INDIANAPOLIS – Areas of interest in the Indianapolis Colts’ Sunday meeting with the New England Patriots at Frankfurt Stadium in Frankfurt, Germany.
*Kickoff: 9:30 a.m.
*Spread: Colts by 2.
*History lesson, Part I: The latest meeting in the longest series in franchise history resumes in Germany. The Patriots lead the overall series 53-30 and have won nine of the last 10. The exception: a 27-17 Colts win in Indy in 2021 that Jonathan Taylor secured with a 67-yard touchdown run with 2 minutes remaining.
We’re pretty sure there’s video evidence of the Patriots’ 26-3 domination in Foxboro last November, but we won’t bother digging through the archives. That game, as everyone should remember, led to the firing of Frank Reich, the hiring of Jeff Saturday and so much more.
*History lesson, Part II: The Colts are involved with their fifth International Series game, but just the second in the regular season. In 2016, they dropped a 30-27 decision to Jacksonville in London.
International preseason games were in 2010 (versus Buffalo in Toronto), ’05 (versus Atlanta in Tokyo) and ’00 (versus Pittsburgh in Mexico City).
*Ball security: At the risk of being too simplistic, the first order of taking care of business is taking care of the football. We have proof.
In their four wins, the Colts have one turnover: Isaiah McKenzie’s muffed punt at Carolina. Since 2018, they’re 21-5 when they don’t turn the ball over and have won 16 of the last 18 in those games.
In their five losses, they’ve littered the field with 13 turnovers that have led to 51 points. The Colts lost those five by a combined 45 points. Gardner Minshew II was responsible for eight turnovers in consecutive losses to Jacksonville and Cleveland.
The Patriots’ defense has generated nine takeaways, tied-6th fewest in the league. A contributing factor has been a hit-and-miss pass rush. Their 18 sacks rank in the bottom third of the league and they rank No. 29 in sacks per pass attempt. Matthew Judon leads New England with 4 sacks, but he’s on the injured reserve list after suffering a torn biceps in week 4 against Dallas. End Christian Barmore and linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley have combined for 6 sacks and 12 quarterback its.
*Complementary offense: There’s every reason to believe Bill Belichick is going to do everything in his power to make someone other than Taylor beat his Patriots. That’s his M.O. Make the offense rely on Plan B.
In 2021, Taylor was the driving force in the Colts’ 27-17 win. He rushed for 170 yards – the seventh-highest total against Belichick’s defense in New England – and sealed things with the late 67-yard TD.
Bolstering the Patriots’ expected focus on Taylor and Zack Moss is a run defense that ranks No. 11 in yards per game (100.8) and No. 2 in yards per attempt (3.5).
Even so, Shane Steichen and coordinator Jim Bob Cooter need to stick to the team’s strength – the run game – and that likely hinges on Minshew being relatively effective in the pass game. When Carolina stacked the box and limited the run game to 78 yards and 2.6 yards per attempt, Minshew was little help. He passed for 127 yards and averaged 4.9 yards per attempt. Both are his fewest in five starts as a Colt.
The pass game could be impacted Sunday by injuries to rookie wideout Josh Downs (knee) and Alec Pierce (ankle). Both are questionable, but Downs didn’t practice all week.
*Contain the Patriots: The Indy defense faces another of the NFL’s bottom-feeders. It won the day against a Carolina offense that ranked No. 25 in scoring (18.0) and must do the same against a Patriots offense that checks in at No. 31 (15.0).
The Colts are the only offense in the NFL to score at least 20 points in every game. New England’s offense has managed to crack 20 twice: in a 25-20 season-opening loss to Philadelphia and in its 29-25 upset of the Buffalo Bills.
Mac Jones has yet to establish himself as the Patriots’ quarterback of the future since being selected with the 15th overall pick in 2021. He led them to a 10-7 record and a wild-card berth and was named to the Pro Bowl as a rookie, but is 8-15 as a starter the last two seasons.
In nine games this season, he ranks No. 27 in passer rating (80.2) and average gain (6.1), and No. 21 in completion percentage (64.8). On third down, the numbers drop: 64.0 rating (No. 27), 52.4% (No. 27) and 5.8 per attempt (No. 27). He was at his best against the Eagles (316 yards, three TDs) and Bills (272 yards, two TDs, the game-winning 75-yard drive in the final 2 minutes), but nothing special in the other seven games.
The Colts defense can’t allow Jones to be a positive influence. New England’s run game leans on Rhamondre Stevenson (3.7 yards per attempt, three TDs).
*And the winner is: Colts 22, Patriots 15. The Colts have another opportunity to give their season positive direction. To do anything, they first must get to 5-5. And they must do it against a Patriots bunch headed toward a top-5 pick in the April draft and with a legendary head coach answering questions about his job security.
Find a way, even if that means getting four or five field goals from Matt Gay.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.