The Patriots kick off week five in the NFL with a Thursday night matchup with the Colts. Indianapolis enters Foxboro with a 1-3 record, coming off a heartbreaking overtime loss to the Texans this past Sunday. Despite being at the bottom of their division the Colts have serious potential, and each of their games so far this season have been tight contests.
The Colts had a relatively quiet offseason, with their most significant signing being former Lion Eric Ebron. They had a decent draft, notably selecting offensive guard Quenton Nelson with the sixth overall pick, and linebacker Darius Leonard in the beginning of the second round, both of whom are currently starting for Indianapolis. The most significant offseason move for the Colts was the hiring of head coach Frank Reich. This came just days after Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels turned down the job after originally saying that he was going to take it. According to Colts GM Chris Ballard, that meant that the Pats-Colts rivalry was “back on”.
The Colts have some solid pieces on the offensive side of the ball. Their franchise quarterback, Andrew Luck, is finally healthy after a rocky past few seasons that have been plagued with injuries. So far this season he has had a 67% completion percentage to go along with nearly 300 passing yards per game, nine touchdowns, and three interceptions. The Colts running game has been spurred by rookie Jordan Wilkins out of Ole Miss, who has tallied 136 yards on 38 carries through four games this year. The Colts passing attack has been led by receivers TY Hilton and Ryan Grant, as well as tight end Eric Ebron. The Colts offensive line is young but talented, with center Ryan Kelly, guard Quenton Nelson, and tackle Denzelle Good.
The Colts defense has some holes but has improved over where they have been over the previous few seasons. Malik Hooker and Quincy Wilson lead a competent Indianapolis secondary. Second-round pick Darius Leonard has taken the defensive reins and is the Colts star-in-the-making along their linebacker unit. The team’s defensive line has spots of talent such as Hassan Ridgeway and Jabaal Sheard but lacks serious talent.
The Colts have had a rocky start to the season, although their record does not give them enough credit. They played a tight contest with the Bengals in week one, falling late in the game due to mistakes including a fumble that was returned for a touchdown. They earned their first win of the season against the Redskins in week two in a slow but methodical win. They had a back and forth dogfight with the defending Super Bowl Champion Eagles in week three that saw them lose in the fourth quarter. This past Sunday the Colts rallied from an 11 point deficit in the third quarter to lose to the Texans in overtime after a questionable fourth down call by Frank Reich. While the Colts ended up 1-3, they were close to victory in all of these games, and they could just as easily be 4-0 right now. They are a solid young team and should not be overlooked by the Patriots on a short week.
The Patriots offense is coming off it’s the best performance of the season after putting up 38 points on the Dolphins. However. there was certainly room for improvement; New England started out slow and inefficient on Sunday, needing some flags early on to help them sustain drives. They need better play calling from Josh McDaniels, and better execution from their receivers. The running game needs to build off its success against Miami.
The Colts pass defense is in the bottom half of the league, giving up over 265 passing yards per game on a 70% completion rate. Tom Brady and the Patriots receivers should be able to have their most successful game of the season. The Colts secondary does not have the personnel that the Jaguars, or even the Dolphins and Lions, had. New England’s receivers should be able to actually win one-on-one matchups. Chris Hogan in particular needs to find his groove and create space for Brady to get him the ball. The Patriots will very likely be without Rob Gronkowski, and with Jacob Hollister potentially still sidelined, they cannot expect to get much, if anything, out of the tight end position in terms of receptions. However, the return of Julian Edelman should boost the production of the offense, particularly on third downs. While many Patriots fans will be expecting Edelman to come out looking like the receiver we all know and love, it is important to remember that he is still returning from an ACL injury, and may not be quite as mobile and quick as he was before. He will certainly help the offense, but to what extent we don’t know. Regardless, the Patriots receivers will need to be playmakers against a Colts secondary that they have the skill advantage over. Josh Gordon’s presence in the offense will likely increase as he continues to learn the playbook and become more integrated. He will see more targets on Thursday and have the chance to show off the dynamic receiver that he is.
