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Analyzing Colts biggest threats in the AFC: New England Patriots

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The Patriots have dominated the Colts over the past few seasons, but there could be a change of guard in the AFC.

Indianapolis Colts v New England Patriots Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The Patriots are reigning Super Bowl champions and never seem to go away. Tom Brady is 41 years old, and still playing at a high level. He even is an excellent playoff quarterback. To go along with him, Bill Belichick is the greatest coach of all time.

The Patriots have once again lost plenty of talent in free agency. Their squad is still deep, however, and they look like a force to be reckoned with in the AFC. They have to be considered early favorites to go to the Super Bowl for the umpteenth time.


Strengths

Super Bowl LIII - New England Patriots v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

The Patriots’ biggest strength last season was their offense. They ranked in the top 5 in rushing offense and top 10 in passing. The Rams were the only other team to have a top 10 running and passing offense. The success of the Patriots offense relies a lot on the experience and pre-snap reads of quarterback Tom Brady. Brady is the perfect quarterback to run the complex offense of the Patriots. He gets the ball out of his hands lighting fast while not allowing the opposing pass rush to get to him. His years of experience have allowed him to become the best at reading defenses and adjusting throughout the game.

Behind Brady, the Pats have perhaps the best running back group in the NFL. Led by rookie sensation and playoff hero Sony Michel, and featuring receiving specialist James White, and versatile Rex Burkhead. Michel has the talent and potential to become one of the best running backs in the NFL, White is nearly impossible to cover in the passing game, and is an excellent chain mover, and Burkhead does a bit of everything. In front of the backs, they have one of the best offensive lines in the League. Brady’s pre-snap reads surely make life easier for them, but the line is rarely penalized, always seem to give Brady enough time to throw and can open up running lanes. They might have lost starting left tackle Trent Brown in free agency, but they are getting back former first-round pick Isaiah Wynn from injury.

Also worth noting, the Patriots have Josh “The Snake” McDaniels calling the shots on offense, and despite the hate we Colts fans have for him, he is a pretty good offensive coordinator.

The Pats also had one of the best scoring defenses in the NFL and were among the League best in turnovers forced. Despite a lack of pass rush (30th in sacks), the Patriots defense found ways to keep opponents off the scoreboard.

Finally, the Patriots biggest strength: Bill Belichick. BB is unarguably the greatest coach in NFL history, and perhaps even the history of sports, period. He consistently gets the most out of every player he coaches, his players are always in the best position to succeed, the Pats are mentally the toughest team and he just has a winning aura around him. As long as BB is the coach, the road to the Super Bowl goes through New England.

Weaknesses

New England Patriots v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

It is quite hard to find a glaring weakness in the Patriots, as the rest of the NFL may agree, and whatever flaws they do have, Bill Belichick does a damn good job at concealing them.

The Patriots biggest question mark heading into next season has to be whether or not Tom Brady can continue playing at an elite level, as he will start the season at 42 years old. Quarterbacks do not generally decline gradually. Instead, they seem to suddenly fall off a cliff. Peyton Manning posted a 9 touchdown, 17 interception, 2249 yards (10 starts) season immediately after a 39/15/4727 one. If Brady regresses like Manning, then the Patriots chances of success drop drastically.

The Patriots lack of talent in the front 7 is also cause for concern, especially after losing starter Trey Flowers in free-agency. The Patriots were awful at rushing the opposing passer. However, the fact the pass-rush was nearly nonexistent did not seem to handcuff the defense, and they will probably do just fine without a premier pass-rusher on the team.

How they match up with the Colts

The Patriots have had the Colts’ number since Andrew Luck took over at quarterback, but with the direction the Colts have been going recently, that could change. The Patriots became a run-first team last season, relying heavily on their running back group. The Colts were quite good at stopping the run last year, ranking 8th in yards allowed. If the Colts are able to stop the Pats rushing attack and force Brady to beat them with his arm, they have their best chance of winning. Stopping the short throws the Patriots rely on is also imperative. The Colts cornerbacks are capable of playing press coverage, and both Darius Leonard and rookie Bobby Okereke have the athleticism to cover James White on passing downs. Without Tight end Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots also lack an established vertical threat, which should allow Eberflus to play a much more compact defense.

The Colts elite offensive line should be able to give Luck more than enough time to try and beat New England’s talented secondary, but if the Colts want a real shot at beating their arch-rivals, then the running game has to be established early. On this season’s Week 5 match-up, the Colts were without starting running back Marlon Mack, and it showed. The Colts gained only 84 yards on the ground. Also, the Colts pass rush had 0 sacks and got to hit Brady just 3 times on 44 dropbacks. Brady, like all quarterbacks, is much more prone to mistakes when pressured, so the Colts have to find a way of getting to him.

This season, the Colts look much better prepared to face the Patriots than in recent years. The addition of Justin Houston should help the Colts get to Brady, and their front 7 has been improved, along with the running game. The Colts will not face the Patriots in the regular season, so the only possibility of a revenge game would be in the playoffs. If the Colts are to play once again in a Super Bowl, then they will most likely have to defeat the Patriots, and this time the result might change.