Nearly halfway through the season, the Patriots find themselves at 4-4 and in the thick of the AFC playoff hunt. This is the point of the season where many expected the Patriots to rack up wins and they have, going 3-1 over their last four with matchups against the Colts and Jets before the schedule toughens up at Thanksgiving. A win over Indianapolis on Sunday would go a long way towards helping with the playoff push and would give the Patriots a head-to-head win should tiebreakers come into place.
Expectations were high for the Colts coming into the year after trading for former MVP Matt Ryan but so far, they have struggled, most recently dropping a 17-16 decision to Washington. How bad have things gone for the Colts this year? They released their kicker after week one, benched Ryan after week seven and fired their offensive coordinator earlier this week. Not great. Still, the Colts have playmakers on both sides of the ball and present a challenge to a banged-up Patriots squad. Here are the key matchups to watch on Sunday.
Key matchups for the Patriots in week nine
Interior offensive line vs. DeForest Buckner
This was a key matchup last week against Quinnen Williams of the Jets and it’s a matchup the Patriots line lost. Big time. How bad was it? James Ferentz gave up two sacks. Cole Strange gave up a sack, committed two holding penalties and was benched. At least Mike Onwenu has been a bright spot. This week, they’ll have their hands full with DeForest Buckner who Bill Belichick referred to as a “major force” earlier this week.
"“Buckner is as good, I mean, he’s as good as there is. He’s up there with all the [Aaron] Donald, [Cameron] Heyward, Chris Jones, just whoever you want to talk about. He’s statistically right there, and he plays that way. He’s got a ton of production. A ton of tackles. Sacks, quarterback hits, batted balls, forced fumbles, you name it. He’s got it all.”"
In last year’s loss to the Colts, the Patriots struggled against the Indianapolis defensive lineman as Buckner tallied four tackles, one sack and two quarterback pressures. With David Andrews and Marcus Cannon both out with concussions, the onus will once again be on Ferentz, Strange and Onwenu to both protect Mac Jones and establish the running game.