but the Patriots 45-7 drubbing of the Colts was the result of the Pats scheme and talent overwhelming an overmatched Colts team. The coaching staff and particularly Josh McDaniels have been on fire this postseason, consistently putting their players in positions to make plays, and the results were crystal-clear on the field.

Motion creates mismatches

The Patriots versatile offensive personnel makes them tough to match up with, and they use a wide variety of formations and motions to catch the defense in a compromising position, with this first quarter play serving as an excellent example. The Patriots start the play in a three receiver set, with Rob Gronkowski and Shane Vereen flanking either side of Tom Brady. Despite the multitude of capable pass catchers on the field, Indy respects New England's ability to run from this look and matches up with it's base defense, with three linebackers (#50 Jerrel Worthy, #52 D'Qwell Jackson and #93 Eric Walden) and four down linemen on the field. They appear to be playing a basic cover 2, with the safeties each responsible for their deep half of the field.

The Colts are essentially forced to pick their poison here, as the Pats are more than capable of throwing or running with this personnel on the field. The choice to stick with a base defense gives them more muscle against the run, but also creates several coverage mismatches for the Pats to exploit. The chess-match starts with Gronkowski motionion out from the backfield to split out wide, where top Colts corner Vontae Davis (#21) shifts out to take him. Had Gronkowski stayed in the backfield, Davis likely would have taken Edelman, with Freeman responsible for Gronk.

Instead, splitting Davis out on Gronk leaves poor Freeman ends up responsible for Edelman in the slot, an impossible task for any linebacker (had Brady looked the other way, he would have found Brandon LaFell with a similar mismatch against Eric Walden). Gronk takes Davis with him straight up the field, which occupies the safety (#20, Darius Butler) and gives Edelman all the space he needs to run a simple out pattern. Freeman, one of the league's best coverage linebackers, does an admirable job of staying with Edelman and making the tackle quickly, but the result of the play is an easy completion setting up a very manageable third and short. Two plays later, LeGarrette Blount gets in the end zone for the first of his three touchdowns, setting the tone for the day.

The two man game with Gronk and Edelman was an effective weapon for the Pats all game long. Take this third down play from later in the first quarter. Once again, Gronkowski comes in motion, this time from left to right, where he runs a crossing route combination with Edelman. Brady is tipped off that the Colts are in a zone when no defender adjusts to Gronkowski's presnap motion, giving him confidence that Edelman will have space over the middle against the deep zone drops of Freeman and Jackson. That's exactly what happens, and Brady hits Edelman for another first down, setting up a James Develin touchdown that would put them up 14 before the first quarter's end.

Covering the beast
One of the few things the Colts did well on Sunday was defend Rob Gronkowski. Gronk did find the end zone once the route was on, but the big tight end caught only three of his eight targets from Brady for 28 yards. You'll take that every time going against a talent like Gronk, and one can be sure that Pete Carroll and the Seattle coaching staff will take a close look at what Indy did to limit Gronk in this one.

The Colts had a variety of defenders cover Gronk throughout the game, as Vontae Davis, Greg Toler, D'Qwell Jackson, Jerrell Freeman, Mike Adams and, yes, Sergio Brown all saw targets against him. Laron Landry wasn't targeted, but as expected the former top 10 pick spent time against Gronk in coverage as well.

When the Pats split Gronk out wide, the Colts matched up with a cornerback, normally Vontae Davis. The lanky Davis had a season this year that statistically was comparable to Darrelle Revis (quarterbacks completed just 44.6% of their passes against Davis this year, with 0 touchdowns, 4 picks and 13 passes defensed), and the Pro Bowl corner did a fantastic job using his length to break up an end zone jump ball to Gronk. His counterpart, Toler, wasn't as lucky; Gronk used his insane length to reel in his lone touchdown against Toler, who was in one-on-one coverage outside against the much bigger Gronkowski with no help.

No matter who had primary coverage on Gronk, they usually had help over the top from a safety. That approach allowed Gronk's defender to play aggressive and physical, knowing that safety help would account for Gronk if he broke free and got vertical. The Pats did use Gronk's presence well to open up the field for others (the aforementioned Edelman out being a good example), but the constant attention Indy paid to Gronk clearly made it harder to get him the ball.

A perfect example of how safety help influenced Gronk's coverage came on Brady's second quarter interception to D'Qwell Jackson. That's a major speed mismatch in Gronk's favor, one which the Pats tried to attempt by sending Gronk up the seam. However, Jackson is able to play under the route knowing he has help over the top from safety Mike Adams. Under pressure from Arthur Jones (who drew a holding penalty on the play from Dan Connolly, Brady's hurried pass is underthrown, and Jackson's pick leads to the Colts only touchdown drive of the night.

Of course, a better throw might have produced a touchdown there, and Gronk wasn't helped by several errant Brady passes. It was far from Brady's best day accuracy-wise, as there were a number of occasions when Brady either made the catch difficult or flat-out missed his receiver. Even on Brady's two big downfield completions (a 30 yarder to Shane Vereen and a 22 yarder to Edelman), the receiver had to come back to make a tough catch on Brady's underthrows. His mastery of the mental aspects of the game enabled Brady to push through it and play well enough to win, but Brady will have to be much sharper when he takes the field against Seattle's legion of boom.

