Big decision: Spread it out or keep it tight?

November, 17, 2012
11/17/12
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The day before each game this season, this space will feature one big decision facing Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and his staff, in terms of the game plan.

This week's decision: Spread it out or keep it tight on offense?

ColtsPatriotsFirst, a disclaimer: The Patriots vary their personnel groups from series to series and often play to play, so by no means will they lock in exclusively on one style of offensive attack.

With that said, some games this season have brought three- and four-wide receiver looks, while others have heavily featured two- or three-tight end packages. There is an element of offensive strategy involved here, especially when trying to get the defense in a particularly favorable personnel group.

The question this week is which package the Patriots want to see the Colts' defense in the most.

Last week, the Jacksonville Jaguars played the vast majority of their snaps in a shotgun, spread offense, which kept the Colts in their nickel (five defensive backs) look. While the Jaguars' offense is among the weakest in the league, the Colts had the upper hand in this matchup.

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How should the Patriots' offense attack the Colts' defense?

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Discuss (Total votes: 2,229)

Since taking over as Colts general manager this past offseason, Ryan Grigson has tried to overhaul the Indianapolis secondary, making four separate trades for cornerbacks. Three of those players remain, but top cornerback Vontae Davis will not play on Sunday. That leaves Cassius Vaughn and in-season pickup Darius Butler as the likely starters.

Those could be players the Patriots want to exploit with their wide receivers, which could lead to more spread looks and a pass-heavy attack.

On the other hand, the Colts also have one of the NFL's worst rushing defenses, especially in runs up the middle of the field. They lack a classic 3-4 nose tackle to occupy the middle of the offensive line.

In that case, the Patriots could use more two- and three-tight end packages -- perhaps using one tight end as a blocking fullback -- and try to grind out yards against the Colts' interior.

Injuries could dictate which direction the Patriots lean. While they are without tight end Aaron Hernandez, they still have four healthy tight ends on the roster: Rob Gronkowski, Daniel Fells, Visanthe Shiancoe and Michael Hoomanawanui. If all four of those players are active, as they were last week, expect different combinations of the four veterans in the offensive scheme.

At wide receiver, Wes Welker (ankle), Deion Branch (hamstring), and Brandon Lloyd (knee) are all questionable, with Welker's availability the most up in the air. Without him, the Patriots would have trouble establishing a spread attack.

What do you think? Should the Patriots try to pick on old friend Darius Butler and others in the Indianapolis secondary, or should they attack a 3-4 defense that lacks ideal personnel fits? Join the discussion in the comments section below.

Mike Rodak

ESPN Buffalo Bills reporter

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