This year’s team, particularly its defense, felt different. Yet, it’s another season with the same old story.
Jan 11, 2014; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount (29) runs against the Indianapolis Colts in the second half during the 2013 AFC divisional playoff football game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports
It’s hard to forget that the New England Patriots bounced the Colts out of last year’s playoffs. In the divisional round, then-Patriots’ running back LeGarrette Blount, who’s a generously listed 6’1″ and 245 pounds, rumbled for 166 rushing yards on 24 carries (6.91 ypc) and 4 touchdowns. As a direct result, the Patriots won handedly en route to a 43-22 win.
It was like being haunted by the ghost of Christmas past all over again on Sunday Night, only this time he donned the jersey number of #35. Meet Jonas Gray, all 223 pounds of him. The former undrafted free agent from Notre Dame and 1st-year running back steamrolled the Colts’ defense for 199 rushing yards on 38 carries (5.2 ypc) and 4 touchdowns. It was like watching a bowling ball bounce around on a bunch of pins, and the Colts were left with no answers, with deja blue all over again. The Patriots once again won handedly 42-20.
The Colts may be the league’s heaviest team, but it didn’t show in the trenches on Sunday night. The Colts defense was simply manhandled. While Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, and Julian Edelman stole all the headlines entering Sunday night’s primetime match-up, it was one of the unlikeliest enemies who ended up stealing the show in Jonas Gray.
Nov 16, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; New England Patriots running back Jonas Gray (35) celebrates a second half touchdown against the Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports
The Colts’ defense entered the evening as the NFL’s 9th best run defense, allowing only 98.1 rushing yards per game, they left doubling that number to Gray.
Having clearly learned nothing after last season’s postseason loss, the Colts’ defense needs to do a real gut check. Aside from two Mike Adams‘ interceptions, the defense couldn’t stop Gray or the rest of the Patriots’ offense all evening. The Patriots punted just once the entire game.
In their last two games against the Patriots, the Colts have surrendered 365 total rushing yards on 62 carries (5.9 ypc) and 8 touchdowns to just 2 Patriots’ running backs. As bad as the defense has struggled defending the bunch formation and playing zone coverage, having an opposing running back run it up the middle time after time with continued success is even more devastating. It absolutely can’t happen, and it has to get fixed.
Nothing against Gray either, who is a no-nonsense “meat and potatoes”, throwback of a running back, but the Colts defense allowed him to look like Earl Campbell last night. Gray is good, but he’s not almost 200 rushing yards and 4 touchdowns good, very few are.
For the Colts’ defense, it’s getting back to basics. The defensive line has to get penetration and fight off their blocks, and the linebackers have to make tackles. There were simply too many whiffs by both D ‘Qwell Jackson and Jerrell Freeman last night, and Gray too often got to the 2nd level of the defense unimpeded or successfully fought off 1st contact.
The team could very end up facing the Patriots in the playoffs, and unless the Colts’ defense shows more resistance, why would Patriots’ head coach Bill Belichick try anything different than continuously slamming his power running back up the middle? It’s been remarkably successful, and it once again left the Colts blue and gray, searching for answers.
Nov 16, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts safety Mike Adams (29) tackles New England Patriots running back Jonas Gray (35) at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports