The Indianapolis Colts host the New England Patriots Sunday night. The Pats currently hold the top seed in the AFC after beating the Broncos two weeks ago.
Both teams are coming off a bye week and have had plenty of time to prepare for each other. The Colts have faced New England twice in Andrew Luck‘s young career and the Pats have come away with an easy win both times.
The Pats are riding a five game winning streak following an embarrassing loss on Monday Night Football in Kansas City. Many wrote New England off after that game and some went as far as to question Tom Brady‘s playing ability.
We break down the advanced stats to see what the Patriots are made of and what it means for the Colts.
The Patriots on Offense
The Patriots have the ninth overall rated offense (just behind the Colts) per Football Outsiders. They feature the second best passing attack but are 31st on the ground. Keep in mind that the Pats rushed for 234 yards in a playoff win over the Colts last January.
Stevan Ridley was placed on IR a few weeks ago, and Shane Vereen has proven to be the more effective runner. He is extremely dangerous out of the backfield and has three receiving touchdowns since he became the starter. Neither back has rated particularly high in value but a lot of that has to do with a less than effective offensive line for much of the season.
The Patriots line is rated 11th in run blocking and seventh when it comes to protecting Brady. Only Sebastian Vollmer has played above average for the Pats and his run grade is still -2.2.
Despite the talk of his deteriorating skills, Brady still ranks fourth per PFF and is fifth according to Football Outsiders. He’s only throw three interceptions (two against the Chiefs) and has 22 touchdowns. He’s basically the same Tom Brady we’ve seen for years.
Brady’s receiving corps hasn’t been that great this season, but he does have Rob Gronkowski who is returning to form and devastating defenses again. He ranks third in DYAR and is PFF’s highest rated tight end by a wide margin. Gronk has had four touchdowns in his last two games (disclaimer: one of those was against the Bears) and topped 100 yards in each as well.
What it Means for the Colts on Defense
Stop Gronk. The resurgence in the Pats offense has a direct correlation to the number of snaps that Gronk has been taking and his improving health.
The Colts have to find a way to at least slow him down. The problem is that they are 29th when it comes to defending tight ends. It is safe to assume that Gronk will be eating on Sunday night.
They also need to find a way to generate pressure on Brady. He has been very uncomfortable with players in his face every since his torn ACL in 2008. Getting him off his mark is key, but something the Colts haven’t been able to do against an elite QB.
The Patriots on Defense
Despite investing on the defensive side of the ball in the offseason, the Patriots feature just the 22nd worst defense in the NFL. They’re 19th against the pass and 22nd versus the run.
The Patriots do a good job of locking down opponents top receiver with Darrelle Revis. Brandon Browner has yet to find his stride but has only played in three games so far this year due to a suspension.
New England struggles when it comes to defending tight ends and running backs. The Pats are 28th against tight ends and 21st versus running backs.
The Pats have picked off Luck seven times in two meetings and already have 10 interceptions this season. Luck has cut down on the turnovers, but Bill Belichick is a master at defensive game planning.
What This Means for the Colts on Offense
Luckily, the Pats weakness happens to be a big strength for the Colts. While the wide receivers might be locked down, Dwayne Allen and Ahmad Bradshaw will be open and should be looking at big days against New England.
T.Y. Hilton has never faced Darrelle Revis, but he did go up against Browner last season. In that game, he torched Browner for two receptions, 42 yards, and a touchdown. Hilton ripped the entire Seahawks secondary apart in that game, but Belichick (or maybe Aqib Talib) has a history of holding him back.
Expect the Colts to set up underneath with short plays to tight ends and the backs in order to set up a knock out punch with Hilton. They’ll also be able to run the ball fairly well.