Hit the ground running.
That has been the offensive approach for the New England Patriots over the last two meetings with the Indianapolis Colts.
The Patriots rushed for 246 yards and four touchdowns against the Colts in Week 11, on the heels of rushing for 234 yards and six touchdowns in the divisional round last January. A total of 100 carries and two victories were tallied in the process, while Brady tallied 55 passes.
A high-volume equilibrium remains the goal for the quarterback and the offense heading into the AFC Championship Game this Sunday.
“Obviously, we want to be balanced,” Brady said in his press conference Thursday. “We’ve got to be able to run the ball really well, we’ve got to throw it well. We ran it great against these guys last time, we need to run it really well this time. And if they stop it, then we’ve got to be able to throw it really well.”
Finding a balance has proven to be a concept both simple in theory and complex in practice.
It was the latter versus the Baltimore Ravens in the divisional round last Saturday at Gillette Stadium, as the Patriots gained 14 rushing yards on 13 carries in the 35-31 win. Brady accounted for six of those carries, while the stable of running backs accounted for zero in the second half.
“It’s just the way the game turned out,” Brady said. “When you’re down twice by 14 points, it’s just sometimes that’s the way the game goes. Whatever you’ve got to do to win and advance, that’s all that matters.”
The Indianapolis defense has won and advanced as well, despite conceding 783 rushing yards over its last eight contests, with five games of at least 110 yards and no games of less than 80.
The Colts now find themselves at the same juncture as the Patriots, even if the way they’ve gotten there isn’t the same.
“Defensively, they’re a little bit different than the team we saw,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said in his Wednesday press conference. “They’re very disruptive up front.”
That disruption was not at full strength two months ago. Strong safety LaRon Landry played only eight snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. And at the line of scrimmage, Arthur Jones, the run-stopping brother of Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones, was inactive with an ankle injury the last time the two sides crossed paths.
The 6-foot-3, 337-pound Colt returned the week after to join the likes of Ricky Jean Francois, Cory Redding and Josh Chapman, holding up the point of attack and overcoming doubles.
He has played in every game since.
It remains to be seen if rookie center Bryan Stork will be playing across the ball from him due to a knee injury suffered versus Baltimore.
“He’s a real tough guy, hard worker, team guy,” left tackle Nate Solder said of the fourth-round pick in his news conference. “I think he’s a great player.”
The potential absence of the 12-game starter looms large for a Patriots offensive line that kicked right guard Ryan Wendell back to center while reserve Josh Kline stepped in next to him. It looms large from a communication standpoint, a responsibility standpoint, and a run-blocking standpoint.
And it is there that another potential question from the last go-around resides.
The personnel New England featured versus Indianapolis in November featured fellow rookie fourth-rounder Cameron Fleming as an eligible tight end in power sets. An ankle injury suffered during the final snaps of those sets sidelined Fleming until Week 16, when the Patriots faced the New York Jets’ 3-4.
He was a healthy inactive for the divisional matchup last weekend versus the Ravens’ three-man line, as the Patriots set the gameplan elsewhere with “11” and “12” personnel with one back and one or two tight ends.
But Fleming could be an integral part of it once again should the dots align in favor of heavy “22”looks in Sunday’s matchup. Swing tackle Marcus Cannon and fullback James Develin could as well.
Behind the blocking personnel, just whom will be handling the carries behind them is another point of contingency.
Since he handled 37 carries for 201 yards and four touchdowns versus Indianapolis on Nov. 16, Patriots running back Jonas Gray has netted 20 carries for 80 yards and one touchdown in five games.
He was inactive for the regular-season finale and the divisional round, but the former practice-squad journeyman still managed to lead New England’s backfield in rushing despite playing in only eight games.
“He’s fought through a couple tough bumps and bruises over the course of the year,” Brady said of Gray’s presence in the running game. “So, hopefully we have all those guys ready to go. We’re going to need them all.”
LeGarrette Blount was needed when the Patriots encountered the Colts in the playoffs last year. The 6-foot, 250-pound back also ran his way onto the cover of Sports Illustrated after handling 24 carries for 166 yards and four scores in a 43-22 win.
Though after a game in which special-teamer Brandon Bolden got the start, Shane Vereen filtered in second and Blount third, the focus has continued to shift.
Perhaps that form of uncertainty isn’t a problem.