Michael Hickey - Getty Images
The Colts host the Green Bay Packers on Sunday in their first game without head coach Chuck Pagano. While a Colts win would be an upset, it would not be overly surprising. Take a look at three of the biggest keys to a Colts victory in Sunday's emotional game.
Yes, pretty much every lead on this site this week has been about Chuck Pagano, and this is another one. As every one of you already knows, Coach Pagano was recently diagnosed with leukemia and will in all likelihood miss the remainder of the season. Not surprisingly, the Colts and their fans were shocked and saddened by the news. The term #ChuckStrong has become somewhat of a phenomenon in Indianapolis. Just today the Colts' organization announced their #ChuckStrong campaign, which includes t-shirts, posters, wristbands, and a blood drive.
Perhaps the best way to honor Pagano, however, is to win. One of the best teams in the National Football League, the Green Bay Packers, come to Indianapolis this Sunday. What better way to honor Pagano than by winning the game, at home, in front of a Colts' Nation that has rallied behind their coach. Owner Jim Irsay even talked about it earlier this week:
"In meeting with the players, meeting with the coaches, there's nothing more that we want than to get that Green Bay game ball and have a victory game ball and be able to walk that into the hospital and put it in his hands."
The Colts will be playing inspired football, but with a young team that does not always translate into good football. Here are three keys to the Colts getting an emotional victory this Sunday:
1. Slow Down Aaron Rodgers
Aaron Rodgers is one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Period. No question about it. Anytime you play a quarterback of his caliber, it will be a tough test, even for the best defenses in the league. And the Colts aren't even among the best defenses in the league. Rodgers could have a field day against this defense, especially with second and third cornerbacks Vonate Davis and Justin King both very uncertain for the game. I wouldn't be surprised if he torched the Colts for 300+ yards and 4 touchdowns like he did to New Orleans a week ago. But after saying all of that, the Packers offense isn't near as dominant as it has been in past years. Good enough to be one of the best in the league, yes, but not nearly as unstoppable as we had come to know. Much like the Colts with Andrew Luck, all the Packers have is Rodgers and the passing game. Rodgers' top weapon, Greg Jennings, has already been ruled out for Sunday's game and has been plagued with injuries quite a bit this year. The Colts absolutely must slow down Aaron Rodgers (as it is pretty much impossible to stop him completely). Getting Dwight Freeney back would be a huge help, but again it is uncertain if he plays (I personally doubt he does). Robert Mathis has equaled the best start of his career with 4 sacks in the first 3 games (he also did it in 2010). Getting Freeney back would be a huge help to the Colts' defense against Rodgers. Also, the other cornerbacks on the Colts' roster are going to need to step up if Davis and/or King are out Sunday. The biggest key for the Colts against the Packers is to slow down their superstar quarterback - which is quite a task.
2. Keep Andrew Luck Standing
Once again, one of the keys to a Colts' win is their quarterback, Andrew Luck. While the Packers have Aaron Rodgers, the Colts have Luck. While not at the same level as Rodgers, Luck also shoulders the load for not only his offense, but his team. The biggest hindrance to Luck's play (which has been very good thus far) has been his offensive line. While the Jaguars game was admittedly much better, Luck has still been running for his life this entire year. Add to that the fact that left guards Joe Reitz and Seth Olsen are both uncertain for Sunday's game and the Colts' offensive line issue becomes even bigger. If Luck gets time, however, he could have a very big day. The Packers defense is susceptible. They have their weaknesses. One of their strengths, however, is their pass rush. They currently rank third in the NFL with 14 sacks through 4 games, led by Clay Matthews, who already has 7. The Colts need to contain Matthews and keep Andrew Luck standing - and in return, Luck will give the Colts a chance to win.
3. Donald Brown
Surprise, surprise. The Colts' underwhelming back finally makes an appearance on the "keys to the game" series. But the Packers have allowed 113 yards per game on the ground so far this year, along with giving up 4.4 yards per carry. That will likely lead to the Colts running the ball more, which is right in line with what offensive coordinator Bruce Arians would like to do. So Donald Brown will get his chances, he just needs to take advantage of them. Now look, I understand much of the issue with running the ball this year has been with the offensive line, but Brown hasn't helped himself out much either. Brown needs to show up Sunday, and this defense has shown that it can be run on. If Donald Brown has a big game this weekend, it perhaps will be the biggest key to a Colts victory - after all, they can't waste a good rushing performance because of how rarely they occur.
Honorable mention keys to a Colts' victory: Get the replacement officials involved; Get Graham Harrell into the game; Eliminate the cheeseheads (ok, so that wouldn't have much impact on the game, but I really don't want to see a lot of cheeseheads in Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday).
I want nothing more than to see the Colts win this one for Chuck Pagano. If they do these three keys, they stand a very good chance. They will be playing with a lot of emotion - hopefully they channel it correctly. If they do, some picks may be messed up this weekend. But I just don't think the Colts, with all their injuries and youth, can knock off the Packers. I think there is most certainly a chance, and I think it will be really close, but I think the Pack ultimately pull it out.
My prediction: Packers 28, Colts 27