Detailed breakdowns of every position for the upcoming game vs. the Vikings.
This is the first of what I hope will be weekly posts breaking down the Colts match ups every Saturday.
If you want to read more of my content head over to my blog, www.coltfollowing.net, you'll be glad you did (I think).
This post is located at http://coltfollowing.net/2012/09/the-saturday-preview-week-2-colts-vs-vikings/
Each week throughout the 2012 NFL season I will be doing a game preview on the Saturday before the game (minus the Thursday night game). I will be examining every position for each team and determining, based on a variety of factors, exact point totals for both teams (my techniques are 100% accurate and are thus never wrong).
Pro Football Focus’s player grading system is referenced throughout, for more information on how they do their grading please go here. Information on Football Outsider’s DVOA metrics can be found here.
Colts: After a fast start in the opening game at Chicago, the Colts fell apart a bit, committing 5 turnovers on route to a 41-21 beat down in the Windy City. There were periods of good play, and periods of pretty abysmal play, more or less what you’d expect from a team with so many new players, coaches, and schemes on both side of the ball.
Vikings: Having just finished watching the Vikings play the Jags I can inform you that the game was rather uneventful (minus the last 2 minutes). The Jags moved the ball quite well but failed to capitalize on red zone opportunities (1/3 in the red zone). The Jaguars also won the time of possession battle rather handily, 37:49 to 27:05. The Vikings did a good job at the end of each half, scoring a TD just before half time and moving the ball into field goal range on a drive that started with only 20 seconds left to force overtime.
Colts: As seems to be a trend with the Colts in the last several years, already in 2012 the blue and white are battling through injuries at several key positions. Starters Pat Angerer (ILB), Dwight Freeney (OLB), and Joe Reitz (LG) have been ruled out, while WR Austin Collie is doubtful and Winston Justice is questionable. Angerer and Freeney are two of the Colts’ best defensive players, their loss is a serious problem; Jerry Hughes will get ample opportunity to prove his solid preseason wasn’t a mirage. Already thin along the offensive line, the Colts will struggle to replace Winston Justice if he can’t play (it’s looking like he will).
Vikings: The Vikings come into this game with a relatively clean bill of health. Backup weakside linebacker Marvin Mitchell is questionable, as is third string WR Jarius Wright. Several players are listed as probable.
Colts: By any measure the Colts secondary was a bit of a disaster last week, giving up 333 yards through the air and allowing Jay Cutler to post a 98.9 QB rating. While it’s true that the pass rush was less than stellar for much of the game, both Jerraud Powers and Vontae Davis struggled to slow down the Bears’ receivers to any degree whatsoever. The Colts coverage PFF rating of -3.6 puts them at 24th in the NFL for week 1, while their Football Outsiders pass defense DVOA of 36.2% is good for 23rd.
Vontae Davis posted a personal -4.8 PFF overall rating, easily the worst of his career, and gave up a perfect 158.3 passer rating on passes thrown his direction in the process. It’s unfair to expect a guy who joined the team a week before the season to have a great game, I anticipate a better game from Davis in this one. Nobody in the secondary played particularly well against Chicago, 3 of the 5 lowest rated Colts’ players were in the secondary (Vontae Davis, Tom Zbikowski, and Antoine Bathea). Justin King was actually pretty decent playing at the nickel spot, limiting his matchup to only 2 catches on 4 targets and registering 2 passes defensed.
Vikings: The Vikings put up a +1.3 in pass coverage week one, good for 15th, and 13.1% pass defense DVOA, 16th. When you consider they were playing Blaine Gabbert, easily the worst QB in the NFL last season (yes, worse than Curtis Painter) it’s not quite as impressive.
Harrison Smith was solid in pass coverage at the free safety position, but their starting corners, Antoine Winfield and Chris Cook, were both below average. Some easy missed plays by the Jags (including an overthrow to a wide open Blackmon for a TD) helped keep the Vikings at a respectable number, but make no mistake, their secondary was not good on Sunday, allowing the much maligned Gabbert to have the best game of his career (and a 96.1 passer rating).
