Patriots opponent preview: Colts record, players to watch, injuries for NFL Week 9


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Sep 08, 2023

Patriots opponent preview: Colts record, players to watch, injuries for NFL Week 9

The New England Patriots will return home in Week 9, welcoming the Indianapolis Colts to Gillette Stadium. While the days of the rivalry are long gone, the matchup between the two teams should be an

The New England Patriots will return home in Week 9, welcoming the Indianapolis Colts to Gillette Stadium. While the days of the rivalry are long gone, the matchup between the two teams should be an interesting one: both are on the verge of the playoff picture after having played some up-and-down football — especially on offense — over the first eight weeks of the season.

For the Colts, they are entering the game with three wins, four losses and a tie. They started their year with a 20-20 game in Houston, following by a 24-0 loss in Jacksonville. They then went on to upset the Kansas City Chiefs (20-17) before dropping their Week 4 contest to the Tennessee Titans (24-17). What followed was back-to-back victories (at Denver, vs. Jacksonville) followed by back-to-back defeats (at Tennessee, vs. Washington).

The Colts’ inconsistency is also reflected by the numbers:

The Colts’ numbers are all over the place. Whereas the defense has been quite solid, especially when it comes to defending the run, the offense has had its struggles. It is moving the ball quite efficiently but 16 giveaways — tied for most in the league with New Orleans and: New England — have been a problem and reason why the team is ranked just 30th in points scored.

That said, playing in arguably the worst division in the NFL the Colts are still ranked second with a 3-4-1 record. Their solid defensive performance is the main reason for that.

With that all said, let’s now jump right to the Colts’ active roster to get to know each of the players currently with the Patriots’ Week 9 opponent.

(Note: The 53-man roster is up-to-date as of Thursday 7 a.m. ET; *denotes projected starter)

Sam Ehlinger* (4), Nick Foles (9), Matt Ryan (2)

Sophomore quarterback Sam Ehlinger will get the start against New England, his second in a row since replacing original starter Matt Ryan. A 2021 sixth-round draft pick, he completed 73.9 percent of his throws for 201 yards in his debut against Washington, while also losing a fumble.

The Colts initially started the season with Ryan under center, but he was benched after seven games. He completed 68.4 percent of his pass attempts for 2,008 yards, nine touchdowns and nine interceptions before being demoted, while also fumbling the ball a league-high 11 times, with three of those resulting in additional turnovers.

The inconsistent play at quarterback, and on offense in general, recently cost offensive coordinator Marcus Brady his job: he was fired on Tuesday.

Jonathan Taylor* (28), Zack Moss (21), Deon Jackson (35)

Jonathan Taylor’s availability will be worth keeping a close eye on after the star running back has yet to practice this week because of an ankle injury. The team’s leader in yards from scrimmage, Taylor has carried the football 107 times for 462 yards and a touchdown while also catching 16 passes for an extra 71 yards.

If Taylor is anything but 100 percent against New England, recent trade acquisition Zack Moss and second-year man Deon Jackson will see an increased workload. One player who will not see any action in this one is Nyheim Hines: the Colts’ top receiving back was traded to Buffalo earlier this week in a move that also involved Moss.

Michael Pittman Jr.* (11), Parris Campbell* (1), Alec Pierce* (14), Mike Strachan (17), Keke Coutee (15)

Led by Michael Pittman Jr., Parris Campbell and second-round rookie Alec Pierce, the Colts have received some solid contributions from their wide receiver group so far this season. Of course, Pittman Jr. stands above the rest: the third-year man is the undisputed WR1 and the team leader in targets (70), receptions (51) and receiving yards (528) but tonly ranks fourth receiving touchdowns (1).

For comparison, Campbell and Pierce have caught only 30 and 24 passes, respectively so far this year. Campbell has gained 282 yards and scored two touchdowns, while Pierce has gained 373 while finding the end zone once.

Mo Alie-Cox* (81), Kylen Granson (83), Jelani Woods (80)

Mo Alie-Cox is the Colts’ leader in playing time at the tight end position, but not the group’s most productive pass catcher. While he has caught 11 passes for 136 yards and two scores, Kylen Granson has hauled in 20 passes for 176 yards. Both are expected to see regular action against the Patriots, with third-round rookie Jelani Woods also a regular part of the equation.

Dennis Kelly* (73), Braden Smith* (72), Bernhard Raimann (79)

The Colts signed Kelly in May and he took over at left tackle after Matt Pryor was moved to the right side of the line and eventually the right guard spot. Kelly has been solid since entering the lineup in Week 6, and has yet to give up a sack so far this season.

