The Patriots play a “home” game in Germany this week as part of the NFL International Series. The Patriots have played three international regular season games in London (twice) and Mexico City. They have won all three.
After losing to the Commanders last week, the Patriots dropped to 2-7, and they seem to have begun to fracture in the locker room as well as on the field. There are even rumors that Bill Belichick could be fired if the team loses on Sunday. Even Mike Reiss of ESPN isn’t totally discounting that one.
The Colts, however, at 4-5, are still very much alive for a playoff spot. Only three teams in the AFC have scored more points (Baltimore, Buffalo, and Miami), but no team in the AFC has allowed more. Gardner Minshew has filled in well for Anthony Richardson and kept Indy in a few games.
The NFL Network will broadcast this week’s game and can be seen locally in the Boston area on WCVB-TV Channel 5. Rich Eisen will handle play-by-play duties with Jason McCourty as the color analyst. Stacey Dales and Sara Walsh will provide analysis from the sidelines. The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station, 98.5 The Sports Hub, with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.
We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2023 to analyze some of the game’s key matchups and what you can look for in how the game plays out.
First up is the Patriots offense:
Patriots RBs vs. Colts Front Seven — Edge New England
The Patriots’ running game ran for 107 yards last week, but 64 came on one Rhamondre Stevenson carry. For the rest of the game, they managed just 43 yards, hardly a considerable output. On that particular play, the OL opened a massive gap for Stevenson to reach the second level untouched. And as we’ve seen, he’s tough to bring down when that happens.
Despite having DeForest Buckner in the interior DL, the Colts are 16th in the league in allowing four yards per carry in the running game. And the Colts are currently 24th in the league, allowing 125.6 yards per game. With spacing-eating NT Grover Johnson suspended for PEDs, they’ve turned to the athletic but undersized Taven Bryan. Bryan has proved to be a good situational interior pass rusher but a liability against the run.
Look for the Patriots to try to get Stevenson and Ezekiel Elliott going against a team that has proven to be suspect against the run. With the Patriots passing game stuck in neutral, this is one way to set the tempo. Unless they have another (rolls eyes) slow start in Frankfurt. Key matchup is David Andrews and guards Cole Strange and Sidi Sow, all trying at times to move DeForest Buckner out of the middle.
Patriots WRs vs. Colts Secondary — Edge Indianapolis
The Patriots’ passing game was ho-hum before they lost Kendrick Bourne, but now they seemed even more clunky and devoid of any big play. Mac Jones continues with periods of poor decision-making, bad mechanics, and bad throws that stall the offense.
He’s not entirely to blame; the OL has primarily been a mess all season, with injuries, illnesses, and poor play abounding. His WRs haven’t helped either. When he does throw a great deep ball, as last week, the passes seem to be invariably dropped. With an inexperienced and under-performing WR core, then the TEs need to get more involved in the passing game.
The Colts defense is the type where a QB could have a “get right” game against. They’ve allowed 235 yards per game, which is 23rd in the league. But they compete well and have 25 sacks and nine INTs, which masks some of their flaws.
The Patriots don’t have the receivers to take advantage of Indy’s secondary, and the OL will have its hands full trying to protect Jones.
Next up, the Colts offense:
Colts’ RBs vs. NE Front Seven — Edge Indianapolis
The Colts’ running game has an excellent 1-2 punch with Jonathan Taylor and Zach Moss, and the duo are the catalysts of a very good overall running game that averages more than 123 yards per game as well as 4.3 yards per carry. Indy’s OL ( Bernhard Raimann, Quenton Nelson, Ryan Kelly, Will Fries, and Blake Freeland) is a good and physical group in the running game.
The Patriot run defense has been very good this year with the interior players, Davon Godchaux, Lawrence Guy, Christian Barmore, and Deatrich Wise, holding up very well at the point of attack and allowing linebackers Ja’Whaun Bentley and Jahlani Tavai to clean up. Bentley, in particular, is having an outstanding season. Jabrill Peppers has been excellent in run support as well.
While the Patriots match up well against the Colts in the running game, I believe Indy may throw early to open up the running game. And that duo of Indy’s will only get stronger as the game goes on.
