In Week 10, our Indianapolis Colts will travel to Frankfurt, Germany to take on the New England Patriots. Knowing the show was going abroad this weekend, I sat down with Taylor Kyles of Pats Pulpit. You can find him on Twitter @Tkyles39. Each week I try to give you a link to the person I swapped questions and answers with and I usually don’t have a strong opinion about what you do with that link. Not this week. If you enjoy football, if you want to learn more about the game, use those links, and go dig through Taylor’s work. It’s excellent. The worst part of his work is that it’s wasted on the Patriots. Otherwise, his work is as good as it gets. I feel fortunate to share this space with him. He and I swapped questions about the Colts and Patriots and what follows is what I learned about this week’s enemy.
Chris Shepherd: Last year it was easy to make excuses for Mac Jones and the Patriots offense. I mean... Matt Patricia? This year I believed with Bill O’Brien back in town Mac would bounce back and the New England offense would be good. That has not been the case. What has gone wrong? Where could things still improve this year?
Taylor Kyles: For most of this season, offensive line injuries held this team back. Mike Onwenu missed the entire offseason program after ankle surgery, Cole Strange missed most of the summer after suffering a knee injury the first week of training camp, and all three veteran tackles signed in free agency wound up on NFI or short-term injured reserve. This led to uncoordinated run blocking and abysmal protection, further exacerbating Mac Jones’ inconsistent pocket poise from last season. After two solid weeks where I felt Jones was one of the few things keeping New England competitive, he began compounding pass-pro issues with awful decision-making and turnovers. Between the Cowboys and Saints games, the offense was outscored by multiple touchdowns by opposing defenses.
The offensive line found stability in Week 7 after getting Strange and Onwenu back full-time, moving Onwenu to tackle and plugging Sidy Sow into his typical right guard spot. But Trent Brown also suffered ankle and knee injuries in the game, which affected his play the next week in Miami and landed him on the inactive list last week. The line is still much better than earlier this season. However, Jones is still committing at least one turnover-worthy play a game, and an already shallow wide receiver group may have reached its breaking point after losing top receiver Kendrick Bourne to a torn ACL. The receiving corp was already receiving warranted criticism for a lack of dynamic talent and mismanaged assets. Still, other issues have magnified how poorly stocked the position was entering this season.
One of the only bright spots is that Rhamondre Stevenson, who hadn’t looked like himself through the first six weeks, is starting to look like the elusive playmaker he’s been in the past. If backup tackle Conor McDermott can put together another solid performance in place of Trent Brown, New England may be able to lean on its run game for success on Sunday.
CS: Things have not gone well for the Patriots but one bright spot has to be Christian Barmore. What can you tell us about the third-year defensive tackle? What kind of a difference has he made for the Patriots so far this season? How will he impact the game this weekend?
TK: Christian Barmore has always been an exceptional pass rusher, but consistency and run defense were legitimate concerns. He also spent two months on injured reserve last season with a nagging knee injury, which understandably stalled his development. But Bill Belichick noted that this offseason was Barmore’s best, largely because he was healthy enough to attack the process. As a result, the former Alabama defender looks like the well-rounded difference-maker folks in New England hoped he could become. Barmore continues to be a menace rushing inside, but his leverage, hand placement, and execution as a run defender have improved significantly. New England’s defense has also been one of the toughest groups to run on in the NFL, and he’s a huge part of that.
Barmore had one of his best statistical performances against the run when New England traveled to Indy in 2021. But he lost badly to some doubles late in the game, including on Jonathan Taylor’s game-sealing touchdown run. This time around, I don’t think Barmore will be handled so easily. He’s tough to move, even when against multiple blockers, and his effort keeps him in every play.
CS: I can’t remember a time when the Patriots have had so many tumultuous headlines; players reportedly missing curfew, the head coach rumored to be on the hot seat, the offensive line coach missing time with an unspecified health issue. With all of the outside noise does it feel like everything is finally starting to be a distraction to a franchise that has long seemed impervious to such things? If so, how did it get to this point?
TK: As the old saying goes, winning cures all. Unfortunately, losing does the opposite, and New England’s 2-7 record has magnified issues that might’ve flown under the radar in years past.
There were already whispers about Bill Belichick being on the hot seat this summer, but that seemed clickbaity with high expectations before the season. But with the team being even worse than last year, those rumors have exploded. I’ve championed “In Bill We Trust” since Tom Brady’s departure, but this season has brought all his recent failures to light and made it hard to defend his post-Brady track record.
J.C. Jackson and Jack Jones missing curfew led to both being benched for the first two series last week. Jackson, who’s had weekly mental errors since becoming the primary replacement for Christian Gonzalez, declined to speak with the media after the game. He also isn’t making the trip to Germany because of reliability concerns, with the hope being he will return after the bye week “in a better place.” Jones sat on the bench with a towel over his head during the benching and seemed checked out.
Albert Breer also reported internal frustration with Mac Jones because he isn’t showing the accuracy, poise, and decision-making that made him a 1st-round pick in 2021.
It’s hard to ignore the noise when playoff hopes are dashed before you’ve had a bye week, and that’s the hole the Patriots have dug themselves into.
CS: Despite the Colts' (slightly better than the Patriots) record, they’ve struggled plenty on both sides of the ball at times this year. Given those struggles how will the Patriots look to attack the Indy offense and defense on Sunday?
TK: Offensively, I’d expect the Patriots to feed Rhamondre Stevenson and Demario Douglas. As I mentioned earlier, Stevenson is returning to form and overcoming inconsistent run blocking by creating a lot of his own yards. Douglas is an undersized 6th-round rookie who commits glaring route-running errors every week. But he’s looked like the offense’s most electric player since getting reps with the top unit in training camp, and he’s stepped up for their depleted receiver group. Most of his touches have come underneath, but he’s shown to be more than a gadget guy on his downfield targets.
Defensively, I think New England will load the box to contain Jonathan Taylor and Zack Moss, then bring the heat against Gardner Minshew on passing downs. The pass rush has been less effective since losing Matthew Judon in Week 4, so they’ve relied on blitzing to speed quarterbacks up. Sam Howell made them pay last week with impressive throws, so Minshew will need to do the same for Indy’s pass game to succeed.
CS: At the time of this writing DraftKings Sportsbook has the Colts as 1.5-point favorites. Is that spread fair and how do you see this game going? What’s the final score?
TK: That’s a fair spread for two teams with questionable quarterbacks against solid but unspectacular defenses. Frankly, this will be a 17-13 snoozer with the Patriots pulling out a victory, which might be generous. New England’s inability to sustain drives has made their offense tough to watch, though they’ve shown flashes after turnovers and when using tempo. They’ll capitalize on a Grover Stewart-less front and run the ball to control the clock while peppering in RPOs and play action.
Their pass defense has been hemorrhaging big plays, and Indy’s receivers should be another good test, but I’m not sure Minshew is the guy to capitalize on those woes. Michael Pittman, Alec Pierce, or Isaiah McKenzie will probably break off a big play or two after the catch, but I’d expect the Patriots to tighten up in scoring territory.
I can’t thank Taylor enough for taking the time to answer my questions. And I meant what I said about his work. Go check it out. Really. Like Taylor, I don’t feel great about the Colts in this game. But since I’ve been wrong about every Colts game this season, that probably means Indy will return stateside with a win. Time will tell. Hopefully, the game is entertaining and both teams come back as healthy as they arrived.
As always, go Colts.