On the other side of the line, Braden Smith resumes the starting spot he has held since his 2018 rookie season. Third-round pick Bernhard Raimann offers depth behind the two.

Quenton Nelson* (56), Ryan Kelly* (78), Matt Pryor* (69), Danny Pinter (63), Will Fries (75), Wesley French (62)

The Colts’ interior O-line has seen some movement this season, with Danny Pinter starting at right guard but since getting replaced by Matt Pryor. The two have combined to give up half of Indianapolis’ 16 sacks through eight games.

While right guard is a question mark of sorts, the other two spots along the interior certainly are not. Quenton Nelson remains arguably the best left guard in the game today, with Ryan Kelly as reliable a center as you will find. Both are “rising tide lifting all the boats”-type of players.

DeForest Buckner* (99), Grover Stewart* (90), Byron Cowart (96), Eric Johnson II (93), Chris Williams (95)

As noted above, the Colts are pretty good at defending the run — in large part because of their interior personnel: DeForest Buckner and Grover Stewart are among the best 3- and 1-techniques in the league, respectively, and will be a challenge for New England’s offensive line (especially if David Andrews is out again).

The two are hoarding snaps at their spots. The depth behind them, meanwhile, is relatively unproven. It includes former Patriots fifth-round draft pick Byron Cowart, who is the team’s number three in terms of playing time.

Yannick Ngakoue* (91), Kwity Paye (51), Ifeadi Odenigbo (59), Dayo Odeyingbo (54), Ben Banogu (52)

The Colts lost Tyquan Lewis for the season, which hurts their overall depth along the edge. That said, led by Yannick Ngakoue and Kwity Paye they still have some very good players at the position: Ngakoue is tied with DeForest Buckner atop the leaderboard in sacks (4), with Paye ranking right behind them (3).

The depth options, in particular Ifeadi Odenigbo and Dayo Odeyingbo, have also had their moments so far this season. The two have notched a combined three sacks of their own.

Shaquille Leonard* (53), Zaire Franklin* (44), Bobby Okereke* (58), E.J. Speed (45), Grant Stuard (41), JoJo Domann (57)

Medical issues have limited Shaquille Leonard to just 40 defensive snaps over two games this season, but the three-time first-team All-Pro is a key member of the Indianapolis defense when fully healthy. The same is true for his running mates: Zaire Franklin and Bobby Okereke are impressive players in their own rights, allowing Indianapolis to not skip a beat even with Leonard’s availability not a given.

With Leonard on and off the field through the first eight weeks of the season, fourth-year man and core special teamer E.J. Speed has seen increased snaps. Grant Stuard and JoJo Domann, meanwhile, are also important members of the kicking game operation.

Stephon Gilmore* (5), Kenny Moore II* (23), Brandon Facyson* (31), Isaiah Rodgers Sr. (34), Tony Brown (38), Dallis Flowers (33)

The Colts rebuilt their secondary this year, and part of that process was bringing ex-Patriots CB1 Stephon Gilmore aboard. The 2019 NFL Defensive Player of the Year has played all but 10 defensive snaps so far this season, tying the team lead with one interception.

Alongside him another former Patriot is starting in the Indianapolis secondary: slot cornerback Kenny Moore, who was part of New England’s 2017 undrafted rookie class. Gilmore and Moore are mainstays in the Colts secondary, and they are joined in the starting lineup by free agency acquisition Brandon Facyson.

Isaiah Rodgers has also been actively involved this season, while Tony Brown is ranked No. 2 behind only E.J. Speed in special teams snaps.

Rodney McLeod* (26), Julian Blackmon* (32), Rodney Thomas II (25), Nick Cross (20), Trevor Denbow (43)

The rebuilding process in the secondary did not stop at cornerback: the Colts also completely revamped their safety room. Julian Blackmon is back from injured reserve, while Rodney McLeod was added in free agency and Rodney Thomas in the seventh round of the draft. All three have seen considerable opportunities so far this season.

Chase McLaughlin (7), Matt Haack (6), Luke Rhodes (46)

Coached by former Patriots assistant Raymond Ventrone, the Colts seem to have found some stability at place kicker. After starting the year with the since-released Rodrigo Blankenship handling the kicker duties, they have now gone to Chase McLaughlin; McLaughlin has made 13 of 14 field goal attempts and all eight of his point-after tries.

He is joined in the kicking operation by punter/holder Matt Haack, who spent most of training camp in Buffalo but was let go in late August, and long-time long snapper Luke Rhodes.

In the return game, Isaiah Rodgers is in line to handle both kickoff and punt return duties moving forward. He shared the latter with the since-traded Nyheim Hines in the past.