The annual matchup between the Colts and Patriots is enticing once again. With two surging, 6-3 teams set to face off at Gillette this Sunday, the networks have decided to use the flex option and push kick off back to 4:25 ET in order to reach a larger national market.
The primary reason for heightened anticipation when Indy comes to town? Number 1 overall pick, Andrew Luck.
Luck overcame some early bumps in his rookie campaign and is now among the top rated quarterbacks in the league. In his last three games he is completing an average of 67.5% of his passes and has a 90.1 passer rating.
It’s not just his overall numbers, but the situations in which Luck has succeeded that have analysts drooling over the young man’s potential. He is fifth in the NFL on 3rd and 4th down, converting 44.4% of those situations. That’s slightly ahead of Tom Brady, who is ranked seventh with a 44.2% conversion rate.
The Colts have allowed 22.3 points per game, which ties the Patriots for 13th in the NFL. Both teams are vulnerable in the secondary. The Colts have allowed 15 passing TDs, while the Patriots are tied for second worst in the NFL, allowing 19 touchdowns through the air through nine games.
Clearly, this game seems poised for some offensive fireworks. But what are some match ups to watch for other than the play of the aging QB and the rookie phenom?
Five Things to Watch for Colts vs. Patriots 4:25ET 11/18
1. Aqib Talib’s Debut- One of the only notable moves at the deadline was the Patriots’ trade for an elite cover cornerback that immediately vaulted them into the discussion of favorites to come out of the AFC. Talib is a big body at 6’2” and 202 pounds, who has 182 career tackles to go along with 18 interceptions, but he will probably be asked to do something that can’t easily be defined by statistics: shutdown the opposition’s best WR. He draws a tough assignment in his first game and will likely lineup opposite Reggie Wayne early and often.
2. Colts Pass Rush- The Colts have relied on the outside speed rush from Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis to negate their defensive deficiencies in the past, but both defensive ends have been plagued by injuries this year. Mathis, who has a team-high six of the Colts’ 21 sacks, is expected to play after missing the previous game with a back injury. Freeney’s production has been diminished this season after he missed the first month with an ankle sprain, yet he is probable to suit up against the Patriots this Sunday. Both players will test outside tackles Sebastian Vollmer and Nate Solder as they attempt to keep Brady upright.
3. Patriots Offensive Balance- How will New England choose to attack an Indianapolis defense that has allowed 120 yards per game on the ground (22nd) and an average of 230 passing (15th). The Pats have rushed for an average of 157 yards in their six wins this season, compared to only 84.6 rushing yards in their three losses. Establishing the ground game is extremely important for this team, and will likely be part of the game plan against a subpar rushing defense.
4. Donnie Avery & T.Y. Hilton Reeking Havoc- The Colts have won four in a row and have climbed to 8th in the league in passing (277.9 YPG) in the process. This is partially due to the emergence of ex-Ram Donnie Avery and explosive rookie T.Y. Hilton. These two wideouts have the speed and route-running skills to cause problems deep down the middle of the field, where the Patriots secondary is most vulnerable. Expect them to have a big day and routinely exploit whoever the Pats put at Safety.
5. Chandler Jones Making Plays- The first-round draft choice has been invaluable for the Patriots as a pass rusher. He has six sacks and three forced fumbles through nine games, and the attention he receives from opposing offensive lines has helped open space for Rob Ninkovich to make plays off the other edge. If the Patriots get to Luck and force a big turnover, expect this young man to be right in the thick of things making a big play.