Colts WRs vs. NE Secondary — Edge Indianapolis
The Indianapolis passing game features Gardner Minshew, a gunslinger in the Brett Favre mode. He exudes confidence and has done a good job of keeping the Colts in the hunt for the postseason. Minshew has some good weapons at his disposal.
Michael Pittman is a big, physical WR (6’4, 223) and has hauled in a team-high 58 catches for 593 yards and three TDs. Rookie Josh Downs has been having an excellent season but left last week with a knee injury and didn’t practice Wednesday or Thursday.
The Patriots’ secondary is a bit of a mess right now. Rookie Christian Gonzalez is on IR, Jonathan Jones has been playing hurt, J.C. Jackson was left home in Massachusetts, and Jack Jones was late for curfew the night before the Commanders’ game. He was benched early to start the game and then played poorly once he entered.
With the pass rush really missing Matthew Judon, the Patriots must find a way of manufacturing QB pressure to turn the “good Minshew” into the bad one. Part of that gunslinger mentality is that he gives and takes. Minshew has passed for 1,527 yards and eight TDs this year. But he’s also thrown five picks. Given time, against a suspect secondary, he’ll eat them up.
Special Teams — Edge New England
The Patriots’ special teams have been woefully inconsistent this year. Bad penalties, undisciplined mistakes, and a lack of big plays have hurt them. The Colts, too, have suffered from indifferent STs’ play at times this year.
Indy has kicker Matt Gay, who has made all 24 PATs and is 16 of 18 on field goals, where he is 6-7 from 50+ yards. Punter Rigoberto Sanchez is averaging 47.5 yards per punt, has put 12 inside the 20, and doesn’t have a touchback.
The rookie kickers of the Patriots are both having solid seasons. Chad Ryland is getting into a groove with his FG attempts and has shaken off some early-season woes. He’s made his last six FG attempts and is perfect on PATs. Punter Bryce Barringer is averaging 46.9 yards per punt, placing 22 inside the 20, with three touchbacks.
Perhaps this is a game where the Patriots can get Demario Douglas in some space this week, as the Colts allow 10.7 yards per punt return and give the Pats some much-needed ST’s big plays.
Keys to the Game from a Patriots Perspective:
Collectively Get Their Heads Out From Their 4th Point of Contact* — The Patriots have been a very undisciplined, stupid football team at times this year. Their errors are self-inflicted for the vast majority, and they must stop.
And it is the same mistakes, time and again. The veterans need to step up and direct the younger players (or kick them in the a$$) to get their attention if need be. So many times this season, games were there for the taking, but they shot themselves in the foot. It is simple this week: don’t be stupid.
* The fourth point of contact is a term from military parachuting. While conducting a proper parachute landing fall, a jumper will hit all five points of contact. 1) Balls of the feet, 2) Calf, 3) Thigh, 4) Buttocks (A$$), and 5) Push up muscle.
Run, Run, Run, And Then Run More — The Patriots passing game isn’t going to win this game, even against a very mediocre pass defense of the Colts. If they are going to win, then the running game will have to be very effective. Not just okay, not meh, but run the ball down their throats.
Can they do it with this OL? We’ll see. Stevenson and Elliott can’t just get a handful of carries each. They’ll have to run the ball about 30-35 times, wear down the Colts’ front seven, and start making some big chunk runs.
Force Minshew Into Being The Bad Minshew — The Patriots’ pass rush has taken a big step back from where they were a year ago. Injuries to Matthew Judon and in the secondary have left them a shadow of what they were early in the season.
This means that Jerod Mayo, Steve Belichick, and Bill must scheme a way to pressure Minchew and force him into making mistakes. This is Minchew’s first time in 40 games that he’ll face Belichick and the Patriots.
The Patriots seem like a team that is standing on the edge of a precipice right now. The actions of Jackson and Jones and the resultant aftermath show for the first time that there are cracks in the team’s foundation.
I don’t believe this team can find a way to pull out a game against one of their biggest rivals. Colts 27-17
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: Bill Belichick Christian Barmore DeForest Buckner Demario Douglas Gardner Minshew Hunter Henry Indianapolis Colts Jabrill Peppers Josh Downs Kendrick Bourne Kyle Dugger Mac Jones Matthew Judon Michael Pittman Mike Gesicki Pharaoh Brown