Image courtesy of Colts.com
The Patriots were on their bye during Week 14, but managed to continue their good fortunes when both the Ravens and Bills suffered losses. As things stand, the Patriots will be guaranteed the AFC East Crown if they finish the year 3-1 and may get the top seed depending on how Kansas City plays to close out the season. That quest will start this Saturday night when New England travels to Indianapolis to take on the Colts. Since starting 0-3, the Colts have climbed back into the playoff picture. Jonathan Taylor has emerged as one of the best running backs in the NFL and a huge part of the Colts’ rebound, but another major factor has been how well the Colts front seven on defense has played.
The Colts are ninth in the league in points per game allowed with 21.8. They are fifth in the NFL with 15 interceptions and sixth in forced fumbles with 14. The remainder of the overall stats show a middle of the pack defense, but the Colts front seven is significantly more talented than that.
The front seven is led by defensive lineman DeForest Buckner and linebacker Darius Leonard, though they are not the only two great players the Colts have up front. In addition to them, Bobby Okereke, Al-Quadin Muhammad, Kemeko Turay and rookie Kwity Paye have all made significant contributions.
Leonard was a First-Team All-Pro in 2018 and 2020 and looks to be on that pace again with 97 tackles and two interceptions through 14 games. Buckner was acquired from the 49ers in 2020 for a first-round pick and immediately became a First-Team All-Pro himself. His 5.5 sacks lead the Colts this season.
While 5.5 sacks to lead a team may not seem like a lot, the Colts have a balanced pass rush. Turay and Muhammad both have five sacks each, Taylor Stallworth and Paye have three each. However, they are still near the bottom of the league in sacks as a team. They are able to generate pressure, but the talent level has not translated into big numbers. Against the run, the Colts rank near the middle of the league in yards per carry and overall rushing yards allowed.
For the Patriots offense, taking care of the football will be paramount. The Colts defense will take advantage of any chances to cause turnovers and giving an offense with Jonathan Taylor extra possessions is a recipe for a loss. Mac Jones will have to be aware of different looks at the line of scrimmage and may have to check out of plays more often than usual. The offensive line will plan around Buckner and Leonard in the run game, but also must be aware of the whole front in passing situations.
The Patriots have a chance to secure the number one seed in the AFC, but to do so they’ll have to play their best football to close out the season. Saturday night will give New England a chance to keep pace with Kansas City for the top spot. The two biggest keys will be how they slow down the Colts rushing attack and how they fare against a supremely talented Colts front seven.