(Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire)
Each week, our writers will take a look at the fantasy-relevant things to watch for in every upcoming game. Today, it’s the Thursday night Week 4 matchup between the Indianapolis Colts and the New England Patriots.
Well, the east coast’s horse themed football team is coming off of a late overtime loss to the Houston Texans, but with a healthy roster, they stand ready to face the perennially contending New England Patriots. “Uh, Alex, everyone’s hurt.”. Oh, you’re telling me T.Y Hilton, Marlon Mack (still), Jack Doyle (STILL), and Hassan Ridgeway are all out, and the seemingly only bright spot of the Colts defense, Darius Leonard, is questionable? Wonderful. Anyway, despite the litany of injuries the Colts have sustained, the remainder of this Colts team will be going up against a Patriots defense which ranks 12th through a quarter of the season in total yards allowed. How, then, will the would-be Colts fantasy difference makers perform? Let’s find out.
The New-Old Constant
Guys, at least Andrew Luck is still healthy…ish. Luck was able to uncork an eye-popping 62 pass attempts in last week’s game against Houston, however he visibly doesn’t have the same “zip” on his passes that pre nebulous, multi-year shoulder injury Luck had. While this doesn’t affect Luck’s accuracy all that much, it will allow opposing defenses to shift coverage closer to the line of scrimmage, making life harder for he and his rag-tag group of pass catchers. Further challenging Luck’s case for fantasy relevance this week is the Patriots pass defense which somehow ranks 9th in total passing yards allowed. Look for Luck to have a serviceable performance, primarily driven by necessary volume like last week’s game, but not without a couple turnovers.
Leaving the Hilton Hotel
As I mentioned prior, T.Y. Hilton has already been ruled out for this game with a hamstring injury, opening the door for guys like Chester Rodgers and Zac Pascal to get theirs in this game. Both UDFAs, the new receiving duo for the Colts saw a combined 21 targets as regular #2 receiver Ryan Grant seemingly disappeared, whispering softly “See, this is why I’m #2”. Given the fine opportunity allotted to these two, and possibly the couple of others to come if T.Y.’s hamstring injury lingers as they tend to do, Rogers and Pascal present intriguing options for fantasy owners. While the rookie Pascal seems to have the advantage in size and athleticism, it was the sophomore Rodgers who drew the most targets in last week’s blizzard of passes. In situations such as these, given the gap in the two receivers’ respective targets last week was quite small, I am inclined to believe in the seemingly more talented, if not simply unknown, guy. If you’re looking for a spark plug flex play, or possibly even a speculative difference making receiver, scoop up Zac Pascal and hope for the best.
Hey, Look! It’s Eric Ebron!
That’s what happens nowadays when one peeks at the Colts TE situation with Jack “Boyle” Mc’Doyle nursing a hip injury for yet another week. Despite the visible lack of chemistry Eric Ebron has displayed with Luck thus far, the man is a freak athlete, and is getting tons of targets in this frankly one-dimensional offense. Start Ebron with confidence and look for a solid, if not spectacular, day from the former Detroit Lion.
Please Don’t Make Me Talk About Them…
FINE, I’ll do it. The Colts running back committee continues to be without heartbroken hamstring model Marlon Mack, but will be adding back into the fold this week Robert Turbin, fresh off of a 4-game suspension. Yay. Although the Patriots rush defense is much worse than their passing defense, ranking 21st in the league in yards per attempt allowed, but in case you haven’t noticed, the Colts run game is, in my humble opinion, the worst in the league. Nyheim Hines appears to be the lone startable guy, considering his extensive red zone usage and involvement in the passing game, but he, and all of the other Colts running backs, are not bets I would like to make.
You weren’t going to start them anyway, but if OLB Darius Leonard somehow cannot play, oh boy will this be a true slaughter. Look for Brady and his own rag-tag band of former reject receivers to emasculate the Colts’ secondary in a truly gruesome fashion if Leonard cannot suit up.
Short weeks. Oh, how we love and hate you. The short, breezy night air. The weeks flying by while we prepare ourselves for the holiday’s onslaught. And the days when we crack a fresh Oktoberfest, or warm spiced cider and settle in to watch our favorite team’s rush through the final non-freezing months. This week, you get the luxury of hearing me discuss the Thursday night matchup between the vaunted New England Patriots, and resurgent Indianapolis Colts. So, what should we be betting on coming off the short week for the Patriots? Let’s dive in, and find out!
Can Tom Brady continue building on his mojo from Sunday’s onslaught?
