The New England Patriots are no strangers to instability at quarterback, having already started three different players at the position this year. Their previous issues at the spot, however, differ from the ones their Week 9 opponent has.
Whereas the Patriots’ quarterback carousel began spinning due to injuries, the Indianapolis Colts’ started because of performance. Original starting QB Matt Ryan, who joined the team via trade from the Atlanta Falcons this offseason, was benched after a disappointing start to his first season with the organization.
The Colts’ Week 8 game against Washington was the first that saw sophomore Sam Ehlinger line up under center. While his performance as a passer was solid if unspectacular — 17-for-23 for 201 yards — his willingness to run the ball stood out.
Ehlinger gained only 16 yards on five non-kneel down carries, all of them in the second half, but he also had two runs for 27 total yards wiped out be penalties
Sam Ehlinger is obviously no Justin Fields but, as Belichick noted, Indy added some QB runs which NE "hasn't been great against with this year."— Brian Hines (@iambrianhines) November 2, 2022
Designed run, zone-read, and a trio of scrambles in first career start. #Patriots pic.twitter.com/FGRZJjXR62
The Patriots know that they cannot sleep on Ehlinger’s abilities as a runner, which is a change compared to when classic pocket passer Matt Ryan was still in the lineup.
“They’ve added some quarterback-running type plays in there which obviously we haven’t been great against this year,” said head coach Bill Belichick earlier this week. “We’ll see how that goes.”
“You watch the first games to see how they use Matt Ryan and how they use their players, and then you try to come in and see with the last game what’s different, what can carry over,” added cornerback Jonathan Jones. “So, you’re just trying to figure it out — what they want to carry over from the last game. And, obviously, it’s their second game so they want to build on it. It’s a lot of progression.”
While Ehlinger’s regular season tape is limited, the Patriots do have a lot of information to work with. The youngster did see some action as a rookie, and also has played extensively in preseason. Additionally, his college tape might also have some relevance — it includes a lot of running, after all.
During his four years at Texas, Ehlinger carried the football 554 times for 1,903 yards and 33 touchdowns. His NFL production is obviously nowhere near those numbers, but his entire body of work shows a player willing and capable to advance the ball with his feet.
“Dynamic quarterback,” said linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley. “Brings a lot to the team; a lot of athleticism, for sure. He’s just not your typical quarterback. He can move, for sure. He brings a nice dynamic to the running game, or he kind of adds to their running game with his ability to run and extend plays. He’s a great player. Obviously, he gives us a lot of problems when it comes to just being aware of where he is and aware of just the things that he can make happen.”
Fellow linebacker Matthew Judon echoed those remarks.
“Ehlinger, he can find the first down,” the Pro Bowler said. “He can maneuver the pocket and he steps up and he’s still looking downfield, but he can find a first down. He can continue to keep the chains moving instead of throwing the ball away or taking a negative play; he turns those plays into 4-, 5-yard gains and get right back. He’ll continue to do it throughout the whole game if you allow him.”
So far this season, the Patriots have had trouble slowing down the quarterback run. In Week 3, Baltimore Ravens QB Lamar Jackson gained 110 yards on just eight non-kneel down rushing attempts. Four weeks later, the Chicago Bears’ Justin Fields finished with 83 yards on 13 runs.
New England lost both of those games rather decisively, in large part due to the defense’s inability to contain the quarterback. Their experience playing Jackson and Fields can help them somewhat on Sunday, however, believes defensive lineman Deatrich Wise Jr.
“What we’ve seen on film is that he is a pretty elusive quarterback,” the team captain said on Friday. “Our last few weeks we’ve seen quarterbacks who can move in the pocket, so we’re prepared for all types of quarterback runs and scrambles and any other kind that they have.”
Being prepared and executing are two different things, but the Patriots know that they cannot take Ehlinger’s running abilities lightly.