Could Shorthanded Colts Upset Patriots going into the Bye Week?
The New England Patriots-Indianapolis Colts matchup last winter marked the beginning of the end for the former. That loss began a stretch where the Patriots lost three of their last four, and four of their last five counting the Wild Card beatdown in Buffalo. Not even a year later, the Colts have fallen on extremely hard times. They currently sit at 3-4-1, with a minus-eight turnover differential, and a bottom-five rushing offense with Jonathan Taylor missing some games. Indianapolis’ offensive line hasn’t been too hot either, allowing the third most sacks in the league so far with 28.
Indianapolis’ coaching staff is already starting to see some turnover as well as we hit the midway point of the year. Offensive Coordinator Marcus Brady, despite not being the team’s play caller, was let go earlier in the week. Offensive line coach Chris Strausser is another assistant who has come under fire as of late. As of now, he remains on the staff, but his unit is going up against another above-average pass rush for the second week in a row. Tough task ahead to say the least.
The latest member of the Colts quarterback carousel Matt Ryan was benched after a 19-10 loss in Tennessee. In his place now is former Texas Longhorn quarterback Sam Ehlinger, who lost his first start last week against the Washington Commanders. That move isn’t short-term either, as the plan is for Ehlinger to start for the rest of the season. Outside of Tua Tagovailoa, rookie signal callers have done putrid against Bill Belichick. Is there any chance Ehlinger can buck that trend with a potentially shorthanded Colts squad?
Date: Sunday, November 6th
Start Time: 1:00 EST
Location: Foxborough Massachusetts
Stadium: Gillette Stadium
TV Info: CBS (Greg Gumbel and Adam Archuleta on the call)
Uniform Info: Blue Jerseys, Blue Pants
This Colts’ team is not lacking star power on the defensive side of the ball by any stretch. That starts up front with DeForrest Buckner, whom Bill Belichick straight up compared to Aaron Donald, Cam Heyward, and Chris Jones during his Wednesday presser. So far this season he has put up some impressive numbers. The one-time Oregon Duck is currently on pace for 8.5 sacks and tackles for loss, along with 21 QB hits. Buckner’s double team rate isn’t particularly high, his running mate Grover Stewart however was near the top of the league earlier in the season. In these last two games, Stewart has racked up 20 tackles as well.
Shaquille Leonard (FKA Darius Leonard) meanwhile just came back for the Colts last weekend after going down with a broken nose and concussion. This after missing the first few games of the year due to a June back surgery. So far Leonard played a grand total of 40 snaps in two games. As they work the All-World linebacker further into the game plan, look for Zaire Franklin and Bobby Okereke on the second level. The former played every defensive snap for the Colts last weekend. Off the edge, keep an eye out for Michigan product Kwity Paye paired with seasoned veteran Yannick Ngakoue.
GM Chris Ballard made a big splash in the secondary bringing in old friend Stephon Gilmore, who is playing his first game back in Foxborough since late 2020. Although he seemed to leave on bad terms based on the handling of his quad injury, he was very complimentary of his time in New England and Bill Belichick this week with the great Karen Guregian, which is fantastic to see. Feels like it was just yesterday that Gilmore went private on Twitter after a horrible start to 2017. Then he went on to become the best in the business at cornerback in a relatively short time, en route to a Super Bowl ring and a Defensive Player of the Year distinction. The Foxborough Faithful should give him a warm reception this Sunday, one of the best Patriots of the last 20 years at the minimum.
Nickel/Slot Corner Kenny Moore is another standout in this Colts secondary, who made his first career Pro Bowl last season. He saw some time against Terry McLaurin last Sunday, even blowing up a designed screenplay to him for a multi-yard loss. Worth noting that Moore was also dealing with at least one hand/finger issue but isn’t listed on the Colts' injury report this week. Opposite of Gilmore as of late has been Isaiah Rodgers, who has out-snapped Brandon Fayscon in every game post-Week 4. This is despite Fayscon being listed as one of the Colts' starting outside corners in their ‘unofficial’ depth chart this week.
Taking a quick glance at Ehlinger last Sunday, he looked solid given his protection in front of him. Even with a relatively basic/conservative game plan, the rookie did a surprisingly great job moving around in and outside the pocket to make plays with his arm and legs. No Lamar Jackson or Justin Fields by any stretch, but Ehlinger had some designed run plays in the plan for him, something worth watching this Sunday.
Ehlinger’s favorite target was USC product Michael Pittman Jr, who hauled in seven of nine targets for 55 yards. Fellow rookie Alec Pierce out of Cincinnati was right behind him, racking up a team-high 66 yards. One thing Ehlinger needs to clean up is ball management. He got away with a bad early throw looking for Pittman. While additionally fumbling it late in the second quarter as well, luckily this didn’t lead to any points by the Commanders. I would be stunned if Frank Reich open things up much more than what we saw on Sunday, but his rookie quarterback made a solid enough impression in his first start.
With Jonathan Taylor out, the Colts running game, which was already bottom five in football, takes an even further hit. Now the running attack falls to Deon Jackson, who had some good not great outings earlier in the year. It doesn't sound like the newly acquired Zack Moss will be factoring in much based on comments by Frank Reich. Worth noting that the Colts do have Phillip Lindsay on their practice squad, but neither he nor Jackson is averaging over 3.5 yards a carry at the moment. They could be in for a rough afternoon in Foxborough given their offensive line situation; speaking of which.
