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5 Questions with Pats Pulpit: Can Frank Reich Outcoach Bill Belichick?

Talking Colts vs. Pats with Taylor Kyles of Pats Pulpit

NFL: New England Patriots at Cleveland Browns Lon Horwedel-USA TODAY Sports

Our Indianapolis Colts on the road this weekend to takes on the New England Patriots. Knowing this day was coming, I sat down with Taylor Kyles, of Pats Pulpit, SB Nation’s Patriots blog. You can find him on Twitter @tkyles39 and you should follow him, no really. You should. We swapped questions about the Colts and the New England Patriots and what follows is what I learned about this week’s enemy.

CS: The question I have to ask first is which quarterback gives the Patriots the best chance to make the playoffs this year and will the same quarterback be starting on Sunday?

NFL: Chicago Bears at New England Patriots Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

TK: All signs point to Mac Jones starting his third consecutive game since coming back from a high ankle sprain, so that would be a yes. Bailey Zappe exceeded expectations as a 4th-round rookie thrust into a starting role after the team’s top two passers went down. Still, he lacks Jones’ accuracy and processing while having a less impressive arm. What Zappe did better than Mac was avoiding turnovers, which Jones still hasn’t managed to do in a game this season.

It appears the Patriots are moving away from the shotgun-heavy downfield passing game we saw in Mac’s first six starts, which limited his options and hurt the team’s consistency. Last week against the Jets, we saw more play-action from under center (which was essentially non-existent in Jones’ other starts), empty formations, quick hitters, and a huge spike in RPOs. This led to more stability on offense and could carry over to this week’s game against a tough Colts defense.

CS: If you were designing an offense to beat the Patriots defense, what would it look like? What would you attack and what would you avoid?

TK: 1. Protect the football. This one is pretty obvious, but it’s too important not to mention. The Patriots’ defense has thrived on turnovers this season, and those plays have typically swung the momentum of games in New England’s favor.

2. Get your explosives early on offense. The Patriots are a man defense through and through, so you’ll see them use a heavy dose of Cover 1 in obvious passing situations or when they need a stop. But in the past two weeks, Justin Fields and Zach Wilson have picked up chunk plays against zone due to poor depth from Patriots defenders.

3. Get Sam Ehlinger involved in the ground game. The rookie is no Lamar Jackson or Justin Fields, but the Patriots defense has struggled with the numbers advantage and misdirection associated with QB run games. They seem to be hyper-aware of this issue after getting shredded by Fields’ mobility a couple of weeks ago, but awareness doesn’t always lead to execution.

CS: In what ways have the 2022 Patriots surprised you both good and bad?

NFL: New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

TK: Bad: turnover offensive line.

The Patriots’ offensive line has all the talent in the world, but it’s been plagued by inconsistency outside of RG Mike Onwenu, who’s playing at an All-Pro level, and David Andrews.

Isaiah Wynn was penalized on a weekly basis as a starter and has started giving up sacks at a similar rate. He gave up a sack last week despite only coming in extra OL packages and sliding in at guard when Strange had to be benched due to poor play. He’s an exceptionally talented player, but the consistency hasn’t been there mentally or physically.

Trent Brown has been great for most of the year, but he struggled with mental mistakes early in the year and has had penalty problems of his own lately.

Good: The rookie class.

Despite being much maligned following the draft, the Patriots rookies have impressed in spots after injuries thrust many of them into bigger roles than anticipated.

I already mentioned earlier how impressive Zappe was in his starts, so I’ll spare you for this question.

LG Cole Strange had to be benched last week after struggling against the Jets. But that’s one of the best fronts Strange will see all year and he’s been solid overall for an undersized guard adjusting to a huge competition jump.

CB Jack Jones has played significant snaps with Jalen Mills battling injuries, but he’s been a turnover machine who brings fire to the secondary. He’s also undersized and has paid for his aggressive tendencies with some blown coverages, but it’s hard not to be impressed with the 4th-rounder.

CB Marcus Jones has primarily been a return man for New England, but he’s looked outstanding in limited defensive snaps. Another smaller corner, he’s shown he can hang on the outside due to excellent athleticism and ball skills.

WR Tyquan Thornton has only appeared in four games after starting the year on IR. But he’s impressed with his quickness, speed, toughness, and route running. He looks like a potential game-changer for the team down the line.

Undrafted special teamers Brenden Schooler and Damarcus Mitchell have also been standouts, while Schooler in particular popping up on a near-weekly basis.

CS: As of right now DraftKings Sportsbook has the Pats as five and a half point favorites this weekend. Is that number fair? Why?

TK: I think so, but only because of Ehlinger’s lack of experience and the possibility of Jonathan Taylor missing the game. The Patriots’ defense hasn’t been perfect, but they make plays and get stops when they need to most of the time. That said, Ehlinger’s athleticism and the Colts’ size at receiver could give them problems.

Offensively, the Patriots have actually moved the ball well this season, but they’ve struggled scoring touchdowns in the Red Area. Luckily, kicker Nick Folk has been his consistent self and helped put points on the board when New England crosses the 50-yard-line.

CS: What is your prediction for this game, who comes out on top and what’s the final score?

TK: I’m predicting the Colts defensive front makes life hard on New England’s run game and gets to Mac Jones in some obvious pass situations, but the Patriots are able to punch in a couple of touchdowns while putting up enough field goals to keep Indy at bay. Sam Ehlinger makes his plays, and the Patriots give up a few big runs, but the defense will adjust and make the later part of the Colts’ offense quiet later in the game.

I’m going with a final score of 26-17.

Final Thoughts of the Week

As of this writing, DraftKings Sportsbook has the Colts as 5.5 point underdogs on the road this weekend. If you’re betting on this game, you can find updated lines at DraftKings Sportsbook.

Talking to Taylor about the game was great, I meant it when I said you should follow him. Just click on that link I gave you to his Twitter profile and you’ll see what I mean, the guy knows his stuff. As far as this game goes, who knows? It feels safe to tell you that the defense will play well, the offense will come out flat and the final score will probably be close and it will be disappointing and boring. That feels safe to say and I wish it wasn’t true. Hopefully I’m wrong.

Either way, go Colts.