Kravitz conversation with Boston Globe Patriots and NFL reporter Ben Volin

(left) Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck on Sept. 23, 2018, in Philadelphia. (right) Tom Brady against the Cleveland Browns in Cleveland on Oct. 9, 2016. (AP Photos/Matt Rourke, David Richard)
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Bob Kravitz

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) - Every week, Bob Kravitz chats with a reporter who covers the Indianapolis Colts' opponent. This week, he has an email conversation with Ben Volin, a writer covering the Patriots and NFL for the Boston Globe.

KRAVITZ:

Every year, the Patriots stumble out of the gate, lose some games early, then they figure it out and win nine out of 10 or something similar. Is this a typical Belichick team in that regard, or do they have some pressing issues that might persist later into the regular season?

VOLIN:

You're right, Bob, that certainly has been their MO over the last decade with Brady and Belichick. And I think that has been exacerbated by the new CBA in 2011 -- they have a saying here that the Patriots use the first four games as an extension of the preseason to figure out their personnel on both sides of the ball. And as the season progresses the Patriots have a history of building and improving.

This year's 2-2 start feels different than 2014 or 2017, though. In 2014, they had an incredibly talented roster -- especially on defense, with Chandler Jones, Jamie Collins, Darrelle Revis and others -- it just took them a few weeks to figure out all of their new personnel. Last year, the problems were mental, and almost all on defense -- coverage and assignment breakdowns, guys not knowing where to be, etc. They got that cleaned up after the first month and became one of the stingiest defenses over the final three months of the season.

But this year, the issue appears to be talent. If everyone is healthy, and they're playing at home, they definitely have enough firepower on both sides of the ball to beat any team in the NFL. We saw them dominate on Sunday, 36-7 over the Dolphins. But take them out of Gillette Stadium, or one or two key players out of the lineup, and the Patriots fall flat. They had two bad losses on the road in Jacksonville and Detroit. Rob Gronkowski is constantly double teamed, and none of the other receivers could win 1-on-1 matchups. Injuries are starting to hit, with Rex Burkhead and Jeremy Hill hitting IR. The defense fell apart in Detroit when Trey Flowers and Patrick Chung missed the game with concussions. They don't have great speed in the front seven, and don't get after the quarterback well.

The defense looked much better on Sunday against the Dolphins. And the offense is getting two new pieces that should help in a big way -- Julian Edelman back from suspension, and Josh Gordon. But the roster depth isn't great this year, and the Patriots are probably trailing the Chiefs and Jaguars as AFC favorites right now.

KRAVITZ:

I know everybody in Indy is genuinely concerned: How is Josh McDaniels and has he ever opened up about his decision to leave the Colts at the altar?

VOLIN:

He has addressed the situation two or three times at this point. Not that this is unexpected, but I don't think he or anyone with the Patriots has been fully truthful about the episode. They want us to believe that McDaniels simply received more "clarity" about his role with the Patriots from Robert Kraft after the Super Bowl, and that him staying in New England was just about working for the best owner, coach and quarterback in the NFL. ​McDaniels has steadfastly denied that this "clarity" included being named the head coach-in-waiting, which is what many in New England believe is the case. He has also tried to show remorse and contrition about what he did to the Colts, which I do believe is genuine. McDaniels wasn't out to screw with Chris Ballard or anyone with the Colts' organization.

But I'm very skeptical of most of this narrative, of course. The Patriots knew McDaniels was going to leave for weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, but only on the Tuesday afterward did they realize that they need to keep him? The real story, I am told, is that after the disastrous Super Bowl loss and Malcolm Butler benching, Kraft realized he needed to keep McDaniels as leverage against Bill Belichick leaving the organization suddenly, or having too much power.

And I think McDaniels got cold feet about the Colts job for a number of reasons -- Andrew Luck's shoulder, his lack of familiarity with Jim Irsay and Ballard, and so on. And when Kraft approached him with an offer to stay, for a salary that was probably pretty close to what McDaniels was going to make as the Colts' head coach, McDaniels chose the safer bet with New England.

I actually don't believe that McDaniels was secretly named the coach-in-waiting. In both of his public interviews, McDaniels has openly stated that he "absolutely" wants to be a head coach again, and denied that his family doesn't want to move. "This isn’t a thing where I’m telling you, ‘I couldn’t move and all that’ — that’s not the case. If that were the case I wouldn’t interview,’’ he told the Globe. To me, it sounds like a man letting the other 30 NFL teams know that he'll be back on the market soon, not someone who has the Patriots job secretly lined up. And as crazy as it may sound, I think McDaniels will be a hot candidate again whenever he goes for it. He's still a young, offensive-minded coach who worked with Belichick and Tom Brady and has head coaching experience. Some team will look past the Indy experience and hire him.

KRAVITZ:

OK, so the pick. I keep hearing the rivalry is back, but the Patriots have dominated since the fourth-and-2 game in Indianapolis. Nothing changes here. I'm going to say the Pats are going to overinflate their footballs to make them like beach balls and beat the Colts 33-20, just to show they can.

VOLIN:

Hahaha troll game on point, my friend.

I'm going Patriots, 34-13. I know Luck and the Colts finally had that big offensive explosion last week, but I think they're going to have tough sledding at Foxborough, as usual. Thursday night, on the road, coming off an overtime game, no T.Y. Hilton -- just too much working against the Colts this week. Should be a clear night in the high 50s, so expect nice, plump footballs.

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