Coming into the season this game did not rank high on the Thursday Night Football calendar. The Indianapolis Colts were expected to struggle and everyone just assumed the New England Patriots would be a juggernaut. However, that has not been the case. The Colts have a 1-3 record but have had moments. The Patriots are 2-2 and may be one of the most confusing teams in football. Now heading into Thursday night this game has a lot riding on it. For the Colts slipping to 1-4 is likely the end of their playoff chances. For the Patriots 2-3 is not disastrous but it might be the end of any number one seed potential.
So how can the Colts go into New England and beat a team who just won 31-0 at home? A team who have won both of their games at home this season in fairly convincing style. A team who have 47 wins to 27 losses against the Colts. The team who have won the last seven against them and eight of the last 10.
Run the Ball
The Colts need a run game. The Patriots defense has been shredded by the run this year. They are surrendering 121.5 yards per game on the ground. That includes last week where they held Miami to just 56 rushing yards. Twice this season they have given up over 150 rushing yards. If the Colts can find a run game they can keep Tom Brady and that offense off the field and put the Patriots defense under a lot of pressure. The issue how do they do that? All three of their main running backs average under 3.6 yards per rush and they have one touchdown between them. Robert Turbin returns for the Colts this week but he will likely be limited. Coming off suspension Turbin looks to be the Colts last hope of resurrecting a run game. Those are not favourable odds. It does not matter how they do it but the Colts need to get the running game working if they are to have a shot in this game.
Pass the Ball Efficiently
In their four games so far the Patriots rank 8th best against the pass. However, their two losses have come when the opposing quarterback has been efficient against them. When the opposing quarterback completes over 60% of his passes the Patriots are 0-2. This season Andrew Luck is completing a career high 67% of his passes. If he can be that efficient again in this game he can keep the Colts in it. A lot of the work will need to be done underneath as T.Y. Hilton has been ruled out for this game. It is a blow but it is not the end of the world. Luck has shown he can use his other weapons and he will need them Thursday night.
Its the same story when protecting the quarterback. The Patriots have six sacks this season. Only one of those came in the two losses combined. The Colts have given up nine sacks this year. They will need to do better. This Patriots defense lacks speed and if Luck has time in the pocket he can pick them apart all game long.
Stop the Run
This goes hand-in-hand with the first point about controlling the clock. The Patriots have nearly 300 rushing yards in their two wins, compared to just 170 in their two losses. If the Colts can keep the running backs quiet they can put Brady in third and long. The Patriots have been bad in third down situation most of the year. They went 10-for-15 last week but before that they were 10-for-35 in the first three weeks. The Colts are giving up close to 110 yards per game on the ground. They will need to step up against the run if they are to have a shot Thursday.
The X Factors
There are two unknowns on the Patriots offense entering this game. Can Josh Gordon build on his two catch game in Week 4 is the first. Gordon showed some flashes in his first start but on a short week will he have more of the playbook under he belt? If he does it will not be anything significant. The Colts will need to keep a close eye on Gordon though because when he is on the field he can do real damage.
The second element is Julian Edelman. The Patriots shifty receiver will be playing his first real game in two years. However, he is one of Brady’s most trusted targets and has been one of the Patriots best weapons. His presence on the field has often helped Rob Gronkowski as Edelman draws attention across the middle of the field, in similar regions to where Gronkowski operates best. Whether Edelman is the real Edelman is yet to be seen but his presence will be a major headache for the Colts defense this week.
I am going to go out on a limb and say the Patriots win this game. They are at home, they are still under fire because of their Week 2 & 3 performances and they are facing the team responsible for Deflategate. There will be bad blood for Brady, if nothing else, and I expect the Patriots to go for the throats. Given the way they ran the ball last week I think they try to do it the way they did the other year when Jonas Gray had four touchdowns. I think they put extra offensive linemen on the field and ram the ball down the Colts throat. From that they should then get the passing game going with shots to Chris Hogan, Gronkowski, Edelman and Gordon.
The Patriots are favoured by 10-points and I am going for them giving up the points. History is too hard to ignore and Brady and co up their game for this team every year. The over/under is around 50 points and the over is in play with the Patriots defense. I think the Colts score some points here but the loss of Hilton and the history mean the Patriots keep the foot on the gas and the Colts fade away in the fourth quarter.
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