Last week the Indianapolis Colts rallied on the road against a division rival to claim control of the AFC South. On Sunday they’ll return home to face the St. Louis Rams.
The Colts are 6-2 and have a two game over the Tennessee Titans. The Rams currently sit at 3-6 and are in free fall right now. They’ve have lost three straight since Sam Bradford tore his ACL and Kellen Clemens took over at QB.
There are a lot of similarities between these two teams. The defensive and special teams rankings and stats are nearly the same. Even Andrew Luck and Bradford were having just about the same season, but the Rams lacked those come from behind wins Luck is known for now.
The Rams were 3-3 before Bradford went out, and Clemens has been awful. Quarterback is by far the most important position on the field and without Luck, the Colts don’t have anywhere near a 6-2 record.
Here’s what to watch for Sunday:
- Protect Luck. This goes without saying, but Luck needs more time in the pocket. The problem is that the Rams are tied for third in the league in sacks and are first in adjusted sack rate (via Football Outsiders). And how well has the offensive line played this season? Well, tackles Anthony Castonzo and Gosder Cherilus have been outstanding all season, but the middle of the line is a mess. Mike McGlynn has been unbelievably bad this season, and center Samson Satele hasn’t been that much better. At least Hugh Thornton can say he’s a rookie and still learning. All the pressure Luck has taken has been up the middle. It also explains why so many running plays go no where (at least Thornton has a positive run blocking grade). The Colts need to roll Luck out more often to give him some breathing room. The interior of the line isn’t going to be fixed anytime soon, and its likely Luck will be running for his life often against the Rams.
- Richardson. I’m ready to label this trade a disaster. Had the Colts kept the draft pick they could have used it to trade for a wide receiver following Reggie Wayne’s injury. Hindsight is 20/20 and no one thought Wayne would suffer a season ending injury. Still, Richardson just hasn’t produced the way fans would like. He’s averaging just three yards per carry. Sure, the scheme doesn’t help and Pep Hamilton loves to telegraph his run plays, but Richardson isn’t doing much to help his own cause. He’s missing cutback lanes and whiffing in pass protection. That said, the Rams are not great against the run and he is well overdue for a big game.
- Bounce Back. Last week, Robert Mathis was denied his 12th sack of the season. He still leads the league in sacks, and will likely push that lead this week. Clemens has been sacked nine times in just three games. The Colts should be able to get to him early and often with Mathis leading the charge.
- New Number One. TY Hilton exploded in the fourth quarter against Houston. He firmly entrenched himself as the team’s top receiver. He needs to be consistent throughout the game. The silver lining of Wayne’s injury will be Hilton’s development as a wide out. It was reported that Wayne took on the role of coach last week and helped the receivers make adjustments at halftime that led to the win. Look for Hilton to torch a bad St. Louis secondary.
- Ownership. The Colts currently own the NFC West. They’ve already beaten the division’s two elite teams, Seahawks and 49ers. There is no reason to think that this trend won’t continue. It seems like months since the Colts had a home game (bye week, road game) after the emotional homecoming of that Manning fellow. This game should be more lopsided than some of the recent outings by Indy.
There is a lot about this game that makes me think the Colts will blowout the Rams, but then I remember who’s doing the play calling and I think, no, probably not. For some reason the coaching staff insists on trying to impose its will on their opponents via the run game, and its worked just once (see: 49ers).
The Colts could dominate many of their opponents if they would mix up the play calling early, but Hamilton doesn’t seem to realize this fact. That means it will be another closer-than-it-should-be game for Indianapolis.
Colts still win, 21-10.
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