Well finally what we have all been waiting for from the Patriots, the typical explosion we have grown accustomed to since Bill Belichick uttered those now famous words, “We are on to Cincinnati”. The Patriots got great performances from a number of guys and it was truly a team win that saw the type of precision, focus, and success that has become routine for them under Belichick and Tom Brady. Everyone knew it was only a matter of time and you knew the players were not worried. Even more apparent, they were frustrated and annoyed by their lack of execution.
This week they have a short week to prepare for an opponent they know very well: the Indianapolis Colts, but who finally have their leader and supposed franchise savior back in Andrew Luck. Luck has looked solid thus far, a far cry from the man who did so much with so little years ago, but a start to make up for what had been a long stretch of subpar football. Look for the Patriots to try to exert their will on the Colts and dictate the terms of the game early on by establishing the line of scrimmage and prove that the performance against the Dolphins was no fluke.
Here is what else to watch for on the rare Thursday Night Football game:
1.) Colts not at full strength
Going into a Thursday night game the last thing a team wants is to be facing a long list of injuries, but that is where the Colts find themselves as 16 players on their 53-man roster are listed on the injury report with a whopping 11 listed as having not participated in practice. Of the 11 men on the list, there are some notable ones listed as starting center Ryan Kelly, starting tight end Jack Doyle, starting wideout and their best weapon T.Y. Hilton, starting safety Clayton Geathers, and Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate Darius Leonard are all in danger of missing the game.
Should some of those players be able to play they certainly will not be one-hundred percent, which should give the Patriots a massive edge, especially considering how much Bill Belichick usually invests in his game plans to limit T.Y. Hilton.
2.) Can Patriots enforce will on Colts in the run game?
Last week I wrote about the Dolphins and how they had a top-notch rush defense so the Patriots would probably throw the ball more often. Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong. The Patriots churned out a cool 175 rushing yards powered by Sony Michel’s breakout performance of 112 yards on 25 carries and just physically dominated the Dolphins at the line of scrimmage. James White also chipped in 44 yards on eight carries.
This week I will not make such a bold proclamation except to say that the Patriots will run the ball. Unlike last week the Colts still remain in the bottom half of run defenses, but unlike past years have inched closer to the middle of the pack rather than the bottom of the league sitting at 17th in the league surrendering 109.2 yards per game on the ground. Sony Michel proved last week that he can handle a big workload and with the aggressive play calling Josh McDaniels showed last week, the return of the dynamic run blocking, and the banged-up Colts’ defense he is in for a huge game again this week.
3.) Return of Edelman!!
I am sort of burying the lede on this one stick this here, but I still feel like the top two points are more important to the team and also to the game plan. Edelman will be a huge help for this team and will undoubtedly pay huge dividends this week considering how fast he gets open and the rapport he has with Tom Brady. However, this week I think we all need to manage our expectations for this week. With a short week and Edelman just returning to the facilities on Monday that doesn’t leave much time to get into game shape and work on game situations. Because of that, I would think Edelman will play somewhere around 50-60 percent of the snaps and almost all of the key third downs. No matter how many snaps he plays, he will have an impact because of Brady’s trust in him and his ability to get in and out of his routes immediately, giving Brady an outlet if pass rush picks up.
4.) First time with all the offensive weapons?
This kind of applies to the return of Edelman, but there is a solid chance that this is the first time we see the Patriots offense at full strength (minus Rex Burkhead and Jeremy Hill who are both on IR). There is a small chance that Jacob Hollister returns and with Sony Michel rounding into form, Edelman back, and Gordon now having two and a half game weeks to get into sync with the team this could be as close to complete the offense looks.
One thing to watch is the ankle injury to Rob Gronkowski, who left the game against the Dolphins and hasn’t practiced this week. ESPN’s Adam Schefter has reported that the injury is not serious and he should be fine long-term, but there is a small chance that the Patriots hold him out to be cautious especially with a short week and with the Patriots having Edelman back and the with how impressive the run game looked against Miami. If the Patriots do have a full complement of options this offense could look deadly with Michel and White looking outstanding and finding their ground and all the pass catchers being bumped down a spot with Edelman returning on how much Brady depends on them. Personally, I think Hollister has some real upside in this offense as the move tight end with his athleticism and ability in the open field. Remember Hollister was one of the only guys who managed to shake free from the Jaguars defense. Either way, this team is in a much better place than they were last week.
-David Albiani is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Sports Media and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @david_albiani