While it’s popular names like Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, and Julian Edelman that have drawn the majority of headlines, it’s actually been unheralded Patriots’ power running backs that have stolen the show the past two games that the Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots have met.
Nov 30, 2014; Green Bay, WI, USA; New England Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount (29) rushes with the football during the fourth quarter against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Green Bay won 26-21. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
The Colts season was ended last year in the Divisional Round, when the Patriots 6’0″, 250 pound, big bodied LeGarrette Blount ran for 166 rushing yards on 24 carries (6.9 ypc) on his way to 4 touchdowns in a 43-22 Colts’ demolition of a loss.
Not to be outdone; however, the Colts run defense was once again gashed in Week 11 of this year’s regular season, as 5’10, 225 pound, Jonas Gray ran for 201 rushing yards on 37 carries (5.4 ypc) and 4 touchdowns in another decisive 42-20 Colts’ loss.
In their last two games combined against the Patriots, the Colts defense has allowed 367 rushing yards on 61 carries (6.0 ypc) and 8 touchdowns.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, they’ve been beaten by an average of 26 ppg in their last 3 meetings against the Patriots:
The Colts inability to stop the run in 2 of the teams’ last 3 matchups has been a big reason why.
However, there’s hope.
As mentioned, a healthy Arthur Jones along the defensive line has not only recently solidified the Colts run defense, but several players have improved considerably against the run as the season has progressed. According to ProFootballFocus, the team has improved over time at the “second level”, namely at linebacker:
"“The Colts’ run defense has been middling this year, however they have players who have made a positive impact against the run. Outside linebackers Bjoern Werner and Jonathan Newsome both rank in the Top 10 at the position as run stoppers, with Run Stop Percentages (RSP) of 7.6 and 7.4, respectively. Nose tackle Josh Chapman had a +4.2 grade against the run, and was strongest in the second-half of the season. Similarly inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson found his best form later in the year, with a +7.2 run defense grade in the last ten games of the season, sixth-best at the position in that period. Fellow ILB Jerrell Freeman has struggled this season, but seems to have found form at the right moment.”"
Even Andy Benoit, Sports Illustrated NFL Film Analyst, commented on some of the Colts’ linebackers effectiveness against the run in last weekend’s game against the Denver Broncos:
That being said, the Colts cannot afford to commit to the run too much, as they run the risk of overplaying it and receiving “death by Brady, Gronkowski, and Edelman“. In a lot of ways, they’re in between a rock and a hard place. While they cannot let the Patriots gouge them on the ground like in the past 2 games, they don’t want to over-commit to the run either. There’s still a prolific Patriots’ passing attack to worry about afterall.
Rather, the Colts will need to play against the run effectively without committing too much help to it. This requires defenders to win their individual matchups and fight off blocks. If the past few weeks are any indication, with a healthy Jones and improved defenders against the run, the Colts should fare better than they did in Week 11 when they were left “Blue and Gray’d“.
Nov 16, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; New England Patriots running back Jonas Gray (35) celebrates a first half score against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports