After pulling off another comeback win last week, the Indianapolis Colts hit the road once again to face the Arizona Cardinals.
The Cardinals are now coached by Bruce Arians, the reigning Coach of the Year. Arians will always have a special place in Colts’ fans hearts for the work he did last season filling in for Chuck Pagano as he battled cancer.
The Colts sit at 7-3 and have a commanding three game lead in the AFC South. Indy would pretty much have to lose its final six games to not make the playoffs at this point. Courtesy of a controversial play this past Thursday that might have cost the Patriots a win, the Colts also have the two seed right now based off strength of schedule.
Over the past three weeks, the Colts have made mediocre offenses and backup quarterbacks look like perennial powerhouses and Pro Bowlers. Indy is 2-1 during that stretch, but it hasn’t been pretty. The coaching staff has stuck with a philosophy that leads to slow starts and forces the team to play at a higher level in the second half than can regularly be expected.
The Colts can’t afford another slow start on the road. At some point they’ll stop being able to mount the comeback and will start losing games badly (much like they did against the Rams). The Colts have three more road games this season: Arizona, Cincinnati, and Kansas City. This one against the Cardinals feels like the one that can be stolen, and the Colts really need to win one of those three games to get a better seed in the playoffs.
Here’s what to watch for:
- The Coverage. The Colts secondary has been pretty bad the past three weeks, routinely giving up big plays (something that rarely happened with the Cover-2 defense). This week they will have to figure out how to stop not only Larry Fitzgerald but also Michael Floyd, who took apart the Jags last week. The Colts have been hampered by injuries with corner Greg Toler out again this week and safety LaRon Landry is questionable with a toe injury. If the Colts want to have success, then they will have to have solid play from the secondary.
- The Colts might as well ignore the running game as well. The Cardinals rank 28th in the NFL on the ground per DVOA. They’re also ranked 21st in the passing game, so this offense isn’t all that good. The Cardinals just have a few good players at the skill positions.
- The Pass Rush. Far too often this season the Colts pass rush has been non-existent. Last week, the Titans used short underneath routes to both beat the corners and neutralize the pass rush. Robert Mathis was held to another game without a sack. The Colts have to have Mathis and others generate pressure on Carson Palmer, who gets gun shy when hit a few times.
- Offensive Gameplan. The Colts won’t have FB Stanley Havili this week who’s out with a concussion. Last time he missed a game, the Colts upset Seattle. It’s likely that without him, the Colts will abandon a lot of their predictable run plays and come out with a spread offense. Also contributing to this idea is that Trent Richardson is questionable with a calf injury. Arizona has the best defense in the NFL by DVOA. They rank 2nd against the run and 4th versus the pass. The most similar team that the Colts have faced would be Seattle, whose defense currently comes in just barely behind Arizona’s. The Colts will likely struggle to move the ball and if the defense fails to show up again, this game could get ugly.
- Luck Stuff. The hardest part of this season has been trying to write about how amazing Andrew Luck is every week and make is sound different each time. Luck seems to be stuck in a system that isn’t utilizing his full potential. He isn’t making that many adjustments at the line and often times hang’s in the pocket when he should take off with the ball. The Colts need to let Luck loose and actually pass to win the game this week. The Colts need to start scoring early, and letting Luck loose is a big part of that.
I have a lot of questions and concerns about the Colts offense this week. I also have reservations about what the defense can accomplish against a pretty bad offense. The Colts have a playoff berth already locked up and the Cardinals are fighting to make it to the postseason in a very tough NFC.
I could see the Colts winning a close game, but also think they could be easily be blown out. Often times the more desperate team wins, especially at home, and that happens to be the Cardinals.
Colts lose on the road, 27-17.
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