The Indianapolis Colts and the New England Patriots have played four times since the start of the Andrew Luck era (2012), and it has been a very one-sided matchup. During those four games, the Patriots have gone 4-0 and have dominated in every aspect - outscoring the Colts 189-73, with the average margin of victory being 29 points.
The main area of dominance for the Patriots has come in the ground game, as they have run all over the Colts in their four meetings. The numbers are staggering: 772 yards and 15 touchdowns rushing in just four games, averaging 193 yards per game and five yards per carry. That's an incredibly impressive total, and that's the reason why the Colts were intentional about improving their run defense this offseason.
They let Cory Redding walk in free agency in order to sign Kendall Langford, who is strong against the run. They drafted Henry Anderson in the third round and David Parry in the fourth round of the 2015 NFL Draft. And, so far, the run defense has been improved for the Colts. The numbers might not suggest it as much (they're only giving up slightly less yards per game and slightly less touchdowns per game than they did last year), but they are allowing nearly a half yard less per carry than they did last year, which is a significant improvement. Henry Anderson has been a big part of that, as he leads all NFL 3-4 defensive ends in run stops and run stop percentage, according to Pro Football Focus.
The run defense has been improved, but this Sunday they face the team that was the motivation behind their offseason focus. One thing was clear: the Colts were building to beat the Patriots. They knew they couldn't do that while the Patriots were still running all over them, so they needed to shore up that area. It's been better, but has it been enough? That's what we'll all be watching to see on Sunday.
"I feel really good about our run defense right now," head coach Chuck Pagano said on Monday. "Probably better than any point we're playing run defense. This team has not faced their team. We're different up front. So we've got a heck of a challenge in front of us obviously. I think everybody knows that."
He continued to praise the play of the starting trio of Langford, Anderson, and Parry, saying that, "they're doing a great job of controlling the line of scrimmage. They're getting knock ‘em back, they're making plays. They're able to take on doubles and singles and get off blocks and make plays."
The Colts have been better against the run this year, yes, but they haven't done so while also facing an MVP-caliber quarterback. They will this Sunday in Tom Brady, which makes it an even tougher test for the defense. The cornerbacks will need to step up and they'll need to prove they can slow down Brady and the passing game, but you can be sure that the Patriots will still test the Colts in the ground game. Indy has known that and been preparing for that for several months, so this Sunday will be the real test for just how far the defense has come since last year's AFC Championship game.