Game Overview ::
By hilow >>
- Jonathan Taylor missed practice on Wednesday with head coach Frank Reich stating that he re-aggravated his ankle injury. Nyheim Hines was dealt to Buffalo and Zack Moss just joined the team after a trade deadline deal.
- Damien Harris (illness) and DeVante Parker (knee) missed practice Wednesday for the Patriots.
- The Colts have more moving pieces than just about any other team in the league when looking at their composition last week compared to this week.
- The Patriots are very clearly likeliest to lean on the ground game against a Colts defense ceding the second-lowest adjusted line yards and sixth-fewest yards per carry to opposing backfields.
- Not a ton to love here from a game environment likely to be fairly messy.
How Indianapolis Will Try To Win ::
Some might look to the 29-to-23 rush-to-pass ratio from the Colts in Sam Ehlinger’s first start and immediately assume their top-five pass rate is in jeopardy with Ehlinger at quarterback, but the top-level numbers are missing key context, in my opinion. First off, the Colts currently rank fifth in the league with an overall pass rate of 64.67%. Next, the Colts currently hold the highest expected pass rate in the league at just under 68%. Finally, the Colts were never pushed by the Commanders, down 7-3 at halftime and ultimately losing on a last-second Taylor Heinicke rushing score. Now consider that Jonathan Taylor reportedly re-aggravated his ankle injury last week, the Colts just fired their offensive coordinator (head coach Frank Reich still calls the plays), and Nyheim Hines was shipped off to Buffalo for a package including picks and Zack Moss (who joined the team on Wednesday following the trade deadline deal) and we’re left with multiple signs pointing towards a potential return to a pass-focused offense against the Patriots. The Colts have played at a top-10 pace of play this season, ranking ninth in overall pace of play and ninth in situation neutral pace of play. As for personnel utilization, we’ve seen Reich utilize fluid personnel groupings dependent on matchup and game flow, which typically has fluctuated between heavy 12-personnel usage in games where the Colts are allowed to stick to a more run-balanced approach and heavy 11-personnel usage in games where they are playing from behind (for example, we saw an offense almost exclusively run from 11-personnel in a Week 7 loss to the Titans where they were down 13-0 at the half, whereas the Colts utilized 12-personnel over 30% of the time in a close game in Week 8).
As alluded to above, this backfield could look different than we’ve grown accustomed to in Week 9, with Jonathan Taylor held out of practice on Wednesday, Nyheim Hines no longer in town, and Zack Moss joining the team on Wednesday. As things currently stand, waiver darling Deon Jackson could be in line for a massive share of the backfield opportunities against a Patriots defense allowing just 18.4 fantasy points per game to opposing backfields (second fewest in the league). Even if Taylor plays, the matchup (4.33 net-adjusted line yards metric) and uncertainty surrounding his health are difficult to get overly excited about — yet another sign pointing to a potential reversion to an aerially focused attack. Finally, Sam Ehlinger should be a larger part of the rushing game plan than his Week 8 box score would lead us to believe, as four of his carries were brought back via penalty against the Commanders. With an additional week of practice heading the offense, and with Reich getting an additional week to incorporate the mobile quarterback into his game plan, I would expect to see more designed quarterback runs, more run-pass options, and more pre-snap motions against the Patriots.
Considering both the matchup and expected game flow (Patriots favored by 5.5 points at home), it would make sense that we see an offense return to heavier rates of 11-personnel, which means rookie wide receiver Alec Pierce should return to a near every-down player after seeing 97% of the offensive snaps in Week 7 and just 57% in Week 8. The quarterback change did little to influence Michael Pittman’s route and utilization in Week 8, finishing the game with seven catches on nine targets for just 53 yards. Pierce’s connection was on full display as he led the team in yards on his modest snap rate, while Parris Campbell returned to Earth with just two targets after seeing a combined 32 over his previous two games. The largest per-touch upside very clearly resides with Pierce, while Pittman will likely need elite volume to return a GPP-viable score. Finally, the running backs combined for just three targets on 23 Ehlinger pass attempts a week ago, which theoretically should remain rather static considering both the Patriots and Commanders generate pressure at top-five rates, which Ehlinger should counter with escapes from the pocket as a young and mobile quarterback as opposed to checking it down to running backs in the flat.