Just last season, you could easily make the argument that the Colts had the best offensive line in the league. Now, not so much. Matt Ryan’s lack of mobility doesn’t help here, but this group is only six sacks off from their 2021 total, just eight games into the season. Not helping things either this week is that starting left tackle Dennis Kelly hasn’t practiced yet this week and sounds like he could be a game-time decision. Should he be inactive, rookie Bernhard Raimann would be making his first career start in all likelihood. Starting center Ryan Kelly meanwhile has been limited, but should be good to go.
New England Patriots
Some good news for New England this week, both Kyle Dugger and Christian Barmore are back practicing, albeit in a limited fashion. Last week Dugger was limited on Friday and ended up not suiting up, Barmore meanwhile didn’t practice at all, both seem to be good signs. Outside of Matt Judon, you could make the argument Dugger is their No. 2 defender based on how he’s played this year. Both will give a major jolt to this run defense, albeit against a subpar rushing offense.
Last week we saw the Patriots do a great job of applying pressure, but with a lack of sack production. The Colts' offensive line has some gaps in the armor so to speak, but the Patriots need to be ready for Ehlinger to run. He’s not going to be like Zach Wilson and just roll out and then proceed to be Zach Wilson. Also worth noting is that he went to Gilmore this week to get an idea of what is coming his way on Sunday.
In the secondary, Jonathan Jones was nothing short of shutdown against the Jets, only being targeted three times and allowing no catches. Jack Jones meanwhile gave up a pair of big gains late in the fourth quarter leading to the Jets' final TD drive. Outside of which he was good but can’t say that went over well when the team went over the film. Jalen Mills also had a rough outing seeing split time between Denzel Mims and Garrett Wilson. Worth noting that last season, J.C. Jackson drew Pittman for the most part. With that said, I’d imagine that Jack Jones and Mills split some time on him this year.
The consensus on Mac Jones after some time passed was that he was good on Sunday. Although I’d agree with that assessment days after the fact, he still has some room to get better. Starting with the positives, with some bad protection just about all day, he did a great job finding Rhamondre Stevenson and Jakobi Meyers early and often. Something Zach Wilson didn’t do was make the smart play when it was there, and Jones for the most part did. His called-back pick-six was a horrific throw, but outside of the pick he threw was on Marcus Cannon if anything.
Here's a telling statistic on how good Rhamondre Stevenson has been this season. There are two running backs in the NFL with a minimum of 500 rushing yards and 200 receiving yards. They are Christian McCaffery and ‘Mondre. Some (Me) would call that very good company to be in. With Damien Harris under the weather and missing practice all week, Stevenson could be in for another huge week. Indianapolis had trouble with Antonio Gibson in the passing game last week which is a great sign for the Patriots as well. Could this mean we finally see either Pierre Strong or Kevin Harris get some real non-garbage time game action as well?
On the offensive line, the Patriots will be down two starters on Sunday. Both David Andrews and Marcus Cannon are officially out with concussions, the latter suffering one during the week. That means you'll be looking at a line combo of Brown-Strange-Ferentz-Onwenu-Wynn this week. Despite being benched at right tackle, Wynn got some time at left guard last weekend after Strange had a rough time. This week that isn't an option with the depth up front just not being there. In some positive news, a shoutout to Mike Onwenu, who has had a phenomenal start to 2022 at right guard. Could see him getting a well-deserved contract extension here down the line.
Andrew Callahan pointed out something noteworthy about the Colts' defense on Friday. They currently rank as the No. 24 defense against tight ends and are basically dead last against 12 personnel (1 RB, 2 TE, 2 WR) in terms of EPA/play and passer rating. If there was ever a game for Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry to both break out for the first time this season, it’s this one. Also the last two times the Patriots have gone up against defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, they’ve scored over 40 points.
Points Spread: NE -5.5 (-115) | IND +5.5 (-105)
Moneyline: NE (-270) | CLE (+220)
Over/Under: O 40.5 (-110) | U 40.5 (-110)
One of the surest things in this 2022 NFL season is the Colts having games going under. Only one time this season has one of their games went over, that was their second game against the Jacksonville Jaguars which was a 34-27 win. In their seven games that have gone under, the average total has been 31.5. Additionally, the Colts have covered only in their wins this season (3-5 ATS), two of those being as an underdog. Worth noting despite how poorly they’ve played as well, this will only be the fourth time in 2022 Indianapolis has been an underdog.
Although the Patriots have been just about excellent on the road betting-wise, it’s been the exact opposite at home. Crazy enough though, their 5-4 record ATS as a home favorite since 2021 has them as the No. 8 team in the league. The Colts have also historically been brutal in Foxborough, even before Gillette Stadium opened in 2002. Dating back to 1990, the Colts are a dreadful 5-18 on the road against the Patriots, playoffs included. Even with the line jumping up with Jonathan Taylor’s absence, I still like New England at -5.5. Additionally, I would stick with the under in Colts games until that well runs dry.
Two months ago I would have said this would have been one of the Patriots' tougher challenges in 2022. For obvious reasons, that clearly won’t be the case this weekend. Not having Jonathan Taylor when the Colts’ running game is already one of the league’s worst, on top of having a rookie QB going up against Bill Belichick seems like a recipe for disaster. With that said, the Colts have the prototypical defense that has historically given the Patriots trouble. That being good man corners, with big guys up front to push the pocket back and create pressure right up the gut. Think this will ultimately be a better version of what the Patriots did against the Jets. Not by much, but that should be enough to pull out a win going into the bye week.
Final Score: New England Patriots 24, Indianapolis Colts 10