Colts: The Colts come into this game down two major pieces of their linebacking corps, Pat Angerer and Dwight Freeney. Angerer has been spelled admirably so far by Jerrell Freeman, a free agent coming in from the Canadian Football League, his -0.2 rating was second best among Colts’ defensive players taking more than 25% of snaps, only fellow linebacker Kavell Conner was better. Robert Mathis and Jerry Hughes will look to contribute to the pass rush, but they will both need to improve in the run game if the Colts hope to win the battle against Adrian Peterson. Mathis was solid rushing Jay Cutler in Chicago, but his -1.4 rating stopping the run was worst among the Colts’ linebackers in week 1 (Hughes only slightly better at -1.3).
Vikings: Chad Greenway is entering his 6th season with the Vikings and anchors a group of linebackers that were good, if not stellar, in their week 1 game against the Jags. Greenway is a solid linebacker but struggles in pass coverage, his -13 rating in coverage last season was second to last among 4-3 linebackers and he allowed 4 completions on the 5 targets thrown at him in week 1. I expect the Colts to work Fleener in the middle of the field if they can get Greenway matched up on him one-on-one as he was with Mercedes Lewis for much of the game last week.
Erin Henderson was very good last season at stopping the run, 3rd best among 4-3 linebackers in PFFs run stop rating in 2011, but, like Greenway, is not as strong in pass coverage. Jasper Brinkley is the weakest link in this linebacking group, he comes into 2012 as the starter in the middle after not playing at all in 2011 and having started only 4 games in his career since being drafted in the 5th round back in 2009.
Colts: The defensive line has been a topic of much discussion amongst Colts’ faithful this offseason. With no data to really go on from last season, and a complete shift of defensive philosophy (from a 4-3 to a 3-4), it’s still very much unknown how this front is going to perform this season. One of the major goals of this new administration was to stop the run, a problem the Colts have had for many years. Through 1 week I’d say the results are less than encouraging. The Colts come in dead last at -12.8 for week 1 in run defense.
Cory Redding was a force in the pass game last week, but was nigh on abysmal in the run game, the Colts’ cannot afford a repeat performance with Adrian Peterson coming to town. On the left side, Fili Moala was slightly below average, but not bad. Drake Nevis and Ricardo Mathews were serviceable in limited action stopping the run at the RE and LE spots respectively, but they only played about a 20 snaps each. Antonio Johnson and Martin Tevaseu split snaps at NT, each playing at or around average. The defensive line was not standout in week 1, but neither were they a major cause for concern.
Vikings: If AP is the face of the Minnesota Vikings, their pass rushing madman, Jared Allen, is most certainly the muscle. It’s a bit surprising then that Jared Allen was not the star DE for the Vikings in week 1, in fact he was downright bad, no, it was Brian Robison that dominated his matchup in the first week to the tune of 6 QB hurries, 3 QB hits, and a batted pass; if Winston Justice can’t play, that’s a serious concern on the right side.
8 players took snaps on the line for Minnesota last week, none of which were particularly good in the run game (nor particularly bad), their collective rating of -3.2 was 26th best in the league. Given Allen’s history I’d chalk his bad game up as just that, a bad game, I fully expect him to bounce back, hopefully Castonzo brings his best this Sunday.
Colts: Speaking of Castonzo, if the Colts want to improve on their dismal 2-14 record from a year ago they will need this offensive line to step up and gel, quickly. While it’s true that the line is dealing with some injuries, and the Bears’ defense has one of the better pass rushes in the NFL (ask Aaron Rodgers), the Colts allowed Luck to be hurried on 12 of his 45 attempts (though their team rating of -1.1 was dead average). The Vikings had one of the better pass rushes last week (PFF 4th), so it’s imperative that the Colts figure out a way to slow down their impressive rushers on the edges. Here’s hoping Winston Justice plays, his +1.5 pass block rating was best on the team and infinitely better than the team worst -2.4 Jeff Linkenbach managed in replacing him in the second half (this is not a surprising development if you read my offensive line pass blocking column from last week, Linkenbach is awful).
