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2015 NFL Week 8 Preview: Indianapolis Colts at Carolina Panthers

The struggling Colts hit their toughest stretch of the season, which starts with a Monday night showdown in Carolina against the Panthers, one of the five remaining undefeated teams. Do the Colts have any chance handing them their first loss?

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

For the second consecutive week the Colts will take on an unfamiliar opponent from the NFC, traveling to Charlotte to take on the Carolina Panthers on Monday Night Football, their second appearance this season. This game certainly had a different outlook before the season started, as if you polled a random sampling of NFL fans, telling them one of these teams would be undefeated coming into the game, the vast majority would have gone with the Colts as the unbeaten team. But as we well know, perception wasn't even close to reality for these Colts (or for the Panthers, for that matter), and the home team is the one sporting the 6-0 record, complete with a win in Seattle a couple weeks ago.

As somebody who holds an Over 9 win ticket and an 80-1 Super Bowl future bet on the Panthers, I've paid pretty close attention to them this year, and they are very impressive. There isn't one specific thing you point to that says "that's why they are 6-0", but they do almost everything really well. Their Defense stands out more than the Offense, and they won their first four without their star LB Luke Kuechly, who was out with a concussion, and is a tackle machine. Add in Purdue product Kawann Short, who is blossoming into an All-Pro this year, and CB Josh Norman, who leads the NFL in interceptions with Mike Adams and is a nightmare for Quarterbacks, and all three levels of the Panthers Defense are difficult to score on. The Offense has been up to the task when needed, keeping them perfect on the season.

The Colts will hopefully be a bit healthier than they were against the Saints, as it looks like S Mike Adams will be back from a hamstring injury suffered against the Patriots. The Colts also lost WR Phillip Dorsett for 4-6 weeks last week, so my guess is we'll see more of TEs Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen, who have been pretty much MIA all season long (especially Allen). The Panthers have several guys questionable for Monday night as well, including C Ryan Kalil, but all and all it looks like a couple of semi-healthy teams will be out there, which is a very good thing.

The history between these two teams is quite lopsided, as the Panthers have won four of the five all-time meetings, including the last one in 2011, a 27-19 win in Indianapolis against the Curtis Painter-led Colts. If you don't remember, the Colts were 0-10, and had a first and goal from the 3 with a minute to go, but decided to throw the ball not once, but twice against one of the worst run defenses in the NFL. It ended on a tipped interception, the second one thrown in the end zone, and the Colts fell to 0-11. It also prompted the change in QB to Dan Orlovsky, so this was the last start in Painter's career. The lone win came in 2007, a 31-7 walloping in Charlotte.

How do these two teams compare statistically? Let's jump in and find some keys to the game.

Statistical Comparison between the Colts and Panthers (Adjusted):

Statistic Colts Panthers
Offense Rank Defense Rank Offense Rank Defense Rank
DSR 69.8% 16 69.9% 14 71.9% 10 67.4% 7
ANPY/A 4.876 25 6.466 21 4.196 30 3.805 3
Turnovers 2.34 30 1.08 29 1.52 12 2.04 7
Yds/Drive 29.34 18 32.52 25 29.42 17 27.10 7
ToP/Drive 2:30.0 25 2:49.0 21 2:42.0 13 2:39.0 13
Yds/Play 5.289 15 5.641 25 5.138 20 4.635 4
Orange Zone Eff 55.5% 15 54.9% 17 60.7% 8 46.9% 6
First Downs/Drive 1.70 15 1.67 10 1.73 13 1.75 17
3rd/4th Down 41.6% 10 38.3% 18 37.7% 18 40.7% 20
Avg Start Pos 25.9 30 30.6 23 31.2 10 29.0 11
3 and Outs 3.89 18 3.37 22 3.92 21 4.70 3
RZ Eff 67.8% 13 69.9% 24 67.7% 14 61.9% 10
Plays/Drive 5.681 16 5.730 19 5.747 15 5.810 21
Penalty Yds / Play 0.818 17 1.233 1 0.746 11 0.474 32
RB Success 45.1% 15 46.4% 23 47.7% 6 41.0% 9
Yds/Carry 4.45 9 4.28 21 4.61 7 4.30 22
Overall 19 27 13 7

Keys to the Game:

  • The Panthers receivers are an underwhelming bunch, led by TE Greg Olsen. The Colts top three CBs are all now healthy, and I see no reason they won't be able to play one-on-one against the likes of Ted Ginn and Corey Brown. What this means is if they can get them into passing situations (more on that in a bit), they should be ok to blitz to get the extra pressure, as we know they get very little with just a four man rush. It leaves open the dangerous Cam Newton to scramble, but a spy on those plays would be quite smart. The Panthers rank 30th in our passing stat, so the Colts must capitalize on the rare weakness of the Panthers.
  • I do expect to see a healthy dose of Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert, as they rank 6th and 7th in our rushing stats and have been the engine behind the Panthers Offense so far this season. Once again, the Colts should be able to bring an 8th guy into the box on a majority of plays, but even then it sometimes doesn't help the Colts out.
  • The Panthers have also been very good scoring points once they get into scoring position, ranking 8th in the Orange Zone and 14th in the Red Zone. It's an easy way to make an average Offense look really good, and Carolina has done that this season.
  • Field Position definitely favors the Panthers on both sides of the ball, something the Colts are becoming quite used to this season. Making them go the length of the field should be a priority, and that is on both the Offense and the Special Teams units.
  • The Colts couldn't get any semblance of a passing game going against the 32nd ranked pass Defense, so what hope do they have against the 3rd best? I'm honestly asking, because without a philosophy or scheme change, I can't see them having all that much success throwing the ball. If Andrew Luck looks good the Colts have a chance. It's only happened in about 4 of 20 quarters he's played so far this year, however, so I'm not going to hang my hat on it.
  • Luck has thrown multiple interceptions in six of his last seven games. I have a bad feeling that streak will continue, and if it does the Colts have very little chance of winning.
  • The Panthers Defense has struggled a bit on 3rd/4th down, ranking just 20th in the NFL. Maybe if the Colts can take advantage here they have a shot at winning, as it is something they've done fairly well this year (10th).
  • The Colts lead the league in penalties committed by their opponent, while the Panthers get the fewest yards from opponents' penalties. I doubt this will factor into the outcome, but it's possible.
  • Overall the Panthers run Defense is good, but their stats indicate that you can, on occasion, break a long run against them. The Colts coaching staff keeps saying they'll continue to run the ball into the second half, but they haven't done it yet this year, so naturally you shouldn't believe them until they actually do it. Might help them here.

This is a potential let-down spot for the Panthers. They won easily last Sunday night against the Eagles and host the potentially 7-0 Packers next week. The Colts are just desperate to beat any team that isn't in the AFC South. It's a game I think has a chance to be close, despite all the evidence saying Carolina should win this game easily. I  think the Colts hang around for most of the game, maybe holding a lead at some point, but ultimately falling short once again, with it looking worse than it actually was with a late TD by the Panthers. Until the Colts can beat a non-divisional team I just can't pick them to do it.

Panthers 28, Colts 18