By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Are you ready for football?
No? You’re not alone. No one really is. And that’s the issue with Thursday Night Football. A Sunday-to-Thursday turnaround is almost impossible for anyone to pull off. Three days just isn’t enough to recover, relax, and prepare for more football. It’s just not enough time to ice down whatever hand controls the remote and have it back in tip-top shape for a busy sports night.
It’s also pretty hard on the players, too, though the Patriots have been pretty good when it comes to making that adjustment. They’ve gone 7-1 on Thursday Night Football games since the league boosted their mid-week schedule in 2006, winning their last seven TNF appearances.
Now they get a 1-3 Colts team with a rookie head coach coming off a fairly devastating overtime loss. The Patriots have beaten the Colts in each of their last seven matchups by an average margin of 19 points. They are New England’s little brother, the one who always wants to play with the big boys but is shooed away for being too young and too small. What a fall from what was once a storied NFL rivalry.
Here’s what we’ll be watching for when the Pats and Colts kick things off Thursday night at Gillette Stadium:
The biggest storyline heading into the game is the return of Julian Edelman and what it will mean for the New England offense. Tom Brady gets his security blanket back, and no longer has to worry about waking up to Edelman standing by his bedside asking “can we play football now???”
Edelman won’t cure every issue with the offense, but he’s going to provide a gigantic boost. He’ll command loads of attention from opposing defenses, which will open up the field for the other receivers. Chris Hogan will no longer have to pretend to be a No. 1, and should see his production increase with Edelman back in the fold. And with Edelman getting open himself (or helping others), Brady will be able to get rid of the football much quicker.
Then there’s New England’s third down offense, which has been lackluster at best over the first four weeks. They went 10-for-15 on third down Sunday against the Dolphins, but from Weeks 1-3, they were an abysmal 10-for-35. Expect more showings like Sunday’s with Edelman back in the mix.
Will Gronk Play?
One of the players who will benefit the most from Edelman’s return is tight end Rob Gronkowski, who may actually see some single coverage now that teams have to chase after “the squirrel.” And despite being hampered by an ankle injury in the second half on Sunday, he’ll reportedly be suiting up Thursday night.
That’s big for the Patriots, even if Gronk is just kind of out there as a decoy. This is the first time in 31 games that Brady will have both Edelman and Gronk in his arsenal. And Gronk kind of owns the Colts, with seven touchdowns and 20 receptions in his five games against them — all New England wins.
Run, Run, Run, Run
New England’s depth chart at running back isn’t all that stout anymore, with just James White and rookie Sony Michel. But with the quick turnaround and a matchup against an extremely iffy Colts defense, both should receive a healthy workload on Thursday.
Michel looked good for the first time on Sunday, rushing for 112 yards and his first career touchdown. White remains a workhorse in the passing game, leading everyone with eight catches for 68 yards and a touchdown against the Dolphins, but he also ran the ball eight times for 44 yards and a score. He’s already up to 110 rushing yards for the season, and should have no problem surpassing his career-high of 176 rushing yards from last season.
Against a tired Indy defense, one that is on the road following an overtime loss and gives up 109 rushing yards per game, expect another big day from Michel and White (though we’ve pretty much come to expect that out of White every week).
Keeping Luck In Check
Andrew Luck is not the Andrew Luck who was drafted first overall in 2012. But he’s coming off his best game in years, throwing for 464 yards and four touchdowns against the Texans (the first 400+ yard, four-touchdown game of his career). He’s thrown nine touchdowns so far this season, and is showing signs that he may indeed return to form (or close to it) after missing all of last season.
He’ll be extremely short-handed on Thursday though, with No. 1 receiver T.Y. Hilton sitting out with a bad hamstring. With Luck’s lack of options in the passing game, and a rush attack that’s averaging just 72 yards per game and 3.6 yards per carry, the New England defense should get plenty of hits on the quarterback this week.
Tune in to Patriots 5th Quarter on myTV38 for full postgame reaction and analysis, plus Bill Belichick and Tom Brady LIVE, following Thursday night’s Patriots-Colts tilt.