I’m not going to lie, we all were breathing heavy, our stress levels were on edge with what we had seen from Tom Brady through the first three weeks of the season. After Sunday’s matchup against the Dolphins, Brady once again showed a hard stiff arm to Father Time, going 23/35 with 274 yards, and 3 Td’s for good measure ( and 2 interceptions, to leave us just a bit of unsettling). Brady found 7 individual targets on Sunday, looking poised with some pocket ease and never seemed uncomfortable behind the line, delivering easily his finest performance of the season. And now, he comes in off a short week against a somewhat average defense, with arguably his favorite weapon back at his disposal, in Julian Edelman. While there hasn’t much clamor for the output so far of Chris Hogan and to a lesser extent, Rob Gronkowski, I’d consider this a great opportunity for Brady to ease into the bye week. Expectations should be as high as the last game, if not a touch better, as the passing rank for the Colts are a handful lower than the Dolphins of last week (down from 8 to 13, per FootballOutsiders.com). Pull up the starters for the Colts in the secondary, and all 4 of them are marked with injury, or coming off injury, and add that to the emergence of Kenny Moore as a starting corner, but from a very young starting age, I’d expect Brady to make some fireworks at Gillette.
Tom Brady: 29/42, 325 yards, 3 tds, 1 Int
Ground game starts to find its roles, and Sony is Player 1
I’m sorry folks, the video game references will continue, as Sony Michel continues to tote the “rock”, and while I apologize, they’re fun, so please get on board with me! In week 4, we found what the Patriots were looking for, a fleshed out role-based offense where both Sony Michel and James White split roughly half the carries, and Kenjon Barner was called in on the final quarter runs to save some run for the starters on Thursday. While Michel was more prevalent in the rushing game, James White is the bonafide number one focal point to Brady’s passing game, and this was showcased in the final boxscore. While Michel played on 41% of the snaps, White played in 49, and out of the 49 snaps, White made good on 8 receptions, almost 20 percent of his snaps ending in a reception. On a short week, I’d expect this game to focus a bit more on passing around the field, to help rest the wear and tear on Sony coming off an injury-plagued college career and a slow easing back in to their lineup, no reason to not take it a touch easy on him for this week, and with White being the de facto look for Brady on passing plays, I’d expect him to take a little less on the passing front, pushing some of his looks to the wide outs. Expect a high end number 2 back for Sony, and a high end number 2 back for James White as well, thanks to his passing game prowess. Fire up those systems, it’s Sony time!
Sony Michel: 21 carries, 110 yards, 1 TD
James White: 9 carries, 42 yards
Kenjon Barner: 4 carries, 14 yards
Passing game showcases it’s athletic upside with some flashy plays and leads in uncertainty
This is where the biggest question marks come in to haunt us, leading in to week 5. We found out where the real Tom Brady was last week, waiting for that big divisional game to make his mark. The running game found their identity last week as well. And, while the passing game played valiantly in week 4 as well, there’s a lot of up in the air. Both Rob Gronkowski(ankle)and Josh Gordon(hamstring) are added to the injury report as of writing this on Wednesday, with the expectation being so far that Gordon will play, and Gronkowski will more than likely be held out, to give him essentially a two week break heading into a week 6 Bye. Julian Edelman also comes back from a 4 game suspension to leave us even more confused on where the passing game focus will be for this week. We can glean a few overall touchpoints from week 4 and while it can pain to say so, I think the Chris Hogan era may be coming to an end, more with a whimper, than a bang. Hogan never fully earned Brady’s trust, and has been his 3rd to 5th option on most plays, playing less like an Edelman replacement, and more like a Danny Amendola replacement (in the era of Edelman, not when Edelman was hurt). Hogan is at best a number 3 wide receiver on a good team, in my eyes, and a potential number 2 on a bad team. Expecting a little less of a leaning on James White, I’d place him at somewhere between 7-9 targets, while Julian Edelman could come back to a target share more than likely halved where he would normally be, as he attempts to pick up the fast paced nature of the offense coming off a 4 week break, and a preseason period in which he admittedly didn’t feel himself/his best. While expectations for me would be a large offensive night for the Patriots, especially in the air, hedge your bets a touch on both White, and Edelman, as there could be some big play call outs for players like Gordon, Cordarelle Patterson, and Phillip Dorsett.
Because they have so many options in the passing game, in my opinion, the options for Brady would currently go as such:
James White(1), Julian Edelman (2), Phillip Dorsett(3a), Rob Gronkowski(3b), Chris Hogan(4 or 5), Cordarelle Patterson(5 or 6)
James White: 8 for 92 yards, 1 TD
Julian Edelman: 5 for 82, 1 TD
Phillip Dorsett: 4 for 66
Josh Gordon: 3 for 50, 1 TD
Chris Hogan: 2 for 20
Defensive expectations start to take shape versus Miami, are they now startable?
So far, the Patriots defense has been average at best. Fighting back expectations with Matt Patricia leaving to become a more “high power, fast” defense, the squad has seemingly been adapted to become less “bend and break” than the era Patricia had created. In name alone, the team is defensively led by Stephon Gilmore and Dont’a Hightower, while some up and coming names like Deatrich Wise Jr., and Trey Flowers have started to truly make their presence felt. There’s a lot of talent on this defense, and the drafts recently have become very defensive oriented, but now is the first year there may be a glimmer of hope that this defense could see a bit more than a top 10 upside defense. Continue to watch this defense, as for the second half of the season, I would not be shocked if this isn’t a top eight defensive squad for us.