The Colts return home this Sunday afternoon, a week removed from an improbable comeback win in Houston over the division-rival Texans 27-24, putting a virtual stranglehold on the AFC South. Also making an appearance inside Lucas Oil Stadium will be the St. Louis Rams, a team who is 3-6 but has played some pretty good football over the past few weeks, so if you're expecting a cakewalk for the Colts, I think you'll be a bit disappointed.
It was just three weeks ago that the Rams lost their QB Sam Bradford for the season with an ACL injury, which has led to the increasing speculation that Bradford has played his last game with the team that selected him #1 overall (and paid him a crapton of money). Kellen Clemens has filled in admirably so far, but he couldn't beat the Seahawks when his Defense only gave up 135 total yards, and lost to the Titans last week when his Defense couldn't stop the run, and he couldn't make up for it on the other side of the ball. They have seen Zac Stacy emerge as a potential stud in the backfield, beating out last year's leading rusher Daryl Richardson as well as Isaiah Pead. Stacy is nursing an ankle injury suffered on the last series of the Seahawks game, but played extremely well last week, so I'm guessing we'll be seeing him on Sunday.
The fans of Indianapolis will welcome back a head coach who has played in Indianapolis many, many times over the years in Jeff Fisher, who was with the Titans for 16 years. I was in attendance the last game he coached here, which happened to coincide with Peyton Manning's last regular-season home game, won in Overtime by an Adam Vinatieri field goal. I don't think this gives Fisher and the Rams any kind of edge, as we all know about the complete overhaul of the Colts since the end of 2010, just that he'll be familiar with the visitors' locker room and sideline when pretty much his entire team won't be.
The Colts and Rams actually have a pretty decent history, having played each other 42 times over the years, with the Colts leading the all-time series 23-17-2. However, 34 of those games were played between 1953 and 1969, as they played twice a year in each season. Since the Colts moved to Indianapolis, they've played just six times, with each team winning three games.
Four years ago the Colts smoked the Rams 42-6 in St. Louis, where even Chad Simpson scored a rushing touchdown. Their last game in Indianapolis was a memorable one, to say the least. The Rams jumped out to a 17-0 lead in the first 12 minutes, and it looked like it was going to be a long night for the Colts on a Monday night. But the Colts scored 45 of the next 48 points scored, and Jim Sorgi was taking knees to end the game. Also notable that night was Manning and Marvin Harrison breaking the record for most TD passes between a QB and WR with 86, breaking a tie with Steve Young and Jerry Rice. They extended that record to 112, still an NFL record. Down 17 to up 17 after a garbage time Rams TD. Oh the days...
How do the 2013 Colts and Rams match-up with each other? Let's dive in and find out:
Statistical Comparison between the Colts and Rams:
|Orange Zone Eff||56.3%||16||51.3%||12||48.2%||27||67.2%||30|
|Avg Start Pos||29.3||16||27.1||5||29.1||17||27.8||7|
|3 and Outs||2.99||7||3.53||18||4.16||23||3.76||14|
|Penalty Yds / Play||0.474||1||0.831||16||0.950||27||1.068||1|
Keys to the Game:
- Like we've done most of the year, we'll start with the opposing Offense against the Colts Defense. The Rams appear to be pretty good taking care of the football, ranking 7th in the NFL in Turnovers. This means any turnovers the Colts force will add significantly to a win, and if they get a couple it'll probably be game over. Time to force a couple.
- The Rams are not one for big plays, ranking 30th in Yards per Play. This surprises me a bit, seeing as they drafted Tavon Austin pretty high in the draft last year, and have basically ignored him all season (signed, guy who drafted him in FFL on almost every team). It'll be a bad sign for the Colts if they hit any homerun plays.
- The Colts are one of the best teams in the NFL on 3rd/4th down Defense, while the Rams are one of the worst converting them. You have permission this week to throw things if the Rams continually convert 3rd/4th downs, because they shouldn't do it more than 1/3 times.
- The Rams Orange and Red Zone stats are a pretty nifty case study. They rank just 27th in the NFL scoring inside the 35, but rank 3rd in the NFL in the Red Zone. What does that mean? Lots of drives fizzle out between the 35 and the 20, and they don't have many TDs in that range (which we knew already...no big plays). Interesting to see such a wide range between the two stats though. The Colts Red Zone Defense is pretty good as well, so it'll be a good match-up when/if the Rams get deep into Colts territory.
- The Running game isn't really that good for the Rams, despite the big numbers put up last week by Stacy. They did run really well against the Seahawks, but you can see overall they're not that great. Unfortunately the Colts run Defense isn't very good either. Tough to tell which way it'll go.
- The Rams Defense has been passed on all season, ranking 28th in the NFL. If there's a game to open up Andrew Luck, this seems to be the one. My only reservation is that the Rams Defensive Line is really good getting to the QB, so Luck may have to run for his life several times. Roll-outs, play-action, and quick hitters will be their best friends. I expect a big day Sunday.
- The Rams have also been susceptible to the big play, ranking 25th in Yards per Play. I expect the Colts to take several shots down the field for big plays, most likely on play-action. I like their chances of hitting one of them, at a minimum with a PI penalty.
- Much like last week, the Colts face a Defense that likes giving up points when teams get deep into their territory, ranking 30th in Orange Zone Efficiency, and 28th in the Red Zone. Have to score TDs.
- The Colts are the least penalized team in the NFL, and the Rams have gotten the most penalty yards from their opponents in the NFL this season. Usually penalties aren't a story, but if we start seeing the Colts committing penalties, something will be up.
- The Rams run Defense is middle-of-the-pack in both stats. Every week we expect the "breakout" game from Trent Richardson. Don't think it'll be this week either, as the Colts should be focusing on passing against a poor pass defense.
On paper, it looks like the Colts have a leg up in almost every category against the Rams, which helps explain the 10 point spread in Vegas. But I've seen enough of the Colts over the past year and a half that suggests this won't be an easy win. This team only seems to play to their full potential when their backs are up against the wall, or they aren't given a chance. Maybe if they spot the Rams 14 points I'll feel a bit better, but this certainly sets up as a potential let-down game. The Colts play Thursday night in Tennessee next week, a much, much more important game than Sunday, and we have evidence that they don't play well the week before a big game.
Because the Colts look like the better team, I still think they win, but it's going to come down to the end, like seemingly every other Colts game does. The Rams are a scrappy bunch, and I don't see them going away easily.
Colts 23, Rams 21