Three weeks after giving up 270 yards to the Tennessee Titans, the New England Patriots run defense will face another daunting challenge: the Indianapolis Colts’ highly productive rushing offense, led by second-year back Jonathan Taylor.
Taylor currently leads all running backs with 1,348 rushing yards, 5.6 yards per carry, and 16 touchdowns. He also is a serious threat as a pass catcher: he is ranked second on the team with 36 receptions, gaining 336 yards and finding the end zone twice. In total, Taylor has gained 1,648 yards from scrimmage — the highest such number in the NFL.
Needless to say, the Patriots will have their hands full.
“Taylor’s strong. He catches well. He’s got total yards from scrimmage,” head coach Bill Belichick said this week. “Some of that’s in the passing game. He’s really been effective when he’s been able to get through the line of scrimmage and break a 60 or 70-yard run. It’s hard for teams to count on that in the running game. He’s been able to deliver for them with his speed and running ability.”
The Colts offense runs through Taylor. Will the Patriots be able to slow him down, though? Using our crystal ball as well as numbers provided by DraftKings Sportsbook let’s try to find out.
Jonathan Taylor: O/U 93.5 rushing yards
When Taylor crosses the 100-yard mark this season, the Colts are 7-0. When he fails to do so, they are 0-6. While there are obviously other factors contributing to a team’s wins and losses, stopping him will still be key for the New England defense and it will likely invest extra resources in getting the job done.
The Patriots successfully limiting Taylor would not be a surprise — they have proven their ability to do take away an opponent’s top offensive weapon time and again, even though Indianapolis’ RB1 is a different beast. Nonetheless, they will likely be more than happy to give the team opportunities elsewhere, which in turn would limit Taylor’s touches.
Jonathan Taylor: O/U 19.5 receiving yards
The Patriots defense is one of the best in the game, but it has had some trouble covering running backs this year: New England is ranked just 27th in the NFL in this area, according to Football Outsiders’ DVOA statistic. Taylor doing some damage as a pass catcher out of the backfield is certainly possible, even though he has gained 20-plus receiving yards only four times so far this season.
Jonathan Taylor: O/U 18.5 yards longest run
Taylor has 11 runs this season that gained at least 19 yards, including a 78-yard touchdown. That said, the under appears to be the safer projection here simply based on the aforementioned circumstances New England will try to create in order to limit his output on the ground. There is no telling whether or not the team will be successful, obviously, but it will certainly make life hard for the future Pro Bowler throughout the day.
Jonathan Taylor: O/U 11.5 yards longest reception
With the Patriots likely using additional resources to keep Taylor in check as a runner, the Colts might find some openings in the passing game. That includes using Taylor on screens or quick throws in order to give him an opportunity to make plays in “extended hand-off” situations. While he has only had eight receptions of 12 or more yards so far this year, the circumstances might allow him to add a ninth (or more) on Saturday.