Patriots vs Colts: A Rivalry Renewed

Despite the poor play on multiple fronts, the Patriots still put themselves in a position to potentially win this thing. They didn’t deserve to win the game, and ultimately didn’t, but didn’t really deserve to have it that close either

Patriots vs Colts
Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Patriots and Colts both were coming off their bye weeks to face each other in what had shaped into a pivotal AFC matchup. It was clear from the onset that the two teams were playing with different energy levels.

The Colts came out playing fast and motivated. The Patriots came out looking like they had just awoken from a long winter’s nap. After winning seven straight games, the Patriots of the first six weeks had returned. They played flat, were careless with the football, and committed penalty after penalty. Essentially, they didn’t play “Patriots football.”

Pats Can’t Make Crucial Stop

With two minutes left to play, the Patriots were somehow still in the game. They even had a realistic chance of at least forcing overtime if they could get one more stop. The Patriots had just scored to make the score 20-17, in favor of the Colts. The defense came out in need of forcing a three and out to give the offense a chance to extend the game.

The defense played an end-around to Ashton Dulin, the same play that gashed them for 37 yards earlier, beautifully; holding it to a 2-yard gain. The defense needed to make two more stops to force a punt. Everyone knew the Colts were going to run it. Jonathan Taylor had been successful the entire game up to that point, but it wasn’t because the Pats were getting dominated in the trenches.

The Patriots often met Taylor early in the progression of plays, only to have Taylor churn 3-5 more yards out after contact. And now with the game on the line, the Pats needed to meet him in the hole, and drop him without letting yards after contact.

Pats Play Scheme Perfectly, Don’t Finish Play

The Colts ran a zone to the left side, behind the strength of their offensive line. They did a great job of collapsing the Patriots’ defensive line down, leaving a huge hole for Taylor to run through. Jamie Collins engaged the left tackle and at least created some semblance of an edge. Taylor veered towards the hole only to see Dont’a Hightower and Devin McCourty waiting for him.

McCourty plays down from his safety spot, playing outside in. McCourty plays this technique because the linebacker, in this case, Hightower, should be flowing over the top from inside out. If McCourty is going to miss, he has to force Taylor back to his help.

Hightower is flowing over the top, coming from an inside linebacker alignment, meaning he must play his run fit from the inside out, if he misses, Taylor should bounce to McCourty’s waiting arms. Hightower over pursues, allowing Taylor to make a quick cut to the interior of the defense. Him and McCourty both end up on the outside shade of the hole, leaving no one home to clean it up.

This play, which broke the Pats’ back, was emblematic of the entire night for the Pats. A “close, but no cigar” type of effort. The Pats had no business being in the game at that point and yet they were. It was only fitting that two of the Patriots’ most trusted defensive players would be in a perfect position to make a key tackle and simply couldn’t.

Punt Block Example of “Doing Your Job”

The punt block was another case of the Patriots not executing simple aspects of their assignments. The Colts did not scheme anything up to befuddle the Patriots punting unit. It was a simple 8-man rush, with no overload on either side. Four punt protectors, four punt blockers. On punt block assignments, the protection counts the blocking scheme from inside out. Someone near the long snapper is number 1 in the protection, and out to number 4 or 5 over the end man.

Depending on the particular assignment, the long snapper may lean one way or the other to help in the blocking scheme. On the Colts punt block, the number two and three men line up extremely close to one another. The outside man, or fourth in the blocking scheme, is outside the tackle.

In this scheme, Brandon Bolden, the end man, is responsible for number 4 in the blocking scheme, the outside man. Jamie Collins is responsible for number 3, Jakob Johnson, number 2. On the snap Johnson plays down to the number 1, leaving E.J. Speed, the number 2, unblocked to the punter. Nothing complicated, just a lack of execution of the assignment. That makes the third punt blocked against New England this season. Belichick had never had more than one as the Patriots head coach.

Mac’s Struggles

The Colts stated their desire to make Mac win the game earlier in the week. Through two and a half quarters, the Colts looked to be backing up their talk. Trailing 17-0 with just under two minutes left in the first half, the Patriots put together their most promising drive to that point in the game. They faced 3rd and 3 from the Colts’ 15-yard line. The team needed to come away with points. Getting the ball back after half, they could get a double-dip and cut the deficit to a one-possession game.

Instead, Colts’ linebacker Darius Leonard baited Mac into an easy interception. The Colts were playing a zone defense with four underneath defenders flooding the short area of the field. Leonard initially pushes to widen, but with no threat to that side, he can keep his eyes on the QB.

