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2013 NFL Week Three Preview: Indianapolis Colts At San Francisco 49ers

Can the Colts bounce back, on the road, against one of the best teams in the NFL? How much will the newest Colts Trent Richardson play? Can Andrew Luck beat his college coach? We answer them all previewing Colts and 49ers.

It looks like these guys have met before.
It looks like these guys have met before.
Harry How

It's been a typical, run-of-the-mill week for the Colts this week, coming off their first loss of the season last Sunday to the Dolphins. Two Offensive starters get put on season-ending injured reserve, and the Colts give up their 2014 First Round pick to the Browns for the guy picked just two spots below Andrew Luck in last year's draft, Trent Richardson. Yep, just a normal week, all in preparation for traveling across the country to take on the San Francisco 49ers, one of the NFL's best teams.

The 49ers certainly didn't look like one of the best teams in football last weekend, and if you had watched their game Sunday night without watching in 2012 or Week 1, you'd think I'm nuts, as they got thoroughly destroyed by the Seahawks 29-3, and it was easily predictable. Nobody plays well in the Pacific Northwest, and especially them, who got killed up there last year as well. It's one of those games you just forget about and move on, but you'll see the stats reflect their poor showing, and not how good they really are. They did man-handle the Packers in Week 1, with QB Colin Kaepernick throwing for 412 yards, 208 to Anquan Boldin. Their 1-1 isn't that terrible.

Just how much will we see of Richardson this week? In recent memory I can only think of one big-time trade like this in the middle of the season, and that is when Randy Moss was traded from the Patriots to the Vikings. Like Richardson, he was traded on a Wednesday, and played the next week against the Jets, catching Brett Favre's 500th TD pass on a Monday night, and getting 81 yards receiving in the process. My guess is that Ahmad Bradshaw will start, but we'll absolutely see Richardson in certain sets, and he'll probably be in on 35-40% of the snaps this week, with a big increase in Week 4. He'll have two full practice days to learn plays/lingo, which should be enough time to be on the field to run the football, fake getting the ball on a play-action, and know who to pick-up on a pass protect (although I'm sure this won't be too often). There's no sense going and getting him if you aren't going to use him right away.

As if the Richardson story-line isn't enough, there are several more fairly big ties between the two teams. The less-talked about one is Vontae Davis will be going up against, and possibly covering, his older brother Vernon. Here's a PDF of all brothers that played at the same time in the NFL (there's lots of them), and I'm sure it's happened before where one would be defending the other, but it isn't super common for it to happen. Should be fun to watch. The bigger story is Andrew Luck playing against his college Head Coach Jim Harbaugh, who happens to be in the Colts Ring of Honor. I'm sure they'll only bring that up 35 times during the broadcast. Since it is Jim Nantz and Phil Simms calling the game, you can all but guarantee there will be some poetic waxing going on about their relationship. Can't wait.

The Colts actually have a winning record all-time against the 49ers, 24-18, although the two teams have only met 7 times since they moved to Indianapolis, with the 49ers winning four of those games. The last time the two teams met was in 2009, an 18-14 Colts win, and a whole host of things happened:

  • The Colts lone touchdown was thrown by Joseph Addai to Reggie Wayne.
  • Bob Sanders made the last interception of his career.
  • The 49ers scored a TD with 38 seconds left in the first half. Most teams take a knee. The Colts got 3 points out of it, a 31 yard field goal. Yes, they got all the way to the 14 yard line. In 30 seconds. That team was really good.

How do these two teams stack up? Let's look at the stats and find out.

Statistical Comparison between the Colts and 49ers:

