The last time the Colts took the field, Dan Orlovsky was under center, Peyton Manning was on the sideline, and numerous other long-time Colts played in their final game wearing the blue horseshoe helmet, including Joseph Addai, Dallas Clark, Pierre Garcon, Jeff Saturday, Ryan Diem, and Justin Snow. The team that was so familiar to us was about to be completely dismantled and built from the ground up, just two years removed from appearing in Super Bowl XLIV. It was a culture shock to many in Colts Nation, as they had one of the best runs in NFL history over the past twelve seasons, and they had just secured the #1 overall pick, meaning they were the worst team in the NFL.
Out were President Bill Polian, GM Chris Polian, and Head Coach Jim Caldwell as well, replaced by former Purdue player Ryan Grigson as General Manager, and former Ravens Defensive Coordinator Chuck Pagano as Head Coach, a change that Owner Jim Irsay felt needed to be made. We can't answer the question whether that was the right decision or not for a few years, but what we do know is Grigson and Pagano have not shied away from putting their necks out there, making trade after trade, both during the draft and afterwards, trying to make the rebuilding process that much shorter in Indianapolis.
Making their jobs easier is the new face of the franchise, QB Andrew Luck, who has as high of expectations we've seen of any draftee in a really long time, probably since the guy he replaced. Luck will begin his NFL career, one we all hope parallels that Manning guy, against the Chicago Bears. The Bears battled through a host of injuries last season as well, finishing at 8-8 after losing QB Jay Cutler after Week 11, where he fractured his thumb in his throwing hand.
The Bears brought back one of Cutler's old buddies, WR Brandon Marshall, and re-signed RB Matt Forte to a multi-year deal, who also missed several weeks last season with an injured knee. Speaking of injured knees, All-Pro MLB Brian Urlacher also has one of them, and is bound and determined to play on Sunday. His effectiveness will be determined this weekend, but I'm ok with the Colts playing against a less than 100% Urlacher.
The Colts and Bears opened the season the last time they played, back in 2008, a 29-13 throttling by the Bears in the inaugural game at Lucas Oil Stadium. Manning was hurt, and the rookie Forte had a field day against the Colts run defense. Obviously the biggest game between the two teams happened in the rain in February, 2007, a 29-17 Colts victory in Super Bowl XLI. Overall the Colts have a 23-18 record against the Bears, but have lost 5 of the 7 matchups since they moved to Indianapolis.
How do these two teams match-up in 2012? Let's jump in...
2011 Adjusted Statistical Comparison between Colts and Bears:
|Orange Zone Eff||46.2%||28||61.9%||31||60.2%||6||46.2%||3|
|Avg Start Pos||25.8||32||32.9||31||29.1||24||32.8||30|
|3 and Outs||4.96||29||3.16||24||5.10||30||4.92||3|
|Penalty Yds / Play||0.554||1||0.742||28||0.785||14||0.612||32|
Keys to the game:
- Since we obviously don't have any stats yet for 2012, we have to use numbers from last year, just to get a baseline. Hey, it's better than nothing, right?
- As has been the case for most of the last decade, the Bears Defense is quite good, ranking 4th in the NFL last season. Luck and the Colts offense will have their hands full moving the ball, and I'm sure the Bears will have some special looks for the rookie making his first start. Don't be surprised if the Colts take a bit of time to get going on offense.
- Last season, no team was affected as much by the new kickoff rules than the Bears, and you can see that in their terrible Field Position stats. For years they were best in the NFL in terms of field position, but Devin Hester was basically taken out of the game, and that advantage the Bears had for so long disappeared.
- We introduced the new stat Orange Zone Efficiency a month or so ago, which is the percentage of points scored when a team gets inside the 35 yard line, and it happens to be the one thing the Bears Offense did quite well, finishing 6th in the NFL. Kicker Robbie Gould is quite good from long distances, which certainly helps this number.
- One of the more interesting battles we'll see Sunday is new Colts CB Vontae Davis lined up against Brandon Marshall, who just happened to be teammates a year ago in Miami. I'm guessing they both know tendencies about each other, and could go a long way to determining who wins the game. They also got into it during a practice last season, and Davis sat out the next game because of it. The last time Marshall faced the Colts, he set the NFL record for catches with 21. Davis could be on him all day, so should be fun to watch.
The Colts are so different, both offensively and defensively, that's it's hard to predict just how they'll look Sunday afternoon. We're going to see some blitzing from the new look defense, and I expect they'll have a blown coverage or two, leading to a big gain. However, with Davis, Jerraud Powers, and Antoine Bethea, the Secondary seems to be the strongest unit on either side of the ball. I'm guessing they'll be put on an island a time or two.
As far as Luck and the offense goes, look for a lot of screen passes, max protects with Reggie Wayne finding the soft spot in the Cover 2 zone, and heavy doses of the two rookie Tight Ends, Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen. The Offensive Line is still a work in progress, so I hope Luck won't have to sit back there too long and take a beating.
I think the Colts will give maximum effort, but there's bound to be some issues on both sides of the ball, while the Bears were much better than their 8-8 record shows from 2011 (they were 7-3 before Cutler got hurt). The Colts first win of the season will have to wait until Week 2.
Bears 27, Colts 20