When this Patriots season hasn't been rough enough, the team is now only a day and a half out from playing just their fourth-ever game outside of the continental United States, this time in Frankfurt, Germany. Playing in their designated international market, they draw the Indianapolis Colts, who without Anthony Richardson for a large swath of the year and some heinous Ref-ball against the Browns, find themselves on the verge of 5-5. With just one hurdle left before the bye week, can the Patriots pick up win No. 3, or will they lose to a steady dose of Jonathan Taylor on Sunday morning?
Date: Sunday, November 12
Start Time: 9:30 AM EST
Location: Frankfurt, Hesse (Germany)
Stadium: Deutsche Bank Park
TV Info: NFL Network (Rich Eisen, Jason McCourty, and Dan Orlovsky on the call)
Patriots Uniform Info: White Tops, Blue Bottoms
Players Already Ruled Out Before Sunday
Indianapolis Colts: JuJu Brents (CB), Drew Ogletree (TE),
New England Patriots: Trent Brown (OT), J.C. Jackson (CB), DeVante Parker (WR)
Although this defense lost Bobby Okereke and Stephon Gilmore in the offseason, and IDL Grover Stewart to a PED suspension in the middle of this season, I don't think Colts' fans were expecting this much of a regression on that side of the ball from 2022. Indy is currently a bottom-10 defense by most metrics, and they've given up more than 35 points per outing against the last three teams they've played, not named the Carolina Panthers.
What also jumps out is the lack of pressure Indianapolis creates per dropback, just 19.5 percent, AKA the ninth least in the NFL. Not that they don't have some guys up front who can bring heat, DeForrest Bucker has been an elite IDL for years, Kwity Paye and Eastern Washington's finest Samson Ebukam are having solid years, but not having Stewart is certainly not helping out against the pass or run. Since losing him, the Colts are giving up nearly 40 more yards on the ground per game, getting about one full sack less per game, with the third down conversion rate more or less staying flat. The bottom line is they miss big No. 90.
With that and some other notable guys on this defense, like Zaire Franklin, banged up and potentially out for Sunday, the plan should be to run the ball 30-plus times. Obviously, the Patriots' run game hasn't been anything to write home about, but the Colts have allowed teams to average 4.6 yards per carry without Stewart. Those are the odds you have to take. Line it up in 12 personnel and let it rip.
With Anthony Richardson on the shelf, this Colts offense is now under the direction of fifth-year journeyman Gardner Minshew. It's been an inconsistent four-game sample size as a starter, but the good has been good, just not enough when the opposition has scored 30-plus in three out of four. The big thing is that his ability to use his legs and create for himself or outright extend plays is probably going to give the Patriots some trouble if last week against Sam Howell was any indication. He'll probably make some mistakes, having five picks in those first three starts, but Minshew shouldn't be slept on in this one.
Johnathan Taylor is where the Patriots are in a bit of trouble. He was bottled up a bit by the Panthers last week, but in his prior two starts, the recently paid star bell cow went for 5.6 a carry and 190 total rushing yards against the Saints and Browns. I'd like to think he has his game legs back underneath him after his contract holdout and should be considered a threat. Remember, he gutted the Patriots a couple of years ago, going for 170 yards and a score on 29 carries. He could do that kind of damage again if the Patriots can't hold up front.
The latest addition to the Colt's receiving room, UNC's Josh Downs, may not suit up on Sunday due to a knee injury, but if he does, he's a guy who could give the Patriots some trouble. I believe Taylor Kyles gave him the "supped-up Danny Amendola" comparison, and that isn't much of a stretch. He's been a consistently reliable target all year, no matter whose under center; just one drop on 57 targets. He hasn't practiced all week and is listed as questionable, but I'd be more concerned about him over (potential future Patriot) Michael Pittman if he suits up. Not a dig at Pittman, Downs has just been really good in his first year. And on a final note, the Colts offensive front is back at 100% for this one. Tackle Braden Smith has zero designation after being plagued with a hip and wrist issue.
New England Patriots
Might as well start with the elephant in the room, which is J.C. Jackson. Despite being healthy, he never made the trip to Germany. Now the story is that his first quarter benching was due to both he and Jack Jones missing curfew the night before the Commander's game via Mike Reiss, and judging by the fact that Jackson wasn't spotted at practice all week, this situation probably isn't going great. So much so that this was planned by the Patriots, according to Mike Garrafolo and Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network. To that end, here's a clip from Zo&Bettle earlier this week, where I lean on the side of Marc Bertrand.
Perfectly put if you ask me. If you can't rely on Jackson to make an overseas road trip after the last two weeks he's had, why keep him at all? If he's a distraction, cut bait nine games early if it's that bad, and it's not great since he didn't make the trip.
Moving on now, the biggest thing I want to see from the Patriots this week is using Marte Mapu in a better role, something I talked about in the Commanders' film review. He's best used down by the line of scrimmage no matter if he's a linebacker or safety, yet they continue to try and make it work in center field as a true free safety when that isn't his game. More importantly, he hasn't looked comfortable as a deep coverage safety. Put your guys in the best position to succeed, seems simple enough if you ask me.
Sort of touched on the game plan of pounding the rock against the Colts front a bit earlier, and that starts with the big boys up front, they have to be better as a unit run blocking because it hasn't been good all year. Take that 64-yard touchdown that Rhamondre Stevenson put up a week ago and he averaged 2.8 a carry and 23 total yards. That run is the only reason Stevenson picked up his second game having more than 4.5 a carry all year. Speaking of the offensive line, best wishes to offensive line coach Adrian Klemm, who's left the team for the time being with a health issue. Hopefully, he's ok sooner rather than later.
A huge sore spot for many last week was Kayshon Boutte being inactive after Bill Belichick went out of his way to say he had his best week of practice; more or less a backhanded way of saying his best still isn't good enough yet since he never played, but he was reportedly very active in the early goings of practice on Friday. I ask again, what's the harm in putting him out there at this point when you're 2-7? No Parker, no Bourne, and you need someone who isn't named Hunter Henry or Pop Douglas to make something happen in the passing game. And as for Mac Jones, take care of the ball and don't miss wide-open guys. I don't know what else to say on that front 10 weeks into the year.
Points Spread: IND -1.5 (-115) | NE +1.5 (-105)
Moneyline: IND (-126) | NE (+108)
Over/Under: O 43.5 (-105) | U 43.5 (-115)
Lines via FanDuel as of Friday, November 10
For now, I think fading the Patriots feels like a safe strategy, but with the way these two defenses have been playing for the last month, I think the over is a worthy play. The Patriots have been an under-heavy team all year, but the Colts have gone over 6-3 this season, which leads the league, while also hitting at least 44 points each time they've gone over.
While the Patriots are undefeated in international games, all three of those outings had Tom Brady at the helm. So yeah, I don't think that record will stay perfect this Sunday. The Colts have a ton of flaws, but getting a chance to beat up on the Panthers down in Charlotte was good for a team that had lost some games recently in brutal fashion. And with that, the Patriots would limp into the bye week with a 2-8 record with no real hope on the other side.
Final Score: Indianapolis Colts 27, New England Patriots 20
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