If the New England Patriots want to keep the top spot in the AFC playoff race, they need to find a way to beat the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday. Doing that, and improving to 10-4 to overtake the Kansas City Chiefs again, will not be easy. The Colts are a playoff-caliber opponent, and are entering the game with a 7-6 record as well as in possession of the No. 6 seed in the conference.
In order to master this challenge, New England needs positive contributions from the top to the bottom of its depth chart. Five players in particular stand out, however, and we will keep a close eye on them on Saturday night.
DT Davon Godchaux
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick spoke highly of Godchaux during his press conference on Thursday, and the team will need its free agency addition to have a big game against the Colts. Indianapolis, after all, is one of the best running teams in the NFL and particularly potent between the tackles. This is precisely the area where Godchaux usually lines up.
When attacking the four interior gaps — i.e. the two A-gaps and the two B-gaps — the Colts are averaging and impressive 6.0 yards per carry. They also have scored nine of their 20 rushing touchdowns through those four gaps. Needless to say that Godchaux and the rest of New England’s interior defensive linemen will be crucial when it comes to stopping Indianapolis’ bread-and-butter plays.
“He’s shown a lot of versatility and playing on the center, on the guard, in a 2- or 3-technique, and then out on the offensive tackle on a 4- or 5-technique,” Belichick said about Godchaux.
“He’s a very instinctive player. He understands blocking schemes and blocking patterns and so forth and does a real good job. ... He’s been a great addition. Glad we have him and his versatility to play away from the ball as well as on the ball has been really beneficial for us with Carl [Davis] getting more snaps on the ball.”
WR Jakobi Meyers
While he does sprinkle in some man coverage looks as well, Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus is most comfortable calling zone defenses. Indianapolis is primarily a Cover 3 team, and New England has had plenty of success this season against this kind of coverage scheme.
One big reason for that is the chemistry the team’s receivers have shown with rookie quarterback Mac Jones, and their read-and-react skills to find soft spots between coverage zones. One player in particular stands out in that regard: third-year wide receiver Jakobi Meyers, who leads the team with 59 catches and has found plenty of success against zone looks this season.
QB Mac Jones
Mac Jones obviously is the most important player on the Patriots’ roster, and could be on this list every single week. The Colts defense, however, presents a special test which is why he will be under considerable pressure on Saturday.
After all, Indianapolis currently leads the league with 29 takeaways: the team has recovered 14 fumbles and intercepted 15 passes. Jones has been better in the turnover area as of late, giving the football away just three times during New England’s seven-game winning streak. Against the Colts’ opportunistic defense, he needs to be on top of his game.
“They’re a great defense,” Jones said earlier this week. “The main thing is the takeaways that they have. They’re number one in the NFL there. There are not a lot chinks in the armor. They do everything pretty well. They have good players at every position. ... I think it’ll just be a good matchup and we’ve just got to do what we’ve got to do. They have a great defense.”
S Kyle Dugger
Returning from his stint on the Coronavirus reserve list earlier this week, Kyle Dugger will be thrust into the spotlight right away against the Colts. A hybrid box defender capable of playing the “star” role — basically a mix between off-the-ball linebacker and safety — he will be asked to give New England’s defense another body versus the run, but also help out in coverage, especially against Indianapolis’ tight ends.
The Colts have two of them worth mentioning: Jack Doyle, who has caught 27 passes for 291 yards and three touchdowns, and Mo Alie-Cox, who has 17 catches for 219 yards and four scores on his résumé. Dugger will see plenty of coverage snaps against them, and also move up in the box to help against second-level runs.
FB Jakob Johnson
If linebacker Bobby Okereke is to be believed, the Colts want to make the Patriots defense one-dimensional by forcing quarterback Mac Jones to win the game with his right arm. New England has confidence in Jones, despite his recent three-pass outing against the Buffalo Bills, but the team would obviously prefer to establish a presence on the ground as well.
The Patriots’ offensive line plays a key role in this process, but so does Jakob Johnson. New England’s fullback will again serve as a lead blocker, and therefore take on second-level defenders such as Okereke to clear out holes for Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson. If he does his job well against a talented off-the-ball linebacker group, the Patriots might just be able to play a more balanced game than the Colts would like them to.