These two teams faced each other last season in one of the more emotional games of the season. Chuck Pagano provided the inspiration as he returned to the building to cheer the team on.
Last year, Andrew Luck produced one of the most outstanding games by a quarterback to take place at Lucas Oil Stadium (yes, Peyton included). He set a rookie record for most passing yards in a game at 433.
On paper, the Colts should have a better team this season but after the season opener against Oakland it doesn’t seem that way. At the same time, the coaching staff admitted to some mistakes and should make adjustments. This is only Pagano’s seventh game on the sideline as head coach.
Here’s what to watch for:
- Protection. This week, Colts owner Jim Irsay DEMANDED that the team protect Andrew Luck better (despite two of the sacks being solely on Luck). Despite the fact that Irsay should probably stay off twitter, he does have a point. Luck needs to have a clean pocket to be successful. Last year, he did an exceptional job avoiding the Dolphins pass rush and made some truly amazing plays. Gosder Cherilus, the right tackle, will be key as he has the distinction of blocking Cameron Wake who had 2.5 sacks last week. Cherilus was solid last week but has had bad games before.
- Coby Fleener. A lot of what this offense does is dependent on the tight ends. It looks like Dwayne Allen will be out with a hip injury. Fleener has been the whipping boy for a lot of fans who are already labeling him a bust. A strong game from him will opening up the passing game for Luck. The big drop off between Allen and Fleener is their ability to block. Fleener really struggles in this capacity, especially when it comes to run blocking. While it’s unlikely that the Colts will abandon the running game, it might lead to more pass happy offense which is in-line with the team’s strengths.
- TY Hilton. Immediately after the Raiders game, the coaching staff was talking about getting Hilton more involved with the offense. He was only on the field for 26 plays which is far too few for a player with his ability. He has the unique ability to stretch the field from the slot position and is very dangerous with the ball in his hands. The Colts need to keep their most talented offensive players on the field and that means running more three wide receiver sets.
- Ahmad Bradshaw. Vick Ballard is done for the season, and now the Colts can’t afford to ease Bradshaw into the starting roll. His foot is fully healed, but he didn’t play in the preseason and has very few reps with the offense. It isn’t Bradshaw’s ability to run the ball that the Colts really need, but rather his pass blocking skills. Ballard was very good at blitz pick up last week and I expect Bradshaw to be just as good.
- Pass Rush. Something resembling a pass rush this week would be nice. Last week the Colts came away with just one sack, and rarely generated pressure. Granted Terrelle Pryor is very elusive, but the Colts spent a lot of money in the offseason trying to improve the defense and get athletic run stoppers. The Colts used a number of slow developing blitzes that failed to land. This week they have to get pressure on Ryan Tannehill and force him off his mark. Tannehill was just a touch above average last week, and his line gave up four sacks. The Colts really need to find a way to rush opposing QBs this week if they are going to have success on defense all week.
- Coverage. The Colts had issues last week in pass coverage. The inside linebackers, Jerrell Freeman and Kelvin Sheppard, were awful in coverage (and everything else). Thankfully the Colts will get Pat Angerer back on the field and Sheppard can sit on the bench where he belongs. Safeties LaRon Landry and Antoine Bethea were both solid in coverage, and Greg Toler had a very good day as well. Corner Vontae Davis had a rough day and will be looking to rebound against his former team this week. Davis will likely be on speedster Mike Wallace. Wallace will stretch the field if (when) he burns Davis. Davis will have to keep him underneath and hope that Bethea provides solid coverage over the top. If the secondary plays tight, it will lead to coverage sacks which is just what the Colts want.
This looks like a tight game that could really go either way. The Colts haven’t shown any improvement on defense and offensively are seemingly committed to a losing strategy. Indy needs to pass early and often to win this game. The Colts will also need to find a way to get consistent pressure on Tannehill.
This game will probably come down to the wire, and if that’s the case I like the Colts chances.
Colts win 24-21.
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