Samson Satele had a good game blocking for the run, helping to spring Donald Brown on several long rushes up the middle (including his touchdown scamper), but was below average blocking for Andrew Luck (his -1.1 only better than Linkenbach). Seth Olsen was a major concern of mine coming into last week, but as OC Bruce Arians has said in the media this week, he really wasn’t that bad (I’m paraphrasing). He played above average last week, posting a positive rating and giving us hope that this week won’t be a complete disaster on the interior with Reitz missing his second straight game. Mike McGlynn was also solid on the right side. All in all, the Colts’ line wasn’t as bad as it may have looked on TV (besides Jeff Linkenbach). Castonzo was perfectly average in every way, though with Julius Peppers lined up across from you that’s not a bad day’s work (he allowed one hit on Luck and no sacks). He’ll have another stiff challenge with the league’s sack leader from a year ago keeping him occupied in week 2.
Vikings: The Vikings O-line played pretty well last week against the Jags. Ponder had plenty of time, getting hurried only twice and hit only once (his 2 sacks attributed to the Jags secondary and not the o-line), and Adrian Peterson looked like his old self on route to 84 yards at the clip of 5 per, and 2 TDs. Rookie LT Matt Kalil was taken #4 in the draft for a reason, the guy can play and showed it in week 1. Charlie Johnson (remember him?) anchors the interior of the line. He played okay last week but as long time fans of the Colts we know he is exploitable. With only 1 week of data it’s really impossible to know exactly what to expect here, but this Vikings’ line is solid, if not spectacular. Without Freeney, the Colts’ may struggle getting pressure on Ponder, this is a big opportunity for Jerry Hughes to really make an impression (or shrink under the pressure once again).
Colts: As of this writing it is looking less and less likely that Austin Collie will be playing in this game. I had high hopes for Collie after his training camp and preseason gave strong indications that him and Luck were clicking on the same page straight out of the gate. It’s very unfortunate what has happened subsequent to his 4th concussion, the up and down nature of his recovery leaving many of us scratching our heads. Regardless, Reggie Wayne proved last week that he still has plenty left and can carry the team alone if need be. His 135 yards on 9 catches and 18 targets led all receivers in the NFL, simply put he was fantastic and those stats don’t even do his performance justice. The Colts will need more of the same (against a much weaker secondary).
Like Collie, T. Y. Hilton has been a favorite target of Luck in the preseason, and, like Collie, he also did not play last week. Hilton has been a full participant in practice and looks to return to the lineup this week, presumably in the slot if Collie doesn’t play, with the veteran Avery moving into the #2 position. Kris Adams has also shown promise early and was targeted a couple times by Luck in week 1 (unfortunately, the final of Andrew’s three picks came on a pass intended for Adams), it’s not impossible that he’ll see playing time again.
For me the Colts’ passing game this week is all about Coby Fleener. Minnesota’s pass coverage is below average at best, and Fleener has years of chemistry with Luck (totaling 82 yards on 6 catches in week 1 against a much better defense), the Vikings’ linebackers can’t possibly hope to matchup with the 6’6" Fleener, and if Minnesota is forced to bring a safety down to help cover Coby, that should hopefully open things up for Avery and Hilton in the vertical passing game. I’m looking for a big game from Fleener and several shots deep down the field on the outside. Don’t sleep on Dwayne Allen either, Luck has had nothing but great things to say about his route running and short yardage burst, it wouldn’t surprise me if he sees some looks in the red zone. Donald Brown should see some screens working out of the backfield (Bruce Arians loves his bubble screens as we know), he was set up for a big gainer on a screen last week and just dropped the ball.
Vikings: The Vikings receiving corps is not particularly intimidating on paper (though I suppose neither is the Colts, regardless of how I may feel about them). Percy Harvin is incredibly talented, but so far somewhat unrealized as a #1 (and at 5’11" is not exactly a prototypical #1 WR). He played well in week 1, totaling 84 yards on 6 catches while also rushing for another 20. On the other side is old vet Michael Jenkins, who, at 6’4", is a big target but not particularly worrisome from an athleticism perspective.
Kyle Rudolph, in his second year out of Notre Dame, is quickly becoming the Vikings second best receiving option, he caught 5 passes on 7 targets for 67 yards against the Jags last week, second on the team. At 6’6" and 265 pounds he’s a mountain and creates obvious matchup problems for the Colts’ smaller linebackers and safeties. He isn’t particularly fast, running a 4.68 40 yard dash, but his size should make him a go to target in the red zone.
