Colts offense hitting reset ahead of matchup with Patriots
November 2nd, 2022
In last week’s matchup, the Patriots were the team in disarray. They’d just gotten beat 33-14 at home by the Chicago Bears, in a game that saw them alternate quarterbacks. However, they found their level in a 22-17 win over the Jets. Now, they head into a matchup where it’s the opponent that is scrambling.
As Week 9 begins, the Colts have the NFL’s 30th-ranked scoring offense. Indianapolis has scored more than 17 points just once in its last five games, and only three times all season. Turnovers have been a big part of the problem – their 16 giveaways are tied for the most in the league this season, and their minus-eight turnover differential is the second-worst.
As such, the Colts have started making offensive changes in recent weeks. To start, the team benched veteran quarterback Matt Ryan for last week’s game against the Commanders. Second-year, sixth-round pick Sam Elhlinger got the start instead.
That move comes with a stylistic shift – while Ryan is a traditional drop-back passer, Ehlinger was at times a run-first quarterback in college. He can handle designed quarterback runs and isn’t afraid to tuck the ball and go on passing plays when he doesn’t get the read he wants. At 6-foot-3, 225 pounds, he’s more of a power runner who will take defenders on instead of trying to run around them.
The Colts kept things very simple for Ehlinger in his first real NFL action last week, as he completed 17-of-23 passes for 201 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions. He also ran the ball six times – with three designed runs and two scrambles, and a kneel down – picking up 15 yards on the ground.
Although he appeared in three games his rookie year, last week was the first time Ehlinger threw a pass in an NFL regular season game. Given Bill Belichick’s historic success against young quarterbacks (just see what he did to Zach Wilson last week), the Colts having Ehlinger under center should be an advantage for the Patriots defense. However, his rushing ability will be a test, as the Patriots have given up the second-most rushing yards to QBs this season.
Oct 30, 2022; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Indianapolis Colts quarterback Sam Ehlinger (4) runs the ball in the second quarter against the Washington Commanders at Lucas Oil Stadium. Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
There’s also a real chance that the Colts’ offense will look different again this week, which could mean more reliance on Ehlinger’s rushing ability. The Colts began this week by firing offensive coordinator Marcus Brady. That move was announced Tuesday morning.
Brady, a former CFL quarterback, had been with the Colts since 2018. He was promoted to quarterbacks coach in 2019, then offensive coordinator last year. During that time, he was tasked with building an offense through the Colts’ ongoing quarterback carousel.
Just how different the offense looks will be something to watch. While Brady played a key role in coming up with the game plan during the week, head coach Frank Reich – who was an offensive coordinator with the Chargers and Eagles before taking the Colts job in 2018 – is the team’s game day play caller. The Colts didn’t immediately name an interim OC, so more of those responsibilities likely could fall on Reich.
WESTFIELD, INDIANA – JULY 30: Offensive Coordinator Marcus Brady watches Sam Ehlinger #4 of the Indianapolis Colts throw a pass during the Indianapolis Colts Training Camp at Grand Park on July 30, 2021 in Westfield, Indiana. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)
Whoever does end up designing and calling the plays this week will be down a significant weapon. During Tuesday’s NFL trade deadline, the Colts traded running back Nyheim Hines to the Bills.
Hines is a dynamic back that can contribute both as a rusher and as a pass catcher. Despite missing a game earlier this season, Hines ranks fourth on the team in total touches this season with 43 in seven games.
Star running back Jonathan Taylor left last week’s game left last week’s game due to an ankle injury, and although he did return, his status is something to watch this week. Taylor gashed the Patriots last year, so losing him could be a big hit. Had Hines not get traded, he would have potentially been a key player in this game.
Without Hines, the Colts’ running back depth is trimmed a bit. Second-year back Deon Jackson has been the team’s third-stringer behind Taylor and Hines. He has 30 carries for 100 yards and 14 catches on 14 targets for 108 yards this season as the only back on the team to play all eight games. There’s also Zack Moss, who the Colts acquired from the Bills in the Hines trade, but just how ready he’ll be after being in the building for less than a week is a legitimate question. The Colts also have Phillip Lindsay on the practice squad, with one elevation remaining for him this season.
How will the Colts’ offense handle these changes? Will a new coach and quarterback provide a spark? The Patriots will be the first test, and they’ll look to send Indy back to the drawing board.
Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarthor via email at abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.