FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — The New England Patriots went into their bye week after facing the NFL’s highest scoring team and its outstanding quarterback.
They face a similar challenge in their first game back and hoping for a similar result.
Denver was averaging 32 points per game behind Peyton Manning when they visited the Patriots and lost 43-21 on Nov. 2.
Indianapolis overtook the Broncos for the top spot with an average of 32.2 points behind Andrew Luck and hosts the Patriots next Sunday night.
The Patriots (7-2) also have plenty of offense as the No. 2 scoring team. They’ve had lots of time to prepare for the Colts (6-3) in the matchup of division leaders and are 10-4 in the week after the bye under coach Bill Belichick.
“You always like to try to have as much time as you can to prepare, but you have to work with whatever the week brings,” New England defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said Monday. “Taking a look at Indianapolis and having some time to study them, you really can identify and see why they are so successful on offense.
“You can really see they do an excellent job with the personnel on offense and surrounding Luck with some great players to get the ball to,” Patricia said.
The Colts lead the NFL in time of possession, total yards gained and yards passing.
T.Y. Hilton is third in yards receiving and has combined with fellow wide receiver Reggie Wayne for 98 catches, an average of nearly 11 per game. And Ahmad Bradshaw is a dual threat, rushing for 421 yards and two touchdowns while catching 34 passes for six touchdowns.
Tight ends Dwayne Allen, Coby Fleener and Jack Doyle have totaled 57 receptions for 12 touchdowns.
“Indianapolis creates a lot of problems and mismatches with the tight ends,” Patricia said. “I think that’s the most difficult thing, to identify where they are, where they’re going to get lined up. They can be all over the place from in there tight to the formation to split out wide and opened up.”
Then there’s Luck — second in the NFL with 26 touchdown passes with a running ability that has produced 129 yards and two scores.
“The guy has a tremendous arm, does a great job of reading coverages, getting the ball downfield to his skill players,” Patricia said. “He does a great job of feeling the pressure in the pocket, being able to extend plays, either getting out of the pocket or just moving within the pocket into spaces where he can step up and throw the ball.”
Both teams are streaking, the Colts with six wins in seven games and the Patriots with five straight victories.
The Patriots’ offense just showed it could outscore the powerful Broncos, and the Indianapolis defense hasn’t been as good as Denver’s.
The Colts have been particularly vulnerable to the long pass, giving up 31 passing plays of at least 20 yards. Only five teams have allowed more than the Colts’ average of 263.3 yards passing.
So they try hard to pressure the quarterback and hurry his throws.
“They blitz quite a bit more than most of the teams that we’ve played, which is going to be, I would say, a very critical factor in the game, our ability to handle that,” Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said. “They’ve been stopping the run, creating turnovers and getting to the quarterback, so there are not a lot of holes.”
The Colts are tied for ninth in the NFL with 24 sacks. But the Broncos came to Foxborough with Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware, who had combined for 16 sacks, and only Ware got one for Denver against Tom Brady.
The Patriots offensive line has solidified after a shaky start, although the running game struggled against Denver.
“We have work to do to improve in every area of our offense,” McDaniels said. “We did a lot of looking at that in the bye week and tried to analyze where we could improve and make progress, and, hopefully, we’ll be able to use those studies to try to improve not only our running game but our entire offensive operation.”