New England Patriots Cannot Take the Indianapolis Colts Lightly
By Hal Bent
Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
The Indianapolis Colts defense is what let them down in their matchups against the New England Patriots. Whether it was LeGarrette Blount or Jonas Gray in the backfield, the Patriots had no problem grinding out yards against the Colts.
In the 2013 Divisional Playoff game, it was Blount rushing for 166 yards and scoring 4 touchdowns while the team racked up 234 yards on the ground (all stats from Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise noted). In 2014 during the regular season, the team dropped 246 yards on the ground against the Colts as Jonas Gray rushed for 201 yards and 4 touchdowns. Finally, last year in the AFC Championship game, Blount totaled 148 yards of the team’s 177 rushing yards and scored 3 touchdowns.
Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports
The Patriots will find a much different front line in Indianapolis this year. Stanford rookies David Parry and Henry Anderson have been key players is stuffing opposing rushing attacks. Defensive end Kendall Langford has replaced Cory Redding as the veteran presence. Back-up Billy Winn was a solid run-stuffer in Cleveland and second-year nose tackle Zach Kerr has taken a step forward in year two.
This defense is much improved in 2015 and are no longer the patsies the Patriots (and the rest of the league) ran over in 2013 and 2014. The so-called “NFL analysts” recommending the Patriots just continue their game plan from last year have clearly not spent enough time watching the Colts defense on tape this year.
While the Colts have allowed 560 yards on the ground, they have allowed just 3.8 yards per rush. The BIlls and Jets ran the ball with a late lead to run the clock while Jacksonville ran because…well, they are Jacksonville. Even last week, the Houston Texans ran the ball right into the heart of the Colts defense over and over again with their three running backs totalling 68 yards on 26 attempts.
Mandatory Credit: Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports
Where Indianapolis is vulnerable on defense is the passing game. The Colts are 28th in the league against the pass and they have hardly faced top-flite quarterbacks. The Colts have been lit up by Tyrod Taylor, Ryan Fitzpatrick, rookie Marcus Mariota, Blake Bortles, and Brian Hoyer.
One problem is the pass rush. The young defensive line is stout against the run, but does not add much to the pass rush. Kendall Langford was supposed to provide push inside but has not been as disruptive as expected. Robert Mathis has still been slowed by injury and veteran Trent Cole has been the best pass rusher to date in Indianapolis.
In the secondary, safeties Dwight Lowery and Mike Adams have been their usual solid but not anything special. Top cornerback Vontae Davis has been slowed by a calf injury but is still their top cover cornerback. Greg Toler is just returning from injury and should give the secondary a boost. Look for Davis to shadow Edelman while Toler can help with Danny Amendola or Keshawn Martin.
Of course, Darius Butler–long since exiled from New England–has struggled mightily in 2015 and the return of Toler allows the Colts to move Jalil Brown back to the bench where he belongs. Linebacker D’Qwell Jackson is expected to play a key role in trying to slow tight end Rob Gronkowski.
If the Patriots follow the Houston game plan and keep trying to run the ball, they are going to find themselves giving away possessions and letting the Colts stay in the game.
Next: Indianapolis Offense