INDIANAPOLIS – The only time Bill Belichick has gotten an extended look at Jonathan Taylor, the image of the blue No. 28 kept getting smaller and smaller.
Then, it disappeared in a mass of blue jerseys in the North end zone of Lucas Oil Stadium.
Taylor would lead the NFL in rushing and set an Indianapolis Colts record with 1,811 yards in 2021. He piled up 170 against Belichick’s New England Patriots in week 15.
After the Colts saw their 20-0 lead at the end of three quarters slashed to 20-17 with 2:16 remaining, Carson Wentz lined up for second-and-8 at his own 37. Everyone in the amped stadium realized it was time to lean on the run game and drain the clock.
Including the Patriots.
Taylor took a handoff to the left. Tight end Kylen Granson shielded the defensive end to the left while left tackle Bernhard Raimann and left guard Quenton Nelson double-teamed the tackle and sealed off things to the right.
New England had stacked the box to deal with Taylor. Cornerback Devin McCourtey had a clean look at Taylor as did linebacker Donte Hightower.
Taylor’s crisp cut to the right eliminated each. He outran cornerback J.C. Jackson for the clinching 67-yard touchdown.
Belichick was in no mood to analyze Taylor’s dagger run.
“We’ll look at the film,’’ he said in his post-game meeting with the media.
The media pressed the issue.
“I’ve said it like five times,’’ he said. “I could just say it another five times. We didn’t do anything well enough to win tonight, including giving up 225 yards rushing.’’
The long-winded point: Belichick undoubtedly filed away Taylor’s impact. It was at such a level that then-coach Frank Reich had Wentz attempt just 12 passes which produced 57 yards.
It was Jonathan Taylor. All day.
His 170 yards are the most allowed by Belichick’s defense in the last 45 games, and the seventh-fattest rushing total since he took over the Patriots in 2000.
When Taylor and the Colts face Belichick and the Patriots on Sunday in Frankfurt, Germany, Taylor knows what to expect.
“They’re going to definitely be looking forward to making sure that guy doesn’t do that again,’’ he said.
That’s been one of Belichick’s strengths: taking away the opposing offense’s strength. He forces a team to turn to Plan B.
“Well, it definitely does change some things,’’ Taylor said. “But in order to continue to push through, we have to be excellent in our alignment, assignment and technique. No matter if they try to line up in a certain scheme to prevent the run, you’re going to have to establish some type of run. You have to be able to find some production.’’
The Patriots carry an AFC-worst 2-7 record to Frankfurt. The last time they opened 2-7 was in Belichick’s first season, and it’s given rise to speculation in New England that owner Robert Kraft is considering firing him, perhaps during the season.
Despite its troubles, New England still is difficult to run against: No. 10 in yards per game allowed (100.8) and No. 2 in yards per attempt (3.5).
“The Patriots do a good job with their front,’’ Gardner Minshew II said. “They’ve always done a great job with their front. So, I think we’ll have to be a little creative there, find ways to get explosives in the run game and be able to pass enough to keep them off us. JT, anyway we can get him the ball, we’re going to try and do it. Man, he’s so good with it. Any way we can just get our best players the ball, we’re going to try and do it.”
In last Sunday’s 27-13 at Carolina, the Panthers were dead-set on not allowing the Colts to establish Taylor, Zack Moss and their No. 9-ranked run game.
Taylor was limited to 47 yards on 18 carries and the Colts managed just 78 on 30 attempts (2.6).
In a 37-20 loss at Jacksonville in week 6, the Jaguars also focused on the run and dared Minshew to do something about it. He passed for a season-high 329 yards, but turned the ball over four times, including three interceptions, and was sacked three times.
There’s every reason to believe Belichick will take a similar approach: bottle up Taylor and force Minshew to move the Colts with the passing game. Minshew was able to generate just 127 yards and a 10-yard screen/TD to Taylor against the Panthers.
Two stats can’t be emphasized too strongly:
*The Colts are 13-1-1 when Taylor rushes for at least 100 yards.
*Minshew is 1-10 when he’s attempted at least 40 passes as a starter.
“You guys have seen over the last few weeks that we have some explosive playmakers in the pass game,’’ Taylor said. “Just being able to help ease that in the pass game, allow those guys to get open it definitely does wonders to be able to establish the run.’’
New England overwhelmed the Colts 26-3 last season in Foxboro, but Taylor was out with a lingering injury to his right ankle. Indy rushed for 78 yards on 22 attempts with quarterback Sam Ehlinger contributing a team-high 39 yards on five attempts/scrambles. Deon Jackson had just 23 yards on 11 carries.
Rookie cornerback JuJu Brents (quad) and tight end Drew Ogletree (foot) were ruled out of the Patriots game on Thursday.
Rookie wideout Josh Downs (knee), linebacker Zaire Franklin (knee) and wideout Alec Pierce (ankle) are questionable, although Downs did not practice Friday in Frankfurt.
Right tackle Braden Smith practiced all week after missing the past four games with hip/wrist injuries.
Cornerback Tony Brown (concussion) practiced Thursday and Friday.
Neither has an injury designation which indicates they are expected to play.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.