Statistic Colts 49ers
Offense Rank Defense Rank Offense Rank Defense Rank
DSR 78.0% 4 75.4% 28 66.1% 25 72.1% 20
ANPY/A 6.534 13 6.493 19 6.056 18 6.935 21
Turnovers 0.50 3 1.50 15 2.50 28 1.50 15
Yds/Drive 40.11 2 38.50 27 29.21 20 25.96 8
ToP/Drive 3:13.0 2 3:07.0 31 2:35.0 15 2:14.0 9
Yds/Play 5.776 14 5.969 23 5.563 17 5.273 17
Orange Zone Eff 58.6% 14 71.4% 29 52.9% 20 78.6% 31
First Downs/Drive 2.28 1 2.05 27 1.46 25 1.62 14
3rd/4th Down 48.1% 5 48.3% 27 40.6% 13 35.7% 12
Avg Start Pos 22.4 27 26.3 17 30.1 9 31.9 27
3 and Outs 2.00 3 1.50 30 4.00 18 5.00 7
RZ Eff 81.0% 8 83.3% 25 61.2% 24 87.3% 31
Plays/Drive 6.944 1 6.450 29 5.250 26 4.923 8
Penalty Yds / Play 0.352 1 0.395 32 1.635 31 1.000 12
RB Success 47.7% 8 59.6% 32 34.0% 26 35.0% 11
Yds/Carry 5.00 5 4.53 26 3.52 17 3.56 13
Overall 1 30 25 14

Keys to the Game:

  • I'm going to start with the Colts Defense, as the only way they have a shot at winning is to keep Colin Kaepernick in the pocket, which is way easier said than done. Terrelle Pryor had over 100 yards rushing against the Colts, and he isn't nearly the passing threat that Kaepernick is. Last week the Seahawks always had someone on each edge, and had a LB waiting if he took off up the middle. Clearly the Colts should be trying to replicate what they did, but I feel the talent level is a bit different between the two Defenses.
  • Again, these 49ers stats are being overshadowed by the awful week last week, but their 3rd/4th down numbers don't look all that bad even with last week. Harbaugh is a coach that isn't afraid to go for it on 4th down when he is supposed to, as opposed to almost every other coach, so these plays will be critical. Don't put them in a position where he can make those correct decisions. Get them off the field.
  • Because of the threat of a running QB, Vontae Davis and Greg Toler are/should be almost exclusively in man coverage, which is the reason they were brought in. Last year Anquan Boldin (with the Ravens) killed the Colts in the Playoffs while Davis did a really good job on Torrey Smith. Their second biggest threat catching the ball is Vernon Davis, so I expect him to get a lot of attention from either his brother or Toler. If they are getting beat in the secondary, the Colts have no chance.
  • For the Colts on Offense, they'll need to control the clock and be able to gain multiple first downs each time they get the ball, so the Defense can get a chance for a rest. The Offense has been good at not going Three and Out, but it seems from watching the game they either put together a nice drive, or give it back immediately. Sometimes holding the ball for 4+ minutes, even without points, can be a good thing.
  • Cannot turn the ball over. This was a huge problem on the road last year. This is where I think the game could get out of hand, as the 49ers are very opportunistic, and will take chances to get turnovers. The Colts can't fall into the trap, and need to capitalize on that aggressiveness.
  • The biggest thing for the Colts will be scoring points when they get into the scoring zones. The 49ers Defense has not been very good at stopping teams from scoring when they get deep into their territory, so the Colts absolutely must play like they did in Week 1, rather than in last week where they came away empty multiple times.
  • This will be a recurring theme every week, but how will the presence of Richardson in the backfield help the passing game, by catching the ball, blocking, and generally taking attention away from the passing game. Yes it is important for him to be able to pick-up crucial 3rd/4th and shorts, and score at the goal line, but overall his importance to the pass game is where we'll know whether this trade was correct to make. I'll certainly be looking.

The Colts were not very good on the road last year, getting beat handily by three very good teams (and also by the Jets), so I think asking them to go to the West Coast and play a team that played in the Super Bowl last year will be a very tall task. What intrigues me about this is that because of the Stanford ties to both teams, they essentially run the same base Offense, with a few variations (like the read-option for Kaepernick). I'm guessing Offensive coaches on both sides will be making cameo appearances in Defensive meetings this week, helping with tendencies, formations, etc. It might be the only hope for the Colts to keep it close.

Ultimately I think the Colts will be able to move the ball and score some points, but the Defense won't be able to slow down the evasive Kaepernick, especially with how the last meeting with a mobile QB went. Hopefully the Colts can learn enough this week to use in future weeks against mobile QBs, but it isn't going to help them this week. I do think they'll cover the 11.5 point spread though, which they won't feel good about, but I will in that they can compete with elite teams on the road.

49ers 27, Colts 20