I don't know about you, but I really enjoyed the Colts Bye week this season. It wasn't that I was just tired of seeing them lose every week (that stopped after about Week 4), but it was a chance for us to refresh for the home stretch of the season, and get ready to cover the top end of the draft, something we haven't done since Stampede Blue started over 5 years ago.
Visiting our fair city this week is the Carolina Panthers, who come into Week 11 with a 2-8 record, but are playing much better than their record indicates (more on that later). The big story with them is Rookie QB Cam Newton, who is far exceeding expectations in year one, even though the wins aren't coming. He's taken an offense that was pretty awful a year ago and turned them into a better-than-average one this year. Their defense is still a work in progress, but that's where Head Coach Ron Riviera's expertise lies, so they'll get better in the coming years.
These two teams have only met 4 times before, with the Panthers winning 3 of them. The lone win for the Colts came in their last meeting in 2007, a 31-7 beatdown in Charlotte, which sent the Colts to 7-0 on the season the week before the big showdown with the undefeated Patriots (those were the days...). The last time Carolina came here to Indy John Kasay nailed a Field Goal in OT to beat the Colts 23-20, a game I attended. The Colts only lost 4 times in 2003, and I saw two of them live.
Do the Colts have a chance to win Sunday? Let's check the numbers and find out...
Adjusted Statistical Comparison for the Colts and Panthers:
|Avg Start Pos||26.1||32||33.4||28||30.5||18||31.1||20|
|3 and Outs||5.14||29||3.27||24||3.53||11||2.77||32|
|Penalty Yds / Play||0.638||4||0.693||29||1.047||28||0.883||10|
|Net Punts Yds/Game||38.30||16||39.83||25||33.40||32||36.94||6|
Keys to the Game:
- I told you the Panthers Offense was pretty good. Top 10 good. Their drive stats are right up there with the best teams in the league, which means the Colts Defense will have to try and find some way to get them off the field. Prepare yourself for a couple long, time-consuming drives by the Panthers.
- It seems their Achilles Heel is Turnovers, where they have really struggled this season. Newton has been prone to make some poor decisions, and he'll need to have at least a couple of those for the Colts to win. If the Colts don't get any turnovers, they will not win.
- Not much has been said about the Panthers running game this year, but they've been quite good. DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart are two guys whose size typically gives Colt defenders problems. I wouldn't be surprised to see big games out of one or both of these guys.
- If Curtis Painter can't get it done this week, he'll never be able to get it done. This Panthers defense is just a notch above the level of the Colts defense, and you know how bad they've been at times this season. They don't get Three and Outs, and they are actually worse than the Colts at Drive Success Rate.
- The Panthers are decent inside the Red Zone, so scoring on long-ish plays is probably in the Colts best interest. Scoring at all is always in their best interest, but that hasn't happened much lately. It'll be a good sign if the Colts put 7 on the board inside the 20.
- Their defense can't stop the run, and the hopeful return of Joseph Addai means the Colts running game could shine. The gameplan should be to use the QB as little as possible, but I doubt we see the Colts come out and run the ball 40 times Sunday. In this case, however, it might actually work.
This looks like the Colts have a chance on Sunday, but I think the only way it happens is if they win a track meet, and I'm not sure I see the Offense putting up 28+ points on anyone. I can break stats down by Home/Away, and while the Panthers Defense is equally as bad both at home and on the road, their offense is actually much better away from Charlotte, making it an even taller task for the Colts. I have no confidence in the Colts defense stopping them, so the only hope might be for the Panthers Offense to stop themselves, which is possible given the number of turnovers they have this season.
Despite the 2-8 record, I think the Panthers will roll into Indianapolis and win comfortably.
Panthers 34, Colts 23