Run over

The Patriots offense always has plenty of tricks up its sleeve, but they become very tough to defend when the running game is effective to complement Brady. That was once again the case Sunday against the Colts, as LeGarrette Blount had another field day against Indy's undersized defense.

Blount's big day resulted from a combination of his own individual brilliance and solid blocking from his line up front. Blount certainly made the line look good on a number of plays, forcing six missed tackles while gaining 87 of his 148 yards after contact. However, the line did a fantastic job of controlling the line of scrimmage and getting a hat on linebackers D'Qwell Jackson and Jerrel Freeman. Often times, Blount was able to plow his way into open running lanes and gain downhill momentum into the secondary, where the 247 pound back was a nightmare to tackle for Indy's defensive backs.

Just like in the regular season matchup between these two, the interior of the offensive line deserves extra credit for doing a phenomenal job spearheading the rushing performance. Many (myself included) questioned whether the loss of starting center Bryan Stork would have an adverse effect on the line's play, but the combination of Ryan Wendell and Josh Kline held their own. Kline occasionally gave up some interior push in protection to Arthur Jones, but more than made up for that with some great second level blocking from the backside. Wendell was responsible for the Colts only sack of the night, but the veteran was his normal stout self at the point of attack in the running game. It should also be noted that Cory Redding's sack came on a four man protection in one of the Pats wonky ineligible receiver formations that didn't work.

The first down play pictured above is a perfect example of how the entire offense contributed to Blount's big day. Gronkowski decisively wins the battle on the edge with Walden. Connolly and Wendell do a fantastic job with their combo block on Colts DL Ricky Jean-Francois, freeing Nate Solder up enough to get a piece of D'Qwell Jackson as he crashes down. Brandon LaFell throws an excellent stalk block on his man Darius Butler, Kline gets a block on Freeman at the second level and the safety is far too deep to help. Perfect hat-on-a-hat run blocking, and the result is gaping hole in the "C gap" between the tackle and tight end and an eight yard gain for Blount.

Of course, the Patriots gave their offensive line some extra beef by going back to the jumbo packages that ran over the Colts back in Week 11. Once again it was Cameron Fleming coming on as an eligible receiver at tight end, giving the Pats a dominant pair of blocking tight ends on the edges with Rob Gronkowski. They ran on 19 of their 23 snaps with an eligible tackle and averaged 4.15 yards per carry on those plays; an impressive number considering eight of those snaps were either short yardage situations or garbage time carries with starters pulled. Fleming was on the field for all three of LeGarrette Blount's touchdowns, and the Pats averaged a whopping 7.42 yards per carry when they ran off end to either side.

All that running helped set up one of Brady's few big plays down the field, a 22 yarder to Julian Edelman up the seam. The Patriots set the play up by giving the Colts a running look. LeGarrette Blount remains in the backfield, and tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Cameron Fleming create an unbalanced line on the left. Naturally, the Colts matchup with their base defense: three down lineman, two edge setting/rushing outside linebackers, two inside backers and four in the secondary.

Brady recognizes zone based on the depth of the Colts corners (note how off #21 Davis is playing Edelman) and sees that the safety on Edelman's half of the field is Laron Landry, a physical, run-stuffing safety whose aggressiveness has always made him vulnerable to play fakes. Landry is responsible for anything deep on the right side of the defense, but he bites hard on the ensuing play fake and is left in the dust by Edelman. The only thing that can stop the play is Brady's ugly underthrow, which limits the play to a 22 yard gain. If Brady leads Edelman on the play, it's an easy touchdown.

The brilliance of Revis

Although much of the Pats defensive success came from players winning individual matchups, they had some schematic tricks up their sleeve on that side of the ball too. Darrelle Revis' pick was a good example. The Colts actually use Revis' man, Donte Moncrief, on a pick route designed to free up TY Hilton on an out, creating a three man cluster of Revis, Moncrief and Kyle Arrington.

Things look pretty good for Luck here, as he appears to have a rare opportunity to get the ball to Hilton in space. However, Revis recognizes the design of the play and makes a calculated gamble that Luck will make the read and go to his first option, Hilton in the flat. As a result, Revis lets Moncrief go and undercuts Hilton's route. If he sticks to his man like the defense likely dictates, the play is an easy completion and third down conversion. Instead, thanks to his uncanny instincts, it's an interception that Luck never sees coming.

However, the real strength of the Patriots defense came down to winning one-on-one matchups. The biggest mismatch on the field was Rob Ninkovich against backup right tackle Joe Rietz, who was abused to the tune of 8 hurries and a hit allowed in 40 pass blocking snaps. Kyle Arrington (with help over the top from Devin McCourty) did a phenomenal job on Hilton, with Hilton's only catch requiring an unbelievable throw and even better footwork against his tight coverage. Logan Ryan held his own against the likes of Reggie Wayne and Hakeem Nicks, allowing just one 15 yard catch on 5 targets against those two, while Brandon Browner, spending most of his time against the Colts dangerous tight end duo, rebounded from a tough first outing against the Coby Fleener to allow just a single five yard catch all game. Finally, Revis simply eliminated whoever he faced, with Wayne and explosive Colts X factor Moncrief becoming catchless non-factors.