When Mac takes his hand off the ball, something defensive players are told to key on to get a jump on the pass, Leonard immediately shifts his momentum back towards the interior of the field. His great read and immediate response put him in the passing window for an easy interception. The play negated any chance the Pats had at scoring before half.

Not All Hope is Lost

Despite the poor play on multiple fronts, the Patriots still put themselves in a position to potentially win this thing. They didn’t deserve to win the game, and ultimately didn’t, but didn’t really deserve to have it that close either. A loss like this can be extremely important for a young team like the Patriots. There was a lot of teaching tape available after this one, but perhaps most importantly, it showed that the Patriots C+ effort is not good enough to beat opponents in the NFL.

The schedule doesn’t get any easier for the Pats as they now must win out and hope for help to reclaim the number 1 seed in the AFC. That quest starts Sunday with a HUGE game against the Bills. A win here sets the Patriots up to be in the driver’s seat for the division down the stretch run of the season. A loss means they’re playing for a wild card and hoping for help to get the division back.

Most importantly, the Patriots of the seven-game win streak must return and not the group that started the season 2-4. In the loss to the Colts, it was many of the same issues that were evident early in the season. It’s probably a safe bet Belichick gets his boys back in order.

Week 4 Game Preview: Colts @ Dolphins

Dolphins ATB break down a highly important game to get their season back on track, highlighting the key matchups and keys to victory.

Credit Andy Lyons/ Getty Images
  • Date: Sunday, October 4
  • Time: 13:00 ET (18:00 UK Time)
  • Venue: Hard Rock Stadium, Miami, FL
  • TV: CBS and NFL Gamepass International
  • Record: Colts (0-3) Dolphins (1-2)

The Dolphins and Colts, two teams who at the start of the season were widely regarded as strong playoff contenders. However, following the performances in the opening 3 weeks, both teams enter this game in desperate need of a win to get their seasons back on track.

Week 3 Recap:

To sum up in one word…frustrating. The game started so positively with the Dolphins first pick 6 since 2019 courtesy of Elandon Roberts. On the next drive the Dolphins defense then proceeded to turn the ball over on downs. That was thanks to great run stuffing of Christian Wilkins and Zach Sieler. With all the momentum on Miami’s side, they even managed to get a big rushing play from Malcolm Brown resulting in a 24 yard score. Then it all changed.

The Struggles

The remainder of the game was just outright painful to watch. After a hot start, the Dolphins defense allowed Peyton Barber to rush for 111 yards and a TD. Also allowing Derek Carr to throw for 386 yards and 2 TDs. Miami just could not get off the field on third down. Nevertheless, after the Dolphins offense could not stay on the field with 5 possessions without scoring. The bend not break nature of the defense ought to be applauded, keeping the Raiders to 25 points heading into overtime.

With a full complement of healthy and talented receivers at Miami’s disposal we were hoping to see the purported modernized Dolphins attack. Far from it. It was the coaches that lost Miami this game, all stemming from the pass out of the end zone to Jaylen Waddle resulting in a safety. From there the Raiders took full advantage and never looked back.

The play calling was conservative to say the least. With the contested catch specialists in Gesicki and Parker and the speed of Fuller and and Waddle, the Dolphins never played to their strengths, electing for a dink and dunk approach. Consequently, Jaylen Waddle, the most electric receiver the Dolphins have, ended the night with 12 receptions for 58 yards. Of course there is the argument that this is down to the play of the offensive line in not giving the receivers the time to develop their routes. However, Miami had no such issues in moving the ball down field late in the 4th quarter. As Hussam Patel wrote prior to the game…

Keys to Success

Coming into the game I stated in my preview article that there would be three keys to success:

  1. Improvements on the Offensive Line– The Dolphins offensive line were by no means perfect but were atleast somewhat functional and a big improvement from Buffalo. Austin Jackson continued to be a problem in the passing game allowing rushers to go by untouched, but was strong in the run game, opening up a solid channel for Malcolm Brown to score.
  1. Explosive Pass Rush– The Dolphins pass rush was much improved managing 3 sacks and 4 TFL. Increased use of Jaelan Phillips as a rusher rather than dropping back into coverage, and more safety blitzes from Brandon Jones enabled the Dolphins to create a more consistent pass rush.
  1. Put Points on the Board– The Dolphins put up 28 points including 11 in fourth quarter when the offense eventually got moving. Ultimately however, it prove not to be enough. Conservative play calling from the outset caused the Dolphins to go 5 drives without scoring, which ultimately decided the game. Giving up a cheap safety and a missed field goal, ultimately meant that the Dolphins beat themselves.

