In week five the New England Patriots welcomed the Denver Broncos and an old foe in Peyton Manning to Gillette Stadium. It was a test for a weak defense to stop the future Hall of Famer but they held on for a ten point win. On Sunday the Patriots will face Manning’s old team, the Indianapolis Colts, and his successor, Andrew Luck. It’ll be one of the toughest tests for the Patriots defense this season.
The Colts have been the surprise of the season thus far. During the offseason, the team released its franchise quarterback in Manning to start a rebuilding process with the number one pick in the NFL draft. They used that pick on Stanford quarterback Luck. They also drafted wide receiver T.Y. Hilton and tight ends Dwayne Allen and, Luck’s former teammate, Coby Fleener as targets.
The Colts are now starting to look like the Colts of old that became big rivals for Tom Brady and the Patriots. While the defense has struggled at times, Luck has led the Colts offense to great success averaging 387.3 yards per game and 20.7 points per game. That ranks them sixth in the league in total offense.
Unfortunately for the Patriots offense, the Colts strength is the Patriots weakness. The Colts rushing attack with running back Donald Brown averages 109.4 yards per game which places them in the middle of the league. But their passing game is quickly becoming prolific averaging 277.9 yards per game. Their total offensive production of 387.3 yards per game places them fifth in the NFL. That will be a challenge for the Patriots passing defense which ranks near the bottom of the league.
The Colts will be using a similar strategy that was adopted by the Patriots in 2011 with two tight ends being key parts of the offense. In drafting Allen and Fleener, the Colts got the two best tight ends in the college football from last season. As they continue to adapt to the NFL game, they will create as many problems as Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski.
The only issue for the Colts will be capitalizing on opportunities against the Patriots. With two strong offenses and two weaker defenses, the Patriots are likely to put up big numbers Sunday. The Colts high yards average hasn’t converted into points like the Patriots this season as the Colts only average 20.7 points per game.
The Patriots passing defense should be slightly improved Sunday. Cornerback Kyle Arrington looks healthy after suffering a concussion against the St. Louis Rams. Joining Arrington at cornerback will be the newly acquired Aqib Talib who will be coming off suspension on Sunday. Moving to safety to replace Patrick Chung who has been injured is Pro Bowl cornerback Devin McCourty for the second straight week. Along with Steve Gregory who returned Sunday against the Buffalo Bills, the Patriots pair of safeties forced three turnovers.
The Colts have surprised everyone this season in becoming one of the most productive offenses in the NFL. Quarterback Luck has been better than advertised and will create problems for the Patriots defensive secondary that has been suspect at best this season. The addition of Talib should help that secondary but they will still have their work cut out for them. For the Patriots to come away with the victory their offense will likely have to do something that they’ve struggled with this season, score touchdowns in the fourth quarter.