Week 13 brings a Patriots-Colts matchup, generally a potential playoff preview with all the requisite Brady-Manning historical comparisons. However, this is a Pats-Colts game in name only, as Indianapolis is in full Andrew Luck mode. Entering the week with an 0-11 record, three of the Colts’ last five games are against division-leading teams (Patriots, Ravens and Texans).
Indianapolis fired defensive coordinator Larry Coyer on Tuesday, the same day it announced Dan Orlovsky would be starting on Sunday over Curtis Painter. Needless to say, there’s a reason NBC flexed this game back out of a prime-time spot.
Here are some statistical areas to watch for on Sunday:
* What exactly are the Patriots facing at the quarterback position? Since 2008, Orlovsky has a 51.1 Total QBR, 22nd among qualified quarterbacks. In his career, he has been reasonably effective on short throws, posting a 68.5 completion percentage on throws under 10 yards. That ranks Orlovsky 18th among the 57 quarterbacks with 180 attempts since 2008. However, his 5.0 yards-per-pass attempt ranks 44th in that group, showing a tendency for Orlovsky to rely on easier, shorter throws. Orlovsky is certainly not likely to beat teams deep. He ranks 52nd out of 54 passers (min. 90 attempts) with a 34.7 completion percentage on passes thrown 11-plus yards down field. Last week, Vince Young (not known for his deep ball) attempted 22 throws of at least 11 yards -- his highest total since 2008 -- and the Patriots will hope for Orlovsky to take a similar approach.
* While Peyton Manning won’t be lining up under center for Indy, the Colts still have a pair of Patriot nemeses that will see the field on Sunday on Indy’s defensive line. Pass-rushing specialists Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis have long been thorns in Tom Brady’s side during Colts-Patriots games of years past. While Indianapolis has struggled this year, Colts defensive ends have still combined for 15 sacks this season (eighth in NFL). In Indianapolis’ 4-3 defense, defensive ends shoulder most of the pass-rushing responsibility. The Colts rush four or fewer rushers on 80.9 percent of dropbacks, the second-highest rate in the NFL. However, the Colts pass defense this year has been poor, especially when showing their bread-and-butter conservative style. This will be former linebackers coach Mike Murphy’s first game as Indianapolis’ defensive coordinator, and it will be interesting to see if he takes a few more risks.
* The Colts have never been known as an overly-physical defensive unit, and their rush defense has been tested this season with how often they’ve been losing. The Colts have been playing from behind this season for over 388 minutes, or almost six-and-a-half full games. Surprisingly enough, that isn’t even the worst in the league (Tampa Bay, 419 minutes), but Indy has been leading games for an NFL-low 18.9 percent of game time this year. How have opponents controlled the clock so effectively? Indianapolis has allowed 102 rushing first downs, 16 more than the next closest team. Even though teams have attempted a league-high 394 rushes on the Colts this season, their 3.9 rushes per first down number is still the third-worst in the NFL. Sunday should present a good opportunity for Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen to get some valuable game experience.