From 2001-2010, Indianapolis and New England participated in one of the greatest series the NFL has ever had to offer, Brady vs. Manning. Once Peyton moved on to greener pastures in Denver, the Colts got right back on the horse with a young gunslinger named Andrew Luck, who faced the Patriots six times in his six season career.
Not only where these teams led by superstar quarterbacks during a 17-year stretch, but a consistent flair for producing dramatic moments made these matchups must-see TV despite the Patriots’ dominance on the scoreboard. Tom Brady’s first NFL win came in this rivalry, as did 4th-and-2, Deflategate, and a trio of AFC Championship games. It was truly something special, but as we’ve all heard before, good things must always come to an end. And come to an end this rivalry has, instead of finding themselves matched up every year as the AFC’s top two teams, Indy and New England just wait for the NFL schedule to turn over before they face-off again. Pats/Colts has become just another game, so just as it does in any other game, this bout will come down to the matchups.
Jakobi Meyers vs. Indy’s Zone Defense
Colts linebacker Bobby Okereke was nice enough to tell us all what Indianapolis’ plan would be on defense this Saturday:
“We’re really going to try to make the game one-dimensional and see what he can do. So we’re excited for the challenge,” Okereke said.
That comment induces a thought of how exactly Matt Eberflus’ defenses will look to stop a rookie quarterback, and if you’ve watched the Colts this season, you know that the short answer is by playing lots of zone defense and being creative with stunts and blitzes. Indianapolis doesn’t have the personnel to run Eberflus’ preferred Cover-3 system, so the Colts have played a fairly basic Cover-2 system that allows them to keep multiple linebackers on the field with five defensive backs.
The Colts’ top personnel come in their front seven, with DeForest Buckner, Al-Quadin Muhammed, Darius Leonard, and Bobby Okereke all excelling in a downhill, crash course style of play that allows them to be aggressive. That is where Jakobi Meyers comes in. As the Patriots best zone route runner, Meyers should be able to feast off of play action and crossing concepts that allow him to find open spots in Indy’s zone and keep the chains moving. If and when Mac Jones throws the ball, expect him to be looking in the way of Meyers.
Dont’a Hightower vs. Indy’s Passing Offense
In a game where the conditions necessitated Buffalo to run the ball more than they would have liked, Dont’a Hightower had a throwback game last weekend, logging 76% of New England’s defensive snaps. With the Colts hitting their stride on the ground, it is expected that the Patriots deploy their “trash man” to help combat their heavy rushing approach.
That is all well and good until you remember that Indy could take advantage of that personnel and choose to throw at Hightower. Now, Dont’a Hightower isn’t some sort of major liability on the field on passing downs, but he certainly doesn't have the lateral agility that he once had and is no longer used as a pass rusher the way he once was.
The key in this matchup is to minimize Hightower’s role as a man defender by letting him bang in the middle with tight ends, while Adrian Phillips and/or Kyle Dugger shadow running backs Nyheim Hines and Jonathan Taylor.
Bill Belichick vs. Jonathan Taylor
Speaking of Jonathan Taylor, there is little doubt that he is the Colts’ best offensive skill player. The NFL’s leading rusher has been on a tear lately, racking up 770 total yards and 11 touchdowns in his last five games. It’s been two and a half months since an opposing defense stopped him from reaching the end zone. I wonder who can put an end to that?
Oh that’s right, it’s the man who has made a name for stopping star players, Bill Belichick.
Now I’m not going to sit here and act like I have any clue of how Belichick will attack stopping Taylor. What I will do is venture a guess. With Taylor being a threat both on the ground and through the air, it would make sense to have someone spy him the way you would a quarterback. The man I think is up for the task is Kyle Van Noy. By pulling Van Noy off the line a bit, you can have him play contain in the run game, and follow Taylor whenever he leaves the backfield without the ball. Dynamic players like Taylor always need an extra set of eyes on them, that’s what Van Noy can bring to the table for Belichick on Saturday.