Expectations Heading into Week 4:

Coming into this game the Colts are 0-3, having played the Seahawks, Rams and Titans, all of which are likely to make a strong playoff run. Had the Dolphins played those same opponents, it is highly likely that the Dolphins would also be 0-3. In fact the Colts and the Dolphins are very similar. 2 teams coming off losing seasons in 2019, to be in and around the playoffs in 2020, yet have regressed early in the season. Both teams have strong defenses with their struggles along the offensive line.

Nevertheless, where the Dolphins have the edge is in their overall fitness. Entering this week 12 starters have missed practice this week at some point. With the offensive line already a concern for the Colts, their problems will only be further exacerbated as the only starting lineman who has had a full week of practice is C Ryan Kelly.

I foresee another defensively dominated game from both teams. Both will try and establish the run early and often in order to control the time of possession keeping their defenses rested. Colts QB Carson Wentz has been running around scrambling for his life on 2 injured ankles. With the athleticism of the Dolphins defensive line, especially with the increased worth of Jaelan Phillips improving week on week, I can see the defense causing the Colts offensive line nightmares.

Keys to Success:

#1- Stop the Run

With a run defense as porous as Miami’s at times, the emphasis will be on stopping the Colts’ rushing game. Surprisingly the Colts chose to abandon their running game last week against the Titans with Jonathan Taylor only having 10 carries, yet averaging 6.4 YPC. There is a reason the second year running back was taken so highly in many people’s fantasy leagues, but Taylor is yet to score in 2021. In fact the 64 yards he managed Week 3 was a season high, so look for the Colts to get him involved early and often, especially considering the fitness of Carson Wentz. Limiting the damage in the run game will go a long way to coming away with a W.

#2- Establish the Run

In Week 3 the Dolphins had some success in running the ball scoring twice against the Raiders with Myles Gaskin, Malcolm Brown and Jacoby Brissett all managing over 4.4 YPC. The Colts defense is the 6th worst in the league in terms of rushing yards allowed, but have only allowed 1 rushing TD. This is highly relevant as the Dolphins are the worst in the league in passing TDs with only 1 over 3 games. Establishing the run will go a long way to sustaining drives and allowing the defense to rest.

#3- Better Coaching

The Dolphins play calling was far too conservative with dink and dunk plays. Both Godsey and Studesville need to do better at scheming plays to get the balls into the hands of their best play makers. For Waddle to be tied 3rd in the league in receptions but 45th in receiving yards is no mark against him, but of how he is being used in primarily in bubble screens and drag routes. The Colts adopt a very heavy zone coverage defense giving Brissett (former Colts QB) the opportunity to pick apart the defense.

Injury Concerns:

Another week, another player moved to IR. Unfortunately now the Dolphins will be without their starting center in Michael Deiter for atleast 3 weeks. Deiter was arguably the most consistent performer along the offensive line throughout all of the early woes. Now the job falls to Greg Mancz to steady the ship this week before what will be an ordeal next week @ Tampa. On the brighter side, the remainder of the active roster is healthy and good to go.

The same cannot be said for the Colts who are very beaten up. Biggest news is that Quenton Nelson is OUT, while other big names such as Carson Wentz and Jonathan Taylor are both questionable to feature. Check out the full injury report below.

Score Predictions:

Despite their record and the teams they have faced the Colts haven’t conceded more than 28 points. As previously mentioned I foresee this being a very defensively dominated game. The outcome will all depend on whether the play calling can improve, allowing Brissett to push the ball down field. Check out the ATB Dolphins staff’s predictions below:

Bradley Davies- 24-17 Dolphins

Hussam Patel- 20-17 Dolphins

Tyler DeSena- 27-17 Dolphins

Tanner Elliott- 13-10 Dolphins

Rishi Desai- 23-19 Dolphins

Jared Vandermyde- 27-13 Dolphins

Chris Spooner- 24-20 Colts

Conclusion:

This is a must win game for Miami if they are going to be any form of playoff contender this year. However, before that happens there must be a vast improvement in the overall play calling and execution on offense. Good news for Dolphins fans, the throwbacks are returning this week to Hard Rock, a fitting tribute during the Don Shula Celebration of Life weekend. Fins up!

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