After two weeks of panic, uproar, and insanely hot takes, the Patriots returned to their elite form Sunday after a dominant 38-7 win against the Miami Dolphins. It was an incredible turn around from the two weeks prior, as the Patriots had stellar play in all 3 phases of the game. The defense allowed a total of 191 yards and forced Quarterback Ryan Tannehill to have a passer rating of 47.9. On offense, it was the Sony Michel coming out party. After the undeserving hate he received resulting from the Week 3 matchup in Detroit, Michel responded to the doubters by rushing for 112 yards and a touchdown.
Even cornerback/ punt returner Cyrus Jones had a solid game. Jones has been anything but consistent when it comes to returning punts over the last few years, but he proved his worth Sunday as he now ranks 9th in the NFL in punt return average. It was a sight to see watching the Patriots play the way we all expect them to, but they are going to have to turn their attention to the Colts quickly as they play on Thursday Night Football.
After questionable play calling that lead to a loss on Sunday, the Colts are coming into New England at 1-3 and riding a 2-game losing streak. Let’s dive into Indianapolis’s roster and see what they bring to the table:
The Colts offense all runs through former first overall pick Andrew Luck. After missing a serious amount of time dealing with a shoulder injury over the last two years, Luck is finally back to full health. In Luck’s last season playing all 16 games, which was 2014, he threw for 4,761 yards and 40 touchdowns. The gunslinger led the Colts to the AFC Championship that year as well, where their Super Bowl dreams came to a halting end against the Patriots and the biggest controversy in NFL history was born; Deflate-Gate. Even in Sunday’s loss, Luck’s play was superb. He completed 40 of his 62 passes for 464 yards, 4 touchdowns, and no interceptions. Luck is considered by some to be a top-5 quarterback in the league, but the real challenge lies ahead of him on Thursday Night against Belichick and company.
Running the ball effectively has been the biggest issue for the offense of the Colts through the first 4 games of the season. Jordan Wilkins has had the duties of the team’s number one back, but rookie Marlon Mack has been rotating into the offense as well. As a team, the Colts rank 29th in the NFL in rushing yards, as they have accumulated 288 yards throughout the first quarter of the regular season. A key component to beating the Patriots is keeping Tom Brady off of the field, but if Indianapolis continues to struggle running the ball it’s going to force Andrew Luck to win the game with his arm.
Over the last few years, the Colts have been known to have a below average offensive line. In the 15 games Luck started in 2016, he was sacked 41 times which was one of the highest totals in the league at the time. The Colts addressed their blocking problem by drafting center Ryan Kelly in the 2016 Draft and left guard Quentin Nelson in the 2018 Draft. Both lineman were first round picks, so the Colts have high expectations for the young players. Left tackle Anthony Castonzo has been a model of toughness for every player on the offensive line, as he has only missed 7 games in his 7 year career with the Colts. How the Colts protect Andrew Luck will be a factor to keep an eye on because if the line allows the Patriots to generate pressure, then Luck could be in for a long night.
The Colts improved the tight end position after they added veteran Eric Ebron. Ebron was released by the Lions after a 4 year tenure with the team, and the Colts signed him to a 2-year, $15 million deal. Ebron is an effective player in the passing game, as he finished last season with 53 receptions for 574 yards and 4 touchdowns. He already has 3 touchdowns this year, so a focus point for New England’s defense will be limiting his targets in the red zone. Ebron should be seeing most of the snaps on offense on Thursday because backup tight end Jack Doyle is still recovering from a hip injury and looks to be a longshot to play in the game.
When thinking about the receiving core for the Colts, the first name that comes to mind for most is T.Y. Hilton. Hilton has made the Pro Bowl in each of the last 4 seasons and has been Andrew Luck’s go-to reciever throughout his career. Hilton has lightening speed as he is able to stretch the field with his deep routes. Hilton ran his 40-yard dash in 4.34 seconds, so his speed is a known killer of defenses. He is off to a solid 2018, as he has 21 receptions for 294 yards and 2 touchdowns. Fortunately for New England, Hilton is likely to miss Thursday Nights game as he battles a hamstring injury that caused him to exit the game twice in the game against the Texans last Sunday.
Attempting to fill the Hiltons role sunday will be receivers Ryan Grant and Chester Rodgers. Grant is entering his first year with the Colts after 4 mediocre seasons with the Washington Redskins. However, Grant had his best season of his career last year where he had 45 receptions for 573 yards and 4 touchdowns. Chester Rodgers is a third year player looking to have a breakout year. So far this year, Rodgers has 16 receptions but for only 134 yards. It will be a great test for both Grant and Rodgers to replace star receiver T.Y. Hilton in Thursday’s matchup.
The defensive line for the Colts is a group filled with depth. A familiar name on their line is Jabaal Sheard, who spent 2 years with the Patriots and had a total of 13 sacks throughout that span. Sheard provides veteran experience to a young locker room. He is also one of the most effective players in the NFL at applying pressure on the quarterback, while defensive tackle Margus Hunt racked up 4 sacks already this season which is more than any amount in 5 seasons. Kemoko Turay, a second-round pick in this year’s NFL Draft, is not only making the transition to the NFL, but he’s also making the move to defensive end from outside linebacker. The transition has been a smooth one so far for Turay, as he has 2 sacks and 6 combined tackles. Turay should see a more prominent role on defense as the season goes by, but for now, the Colts are trying to develop the rookie into an elite pass rusher.
At linebacker, the Colts deploy Darius Leonard and Anthony Walker. Leonard was chosen 36th overall in the 2018 NFL Draft and has raised eyebrows in the first four games of his career. He is showing his ability as a sideline-to-sideline player as he already has 38 tackles and has assisted on another 16. His 54 combined tackles currently ranks 1st in the league, and Leonard also has 2 sacks on the season. He provides great play making ability and has shown flashes of stardom. Anthony Walker is an excellent downhill linebacker with good instincts and closing speed. He frequently is able to sniff out a play’s direction and chase down smaller running backs as they attempt to get to the outside. However, Walker isn’t as agle due to his big frame and can get lost in coverage occasionally.
The Colts’ secondary has been a strength for a new Colts defense that is surprising a lot of people through the first three weeks of the season. The Colts are tied for the fourth-fewest pass plays of 20-plus yards allowed in the NFL, and for a defensive backfield that was viewed as a major problem, several players are receiving high marks. Pro Football Focus has given five Colts defensive backs glorious grades for their performance through these first few games, considering safety Matthias Farley (84.8) high quality/elite, Pierre Desir (79.7), Malik Hooker (77.0) and Kenny Moore (69.3) as high quality, and Clayton Geathers (65.7) as above average. Wilson and Moore have been downgraded to out for Thursday, so the Colts are losing their best two corners in the same week Julian Edelman returns.
On a short week, the Patriots should attack the replacement corners early in often. Edelman’s return should open up a lot more options for Brady as the offense will be in full force for the first time this season. On defense, it will be key for the Patriots to generate pressure all throughout the game to disrupt Andrew Luck’s timing and force him to make tough throws. With T.Y. Hilton being out, Luck is going to have to cope with the receiving core he has and get the running backs involved.
-Adam Pasquale, Jr. is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Sports Media and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @adampasqualejr