On Wednesday night, HBO aired the latest episode of “Hard Knocks In Season: The Indianapolis Colts,” which focused on Indianapolis’ preparation and execution for last Saturday’s game against the Patriots at Lucas Oil Stadium. You always take it with a grain of salt — some storylines sell better than others, especially when you need to fill an hour of television each week. But here are a few New England-centric takeaways.
Indianapolis head coach Frank Reich – and the rest of the community – was stone-cold serious about this game
“Judgment Day is coming. So what do we do? We get prepared,” Reich is seen saying to his team in the opening moments of the show. “We all know where we think this is going. Because we get the concept of Judgment Day. OK? And for us, we know when Judgment Day is. It’s Saturday at 8:20. That’s all that matters. To beat the New England Patriots.”
The rest of the City of Indianapolis is seen engaging in similar hyperbole, with one Indy sports radio show host saying: “Saturday night is the biggest game Lucas Oil Stadium has had from a regular-season standpoint in the history of that stadium.”
Former Patriot Ray “Bubba” Ventrone played an important role when it came to game planning
Ventrone was an undrafted free agent who ended up becoming a key part of New England’s special teams, and eventually became a Patriots’ assistant coach. As a result, he’s one of the central characters in this week’s drama.
“Ray’s fast and he’s tough,” Bill Belichick is seen in a clip from a 2009 Patriots’ press conference. “Nobody works harder than Ray.”
“I coached there for three years under Bill Belichick. Ultimately, he prepared me for the job that I’m doing right now,” Ventrone said.
“First off, he’s telling them to give us as many compliments in the media as possible,” Ventrone said, describing Belichick’s M.O. over the course of the week. “He’ll be like, ‘Tell them how good they are. Just give them compliment after compliment after compliment.’ And then, by the end of the week, he’s going to show them our deficiencies and where they feel like they can attack us and things that they can capitalize on to give them an edge in the game.”
It’s no surprise that in the days leading up to the game, Ventrone’s work as the Colts’ special teams coordinator is highlighted, and he comes off sounding more than a little like Belichick. “This is a big-time [expletive] game, fellas,” Ventrone tells the Indianapolis’ special teamers. “You’ve got to be ready to play.”
One of the biggest plays of the game came in the first half when Indy blocked a Jake Bailey punt. After the punt block and touchdown, Ventrone was ebullient, and the show flashes back to a conversation he had with his players earlier in the week: After Matt Adams blocks the Jake Bailey punt, film of Ventrone telling his special teamers that Adams would have an opportunity to block the punt is shown.
The Indy running game was the focus
A lot of time was spent, understandably, on Jonathan Taylor and the Colts’ ground attack, with a particular focus on two things: maintaining proper pad level and staying disciplined against the Patriots.
“Pad level means, whenever you have the ball in your hand, can the defenders see the numbers on your chest? If they can see the numbers on your chest, then you are running or moving with too high a pad level, and you need two bring your pad level down,” Taylor said.
“I know that there are a lot of other guys who have been here and probably played the Patriots. This is my first time playing the Patriots, and all I know is that I have to be at my best if I’m going to be able to execute my job,” he added.
“That’s what it takes,” said running backs coach Scotty Montgomery. “We’re playing against a great football team. And they’re coached by the best. It’s one of those situations where you know they’re going to be disciplined, At the end of the day, the team that makes the fewest mistakes is going to win, period.
“And you’ll see throughout the game, it’s going to be the guy who has the power of will, the will power to keep doing the small details over and over again. Not going to overrun the play. If you notice, New England is so freaking disciplined. That’s going to be the matchup this week; their discipline against our discipline.”
In the end, Taylor was the difference-maker for Indy, putting the capper on the evening with a dramatic fourth-quarter run that helped lift the Colts. The episode ends with the Colts locker room – led by owner Jim Irsay in a green cowboy hat – chanting “Jonathan Taylor, MVP!”
The New England running game was not a big focus on the show
It was interesting that in the defensive conversations among the Indianapolis players in the week leading up to the game, there was only one aside about stopping the New England rushing attack, although just because we didn’t see it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.
Instead, it was all about shutting down quarterback Mac Jones. Not sure if they knew something about the health of Damien Harris in the days leading up to the game – he was a question mark all week, and was ruled out before the game – but the fact that there was no talk about stopping Rhamondre Stevenson and Brandon Bolden was certainly notable.
The Colts focused their efforts on trying to rattle Jones
“Let’s make him look like a rookie” was the message delivered consistently by the coaching staff in the days leading up to the game, with Reich and multiple defensive coaches drilling down on the idea that if they can make Jones nervous, they will have the Patriots right where they want them.
“I’m just telling you; I know this is true,” Reich said. “For us to go where we want to go, let’s make this rookie QB feel something he hasn’t felt from a defense before, right? Let’s get after this rookie quarterback. I’m telling you now. Get after this guy. Compete against this guy. Figure out how to beat this guy.”
“I’m telling you guys, this quarterback … I’ve watched all the games. We all watched a lot of games over the weekend and studied these guys. He’s a good player,” linebackers coach David Borgonzi tells his players. “He’s accurate and everything, but he’ll make some … you know, he’s a rookie.”
Defensive line coach Brian Baker, while praising Jones’ ability to get rid of the ball quickly, compares him to Tom Brady. But he also pushes the idea that an unsettled Jones will be a big part of the Colts’ game plan.
“We really want this guy to be anxious about people in his face,” Bakers said. “He’s got to feel [an] anxiety the entire game, guys. This is the key to eliminating their passing game.”
The approach mostly worked; while Jones rallied down the stretch, he tossed a pair of interceptions in the loss.
A few more random notes:
Adam Vinatieri is jacked. The kicker, who played for both the Patriots and Colts, was shown as part of the pregame festivities at Lucas Oil Stadium. He was always in shape, but he hasn’t been loafing around the house during retirement. … Ventrone likes candy — he’s seen telling Reich that he bought $60 worth of candy that week and he was going to eat it all after the game. … The Ventrone Family was seen preparing to move. What sort of NFL family decides to move in December? … The fact that Colts quarterback Carson Wentz was consistently masked when he was in meetings and among his teammates — while most of his teammates and coaches were unmasked — certainly stood out throughout the episode. … Interesting that during his game-breaking run in the fourth quarter, Taylor was looking to the Indianapolis sideline to see if they wanted him to go down to allow more time off the clock.