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Colts vs. Patriots Week 9 preview: Frank Reich leads a struggling offense into Foxboro

A battle between second-year quarterbacks Mac Jones and Sam Ehlinger doesn’t have the flavor Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning did — expect defense and takeaways.

Indianapolis Colts v New England Patriots Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

DraftKings Sportsbook has the Colts at 5.5-point road ‘dogs as of this writing. Given that the team will be starting Sam Ehlinger for only the second time in his career against a Bill Belichick defense without Jonathan Taylor, that might be generous.

Neither the Colts nor the Patriots have been able to establish an identity in 2022. New England has looked dominant at times and has been dominated at others. The Colts have perpetually underperformed but have a roster that somehow feels closer than the team’s record would indicate.

Any franchise that can lose to the Chicago Bears 33-14 at home can lose a game to Sam Ehlinger and the Colts on the right day. Of course, that same team shutout the Lions, crushed the Browns and beat a Jets team that has shocked the NFL this year. Perhaps the Patriots will be out for revenge after Taylor broke off a big run to seal the win at Lucas Oil Stadium.

There are two big factors in that will likely have a bit impact on the game, and they’re related. The first, which second-year quarterback will have the better game.

Mac Jones was picked 15th overall by New England in the 2021 NFL Draft and Sam Ehlinger was drafted 203 picks later in the sixth round by Indianapolis. In his second season, Jones hasn’t looked quite as sharp as he did at times last year and rookie Bailey Zappe gave Patriots fans something to talk about for much of the month of October, picking up big wins over Cleveland and Detroit, and narrowly losing to the Packers in overtime.

Jones still has the keys to the car at this point and may be looking to prove himself. Can the Colts defense capitalize if he tries to force it?

Ehlinger had a mostly positive game in his first start against the Commanders a week ago. He did have a costly fumble, but he also didn’t get a lot of help from his teammates in key moments either. Frank Reich and the offensive staff chose to keep a clearly hobbled Jonathan Taylor on the field for much of the game, running him into the teeth of a strong Commanders run defense, which didn’t do Ehlinger any favors either.

Can Ehlinger buck a trend with Belichick by taking care of the ball, allowing the game to come to him, and making enough plays to steal a game in Foxboro? If he does, it bodes well for his progress and would be a positive sign for the Colts in the short-term.

The second factor is on defense. Belichick has an established history as a defensive mastermind and he frequently eats up inexperienced signal callers. If he can bait Ehlinger into making mistakes and take the ball away, New England will have a huge advantage.

Similarly, the Colts defense has been the team’s strength all season. It hasn’t been entirely consistently, as the unit was unable to stop a pretty dismal Commanders offense from erasing a 9-point deficit in the fourth quarter last week. However, the defense hasn’t had many takeaways this year. If this group can keep the Patriots defense from getting anything going and win the takeaway battle, the Colts will have a chance.

Bonus: The Colts have lacked continuity on the offensive line all season. This has been a huge issue for the offense. Belichick will look to exploit this weakness. If the issues on the offensive line can be masked through effective game planning and play-calling, it will allow the offense to get more going.