THE REGULAR SEASON IS HERE!!! Tomorrow, the Colts kick off their 2013 campaign at home against the Oakland Raiders. The game will be broadcast on TV on CBS, with Marv Albert and Rich Gannon doing the game, and locally on radio on WFNI and WHLK with Bob Lamey and Jim Sorgi. It has been a long time since regular season football, and it's finally back. Here's everything you need to know to get ready for tomorrow's season opener.
The Running Back Committee
Ever since the Colts signed Ahmad Bradshaw this offseason, people have been wondering how the carries will be split and how the team's running back by committee backfield would look. Since Bradshaw missed the entire preseason, we still don't know. Pep Hamilton said on Thursday that they still were working out how it would be split and that they still don't know. Here's my guess: Vick Ballard will start, as he was the one working all offseason and preseason with the team. I also expect them to ease Bradshaw into things, so I'm not sure exactly how big of a workload he will have on Sunday. As it goes on and Bradshaw gets more acclimated to the offense, however, I expect the carries to really even out. And as one last note, Donald Brown will likely have a bigger role in the offense than I originally thought. It's hard to tell from preseason, since Bradshaw missed it all, but Brown seemed to impress and he looked good. He may play a bigger role than we initially thought, and that could also be part of the decision to move Kerwynn Williams to the practice squad.
The Tight End Situation
The Colts shuffled the tight end position quite a bit this week, and so let's look at what to expect from it. First off, after the final cutdown last Saturday the team had three tight ends, with Justice Cunningham as the third. They then claimed Jack Doyle off of waivers from the Titans, and he seemed to leap Cunningham on the depth chart. So the team released Cunningham and moved him to the practice squad, and they in turn signed Dominique Jones to the 53 man roster from the practice squad after an impressive preseason. Here's how it looks now: Doyle is a good blocker and will help there, and Jones is a solid all-around tight end. But at the top of the depth chart for the Colts include two guys who could very well make up the league's best tight end duo. Those two guys, of course, are Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener. Allen is primed to emerge as one of the league's best tight ends and Fleener is talented enough to have a breakout year receiving-wise. But, unfortunately, both of them are recovering from injuries. Both are expected to play on Sunday, but how much they play and how well they play are both uncertain. That's going to be one of the key things to watch as the Colts' offense takes the field.
Terrelle Pryor Time?
The Oakland Raiders' quarterback situation is bad. So bad, in fact, that they are starting a quarterback who has started just one game in two years this Sunday against the Colts. Last year, Pryor started the last game of the season, a 21-24 loss to the Chargers. He was 13/28 (46.7%) for 155 yards, 2 touchdowns, and a pick. This preseason, he completed 17 of 32 passes (53.1%) for 221 yards, a touchdown and two picks, while rushing 14 times for 131 yards and a score (9.36 yards per carry). Although he is going to start, reports say that he has doubters inside the Raiders organization. This Sunday is a big test for him, and it's an equally big test for the Colts' defense. How will they do against Pryor's read option?
Chuck Pagano basically said the other day that (and I'm paraphrasing) the Colts' plan to stop the read option is to hit the quarterback. And that's the plan of most defensive minded coaches in the league right now. Pagano pointed out that the officials have made it abundantly clear that quarterbacks will be treated like runners if they are running an option play. I remember during training camp when the officials came to explain the rules, one of the media members mentioned the fact that it seems like the best way to stop the read option is to just crush the quarterback. The official smiled and said that it sounded an awful lot like strategy and that he couldn't comment on it, but you could get a feel that was his opinion as well. All it is going to take is one prominent quarterback getting hurt, and then the read option will die out. But how will the Colts do against it this Sunday? That remains to be seen. But it will be a huge test for the team, as in their first five games they play Pryor, Ryan Tannehill, Colin Kaepernick, Blaine Gabbert, and Russell Wilson. This defense will need to be able to stop the read option, and this Sunday will be a good test for them.
Unbelievably, almost everybody on the Colts is healthy entering the regular season. When was the last time that happened? The only two guys that missed significant practice time this week were left tackle Anthony Castozno and linebacker Kavell Conner. Castonzo was back at practice on Thursday and is fully expected to start, which is huge news for the offense. Besides, he has to keep his 24-game start streak intact, right? Conner is the one that I'm not sure if he will be ready to play, but even then, he hasn't been ruled out yet so his injury probably isn't that bad. The Colts are healthy going into the season, and that's great news!
This is a Colts team that has high expectations for the 2013 season. With the Dolphins, 49ers, Jaguars, Seahawks, Chargers, and Broncos following this game up to the bye week, this game becomes pretty crucial. It's a game the Colts absolutely should win and one that they should win handily against the team that is quite possibly the worst in the league. But it's the first game, and it's against a bad team - does that mean it will be much closer than it actually should? Well, I think the game will be closer than the score is, but I also think that there won't really be a point where we feel like the game is in doubt. This is about as good of a matchup as the Colts could have hoped for to start the season, especially since it's at home. I'm taking the Colts, and by quite a bit too. COLTS 28, RAIDERS 10