The Patriots, suddenly in control of the AFC East, face the drastically improved Colts and their prodigy quarterback, Andrew Luck  on Sunday in Foxboro. Here are some numbers I found previewing this pre-holiday tussle:
* – As you probably should have expected, Colts’ quarterback Andrew Luck is coming along nicely as a rookie. This is evidenced by his completion percentage and interception percentage by month this season:
September: 53.3% / 3.3%
October: 57.2% / 2.4%
November: 64.9% / 1.4%
* – Two weeks ago against the Dolphins, Luck converted FIVE times (all passes) on third down and 11 yards or more. That’s tied for the most such conversions in a single game since at least 2003, matching the Vikings (against the Jets) in 2010 and the Raiders (against the Cardinals) in 2006. Going into that game, the Colts had five such conversions over their last 16 games and Miami had allowed five in their last 20. Want some context? As bad as New England’s pass defense has been, even they’ve allowed only four such conversions over their last full season (16 games).
Actually, New England has been quite effective defending the passing game on third down and 11 or more, as their 4.72 net yards per pass play allowed (that includes sack yards lost) is fifth best in the league. They were in the top ten in this category last season as well.
* – The Patriots have scored in the 3rd quarter in each of their last 18 games, the longest streak in the NFL since at least 1997:
18 – Patriots (2011-12)
17 – Falcons (1997-98)
17 – Ravens (2008-09)
16 – Four different teams
Note this: New England has scored seven or more points in the 3rd quarter in all but two games this season. But in the 4th quarter, they’ve managed seven or more points just three times.
Note this too: The Patriots have been outscored in the 3rd quarter only once in their last 17 games.
* – On first downs this season, Tom Brady  and the Patriots continue to do well, putting up a +1.65 rating (my rating) which ranks 7th thanks to 65% completions, 0.6% interceptions (the third lowest/best mark on first down passes in the league), and a league low 10 yards lost via sack. Andrew Luck and the Colts haven’t been nearly as efficient on first down, completing just 58% (27th) with a league high 3.4% interceptions leading to a rating of -0.50 (22nd).
Note this: New England’s defense has allowed 70% completions (fourth highest/worst) and nine touchdowns on first downs this season. Only the Buccaneers  (10) have allowed more touchdown passes on first down than the Patriots.
* – So far in 2012, the Colts have blitzed on 45.3% of opponent passing plays, the highest percentage in the league:
45.3% – Colts
44.1% – Texans
43.9% – Cardinals
Their blitzes have proven effective as well, as their opponents have put up a passing rating of +1.57 when they don’t blitz (second highest/worst in the league) thanks to only -20 sack yards and one interception (both league lows) on 174 no-blitz pass plays. But when the Colts have sent extra rushers, the passing rating allowed drops to +0.13 (17th), with -101 sack yards (fourth) in 144 blitz pass plays. The rating difference when blitzing vs. not blitzing (-1.44) is the fifth largest in the league.
Note this: Tom Brady and the Patriots’ offense  aren’t particularly fazed by opponent blitzes, as evidenced by their higher passing rating against blitzes (+2.66, 8 touchdowns, 0 interceptions against 101 blitzes) than non-blitzes (+1.06 on 268 non-blitzes).
* – On paper, Brady vs. the Colts’ pass defense early in the game (i.e. the first quarter) looks like an interesting matchup. Brady and the Patriots have had terrific first quarters in the passing game, completing 71% (5th) for an average of 8.91 net yards per pass play (2nd) with five touchdowns against only one interception. All that adds up to a +3.61 rating (2nd). Only the Chargers (+6.03) have been better. However, Colts’ opponents have managed a first quarter rating of -1.92 this season (3rd lowest/best in the league behind only Chicago and Atlanta). Much of that is based on just 60% completions allowed (7th), no touchdowns, and five sacks (9th).
NFL Note: Take a gander at the Chargers’ passing rating by quarter this season (again, my rating, which is basically net yards per pass play compared to the league average, adjusted up for touchdowns and down for interceptions): +6.03 (1st); -0.99 (23rd); -2.19 (25th); -4.06 (31st).
* – Only one team in the league averages more yards per completion on passes to running backs this season than the Patriots’ 10.03… the Colts (10.42). However, the Colts’ completion percentage on passes to running backs (61.3%) is the second lowest in the league, ahead of only the Jets (44.2%). But when they complete those throws, their average yards at the point of the catch is a league high 2.68 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, well ahead of the Patriots’ who rank second at 1.80.
Note this: When the Patriots have thrown to their backs, they’ve converted a first down on 51.4% of those completions, the highest percentage in the NFL, while the Colts are fourth:
51.4% – Patriots
49.2% – Lions
47.8% – Steelers
47.4% – Colts
* – The Colts have rushed for two first half touchdowns TWICE in their last four games. Prior to that, they had two rushing touchdowns in the first half twice in the previous four-and-a-half SEASONS (72 games).
* – Indy’s pass receivers have been fairly easy to bring down after catches, at least according to the numbers, as they’ve averaged only 1.25 yards after contact this season, the second lowest average in the league (Jets, 1.03). Their top receiver, Reggie Wayne , has just 68 yards after contact on 69 receptions, an average of less than one yard. Last year, he averaged nearly twice that, with 139 yards after contact on 75 receptions. Time spares no one I guess.
* – Last year we pointed out that Devin McCourty  “allowed” 1,115 receiving yards, second most in the NFL (Green Bay’s Tramon Williams allowed 1,120) and the most by a Patriots player since they began tracking the stat 17 years ago. Well, this season the yards allowed has been spread around much more evenly among the Patriots’ defensive backs:
Kyle Arrington  – 467
Devin McCourty – 319
Sterling Moore – 245
Tavon Wilson – 231
Alfonzo Dennard – 205
Four other defensive backs have combined to allow 260 yards, while the linebackers have combined to allow 515 yards, with 447 of those by Brandon Spikes  (227) and Jerrod Mayo (220).
Note this: McCourty has allowed completions on just 43.2% of his “targets” this season, the second lowest/best percentage in the league (min. 40 targets):
41.3% – Antonio Cromartie , NYJ (19-of-46)
43.1% – Richard Sherman, SEA (25-of-58)
43.2% – Devin McCourty, NE (19-of-44)
Comments? Suggestions? Leave it here. Or shoot me an email at GMarbry@weei.com. Or “tweet” me (@nuggetpalooza). Enjoy the game!