The Patriots running game should also be able to have success once again. The Colts have few stars along their defensive front, which has led to them giving up just under 110 rushing yards per game. New England is coming off of a game where it saw Sony Michel and James White combine for over 150 yards on the ground. If the Patriots offensive line can play as well as it did on Sunday against Miami, then Michel and White should have a field day. The Patriots need to continue to develop this running game, particularly with a high powered offense like Kansas City’s coming into town shortly. A strong rushing attack allows you to control the clock and keep the other team off the field. The Patriots should be able to do that this week against an unimpressive Colts defensive line. While some in the Boston sports media (yes, obviously Felger and Mazz) attempted to downplay Michel’s performance in week four, the rookie deserves praise for hard running and solid yards after contact. Despite the two afternoon clowns from 985 the Sports Hub claiming that Michel is not special, he showed great flashes against Miami and should be able to have a good game in primetime on Thursday night.
Oh, and James White will have a stellar game because he has had a stellar season and the Colts do not have any linebackers who can match up well with him.
Based on the Colts injury report, the defense will have absolutely no excuses on Thursday as to why they cannot repeat their fantastic performance from Sunday. The Colts will likely be without some of their top targets, as neither TY Hilton nor Jack Doyle participated in practice on Monday or Tuesday. If those two are missing, then Andrew Luck’s weapons will be severely limited, making it easier for the Patriots to slow down Luck. Throughout the game against Miami, the Patriots played a lot of sub packages with six or even seven defensive backs. They played press coverage, forcing the Dolphins receivers to beat them and forcing Tannehill to make throws into tight coverage. It was effective, and limited Miami to just 100 passing yards. They should be able to do the same on Sunday against a receiver group that is significantly weaker than Miami’s (assuming Hilton is sidelined). Stephon Gilmore should be able to lock down the Colts’ current top target Ryan Grant. Jonathan Jones, Jason McCourty, and JC Jackson should also be able to follow up solid performances on Sunday. Eric Ebron is not exactly an easy matchup for the Patriots safeties, but Patrick Chung and Duron Harmon should be able to limit his touches.
The Patriots defensive line was better on Sunday than it had been over the previous two weeks, but it still has room for improvement. They would do well to get to Luck quickly on Thursday, and hopefully, produce more than just two sacks. They are also facing another weak rushing attack that is averaging only 72 yards per game on the ground. Miami’s run game had better numbers, and the Patriots still managed to hold them to just 56 yards. Danny Shelton and Malcolm Brown should use this opportunity to show that they are not a unit that can be pushed around. Adam Butler will also be a key player in the middle of the line, assuming that he is not sidelined with a knee injury. Controlling the running game will be a crucial factor. Doing so against Miami forced the Dolphins into third and long situations, which the Patriots were then able to stop with much more ease. Allowing chunk runs in early down situations is a recipe for disaster.
Trey Flowers and Deatrich Wise will be the most important pieces on defense, as pressure on Luck will be crucial. The Colts will be relying on him to make throws, and if the Patriots can get to him quickly then they will be able to force him into poor decisions that could lead to turnovers. The Patriots pass rush certainly looked like it had more life last week when Flowers returned from injury, but they still haven’t reached their potential yet with the young, talented players that they have.
Kyle Van Noy, Dont’a Hightower, and former Colt John Simon will also be important on Thursday. Stopping the run will be important, and all three played a critical role in that on Sunday. If they can seal the edge and prevent the Colts from getting yards on sweeps, then they should be able to keep Indianapolis contained. Van Noy, in particular, had an impressive performance on Sunday, and it will be interesting if he can repeat that on Thursday.
As mentioned, the Colts are a few mistakes away from being a 4-0 team right now. They have an aggressive new coach who isn’t afraid to make some bold play calls, as well as a young team that’s hungry for a winning culture. However, they still have significant talent holes and are two mistake-ridden to be able to walk into Foxboro and knock off a team that just obliterated Miami. The Patriots will be missing Gronk but will be able to overcome that loss through strong defensive play and a breakout game from the Patriots receivers to earn their third win of the season.
New England 33 Indianapolis 13
Until next time – B$