Colts: For the first time in his career Donald Brown has been handed the reins as the Colts’ clear #1 RB. Week 1, much like his career up to this point, was a mixed bag. He was stuffed a half dozen times for zero or negative yardage, but had two long runs of 15+ (accounting for 75% of his total yards), making his final total of 48 yards on 9 carries (5.4 YPC) look respectable. Brown is a tough nut to crack, as many of you undoubtedly know already, he can be equal parts exciting and frustrating in any given game, the true definition of boom or bust production.
Having never averaged more than 10 carries per game in his career it’s hard to know what he is capable of with consistent touches. Obviously with only 9 carries last week we still know very little about what to expect (hopefully no more drops after costing the Colts an easy first down and potential big play on a short one last week). The Vikings run defense is serviceable, but I anticipate Pagano and Bruce Arians running quite a bit more this week than last (13 rush attempts vs. 45 passes in week 1 is not likely to happen again). Vick Ballard saw 4 attempts for 6 yards, but was not a significant part of the offense.
Vikings: Adrian Peterson, enough said (but of course I shall say more). AP’s miraculous return from injury to start this 2012 season has been one of the major storylines of this new year, his rebuilt knee looking good as new as he ran for 84 yards and 2 TDs in limited action against the Jags (17 carries). With the Colts bringing a largely untested and highly suspect run defense to the table, I think we can reasonably expect a heavy dose of Mr. Peterson in this game. The knee is still a bit of an x-factor, but I’d imagine 20+ carries is a good baseline expectation (barring the Colts’ getting out to a big lead early, which isn’t impossible, however unlikely).
Colts: It’s obviously very easy to get caught up in the astronomical expectations that many here in Indy have for the young Andrew Luck, but let’s be fair, as brilliant as he may be (photographic memory and all) there are simply things you cannot learn in the film room or on the practice field, game experience can’t be taught. Some of the decisions he made last week were probably correct in college (minus the force to Wayne in the end zone), but NFL speed is just something that takes time to adjust to. If Luck is as fast a learner as all his coaches have claimed (and I have no reason to doubt them), I expect him to make the necessary adjustment very quickly.
With injuries at several key positions along the offensive line and in the receiving corps last week, Luck was playing with one arm tied behind his back. With the return of Hilton, and hopefully a full game from Justice (please God, no Jeff Linkenbach), Luck should be feeling a bit better about his prospects here in week 2 against a shaky secondary.
Vikings: Christian Ponder played quite well last week, his QB rating of 105.5 was the best of his career, but his rookie season was noteworthy for the inconsistency he showed as much as it was for the potential he clearly possesses. In 5 games last season Ponder failed to throw for more than 150 yards, and in 3 managed less than 100. He threw for 300 yards or more only once and had a single digit QB rating in his final game of 2011. So will the Colts see the up and down Ponder who have many fans questioning if he can be a franchise QB, or will we get the guy who looked poised and in command leading his team to a come from behind victory in front of the home crowd in week 1? Clearly there’s no way to know, but based on his history of up and down games I’m banking on a bit of a regression this week from the mercurial Ponder.
The Vikings come out ahead in several key categories (including the all-important injury report), but I have my money on the one position that really matters in the modern NFL, and that’s the quarterback. Luck had a rough go in week 1, but still managed to do what few rookies have ever done, posting a 300 yard game in his debut (on the road against a top defense no less). To put that in perspective, the Browns had only one 300 yard passing game in all of the last two years, so yeah, it could be a lot worse. Ponder played well but I expect the Colts’ secondary, especially Vontae Davis, to step up and play much much better this week.
If the Colts’ can play even just a little better up front on the offensive line (Jeff Linkebach not playing should do that by itself), give Luck time to work the middle of the field against those weak coverage linebackers, and allow some rhythm to develop in the passing game, I think we could see a big offensive output this week.
Colts win a close, high scoring game, 31-28 (book it).
Player of the game: Coby Fleener - 113 yards, 2 TDs.
Week 1 is history and week 2 brings with it the promise of new and exciting possibilities.