Coming off a heartbreaking loss at home to the Washington Commanders, the Indianapolis Colts will hit the road and head to Foxborough to take on the New England Patriots.
In terms of playoff chances, this is a must-win for Frank Reich’s squad which has been underwhelming most of this season. The Colts fired offensive coordinator Marcus Brady on Tuesday, leaving the offense entirely in Reich’s hands as he tries to turn things around.
This could be a step in the right direction as second-year quarterback Sam Ehlinger prepares to make his first start on the road.
However, beating Bill Belichick and the Patriots is no easy task. Here are the keys to victory for the Colts come Sunday:
Protect the young QB
(Dylan Buell- Getty Images)
Sam Ehlinger’s first start did not feature a lot of “flash,” only throwing for 200 yards and losing a fumble. He faced a Washington pass rush that has been solid this year, and he will face a similar challenge this week. New England has one of the best pass rushers in the league in Matthew Judon, who currently sits at No. 2 across the league with 6.0 sacks this season.
Allowing Ehlinger time to work through his progressions will make him more comfortable in the pocket. His arm talent is there, but having the time to air it out down the field will be a huge factor in this one. It all comes down to the offensive line and their ability to protect the second-year man under center.
Third down efficiency
(Justin Casterline- Getty Images)
Last week against Washington, the Colts struggled to get the Commanders off the field on third and fourth downs. It was part of the reason why Gus Bradley’s defense managed to lose the game down the stretch. Dialing up pressure will be key in this aspect, with Kwity Paye (potentially) and Yannick Ngakoue coming off the edge. Providing a strong, consistent pass rush can throw off the Patriots offensive rhythm and force Mac Jones or Bailey Zappe to throw the ball away, or even better, throw it to a Colts defender.
Pound the rock
With Nyheim Hines getting traded to the Bills, it leaves the Colts without one of their spark plugs. The run game has been stagnant all year as the Colts try to rekindle some of the magic from 2021. Jonathan Taylor, and now Deon Jackson, will have to lead this offense as their young quarterback continues to grow and learn.
The identity of this team is running the ball, no matter who is under center. To get back on track it will be crucial for this aspect of the game to shine on Sunday. Look at the Patriots game from last year. What ended up sealing the victory for Indy? A 67-yard scamper by Jonathan Taylor. If he can fight through that ankle injury, he will be a huge piece in this offense on Sunday.
Tight end time
(Zach Bolinger- AP Photo)
The Colts tight ends caught just three passes on Sunday against Washington, all of them going to Sam Ehlinger’s high school teammate Kylen Granson. That will have to change if the Colts want to find more offensive success against New England. Mo-Alie Cox and Jelani Woods both have such big frames and are huge assets to have in the red zone.
Some of that responsibility falls on Ehlinger, but ultimately it’s up to Frank Reich to call plays catered to tight end involvement. Expect Granson to still have the largest target share due to his previous connection with the new man under center.