5 things you have to know about Colts: Indy a massive underdog against Patriots

October 12, 2015 - 8:59 am

[caption id="attachment_98870" align="alignright" width="400"]Andrew Luck has watched Matt Hasselbeck lead the Colts to a pair of wins.  (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)Andrew Luck has watched Matt Hasselbeck lead the Colts to a pair of wins. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)[/caption] Five things you have to know about the Colts, who host the Patriots on Sunday night at Lucas Oil Stadium. 1. With Andrew Luck sidelined, they have gotten good play out of backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. The 40-year-old Hasselbeck, who took over after Luck went down with a shoulder issue, has started the last two games and has done a good job managing to wring just enough out of the offense to allow the Colts to escape with a pair of wins. In his two starts, Hasselbeck is 48-for-76 (63 percent completion rate) for 495 yards and three touchdowns, with no picks and a passer rating of 95.0. (Through the first three games, Luck was 65-for-116 for a 56 percent completion rate, with 753 yards, five touchdowns, seven interceptions and a passer rating of 65.1.) It has to be taken with a grain of salt because the wins were relatively narrow victories over Jacksonville and Houston, but Hasselbeck's steadiness and consistent play the last two weeks has allowed Indy to climb just over .500 entering this game. It's likely that the Colts will do whatever they can to keep the Patriots guessing this week when it comes to who will be under center at the start of Sunday's contest, but Hasselbeck might be the first Indy backup quarterback in 20 years to show that he can do more than just hold a clipboard. (For what it's worth, Indy released quarterback Josh Johnson on Monday, which likely is a sign that one or both of the Luck/Hasselbeck combo is feeling better.) 2. Hasselbeck isn't the only veteran who has helped the Colts offense through a rough patch. In his first season with Indy, 32-year-old running back Frank Gore (76 carries, 325 yards, 3 TDs) has provided the bulk of the yardage on the ground. Meanwhile, 34-year-old receiver Andre Johnson (13 catches, 128 yards, 2 TDs), also in his initial season with the Colts, has also seen action as a complementary pass catcher, augmenting the work of youngsters like the speedy T.Y. Hilton (a team-high 27 catches, 382 yards) and Donte Moncrief (24 catches, 278 yards, 3 TDs). The positional grouping won't remind anyone of Peyton Manning, Edgerrin James and Marvin Harrison, but it's provided just enough offense over the last few weeks to lift the Colts to three consecutive victories. (One more quick note on the Indy offense: the Colts are 31st in the league in giveaways with seven interceptions and five fumbles. In all, Indy is 31st when it comes to turnover ratio at minus-7. Not a good sign when you are facing a New England team that's tied for fifth overall at plus-5.) 3. Their run defense is better than it was at this time last year. As is the case with all stats, the numbers have to be placed in some sort of context, but given their recent stretch of subpar run defense (especially in last year's blowout loss to the Patriots), it's interesting to see the Colts are middle of the pack when it comes to stopping the run. Through five games, Indy is 18th in the league in run defense, having yielded an average of 112 rushing yards per game. By way of comparison, the Patriots are 19th at 112.8. Those numbers are a little skewed for a few reasons, including the fact that the Colts allowed two teams to rush for more than 140 yards (Bills, Jags) while two other teams were held under 90 yards (Titans, Texans). Last Thursday's narrow win over Houston was the second game in three weeks in which Indy held an opponent to under 90, which allowed its yards per carry average to fall to 3.5, fourth best in the NFL. (Last year, the Colts yielded 4.3 yards per carry.) Linebacker D'Qwell Jackson leads the NFL in tackles (58), and has been stout in the middle, while safety Mike Adams (who picked off Tom Brady twice in last year's regular-season contest and has three interceptions this season) has also put together a nice year. When it comes to their pass defense as a whole, the Colts have yielded an average of 287 passing yards per game, 28th in the NFL, but the rest of the metrics (opposing passer rating, completion percentage and touchdown passes allowed), they are middle of the pack. 4. Their special teams unit is above average, and their punt team is one of the best in the league. For Indy, the ageless Adam Vinatieri is 5-for-7 on field-goal attempts (71 percent) and 10-for-10 on extra points. Meanwhile, punter Pat McAfee is eighth in the league in punting average (48 yards per punt), but best in the NFL in net yardage at 46.5 per opportunity. (In addition, his 3.3 average return yards per punt is second best in the league. A good punter and a good coverage group.) McAfee also handles kickoffs, and his 21 touchbacks are tied for fifth in the league. (If the first month-plus of the season is any indication, kick coverage probably won't matter much, as the Patriots have just one kick return over the course of the first four games of the season. For those of you inclined to keep track of such things, the NFL record for fewest kick returns by a team in a 16-game season is the 2013 Saints, which ended the year with 22.) 5. If there's a team that has every right to play the "No one believes in us" card, it's the Colts. Everyone knows about the baggage that both teams carry into this game. For the Patriots, it's a shot at revenge against a team that kickstarted Deflategate. For the Colts, it's a chance to show that they have earned the right to eat at the grownups table. But given what's happened to both teams since the start of the regular season -- and how the New England offense looks heading into this game -- there aren't many people outside the greater Indianapolis area who give Indy a chance in this one. The Patriots patented the "No one believes in us" approach when it comes to games like this, and it will be interesting to see how the Colts respond to the role of massive underdog as the week continues. (For what it's worth, this game opens a brutal gauntlet for Indy, one not unlike the stretch the 2014 Patriots endured toward the end of last season: After New England, the Colts face the Saints, Panthers, Broncos and Falcons. That's four teams that are currently undefeated over Indy's next five games. It's safe to say that by the time we get to mid-November, we'll know just how realistic Indy's playoff hopes are.)