The Colts return to action Sunday afternoon, after a very timely Bye week, when they head to Atlanta to take on the 6-3 Falcons, losers of three of their last four games and also coming off of their Bye week. It sounds cliche to say that the Bye week comes at the right time every year, but I think it's true for both of these teams, even if it was for different reasons.
By now you all know that Andrew Luck will be out another 1-5 weeks with a lacerated kidney and abdominal tear, which was announced early last week. Most things I've read, and people I've talked to who are very familiar with these types of injuries say that it should be a lot closer to the six week end rather than the two week end, or else they over-diagnosed him, at least publicly. The good news seems to be that he was able to play the rest of the game two Sunday's ago against the Broncos, as if it were a severe case (like Chargers WR Keenan Allen), he would have had a hard time walking, let alone playing quarterback in the NFL. In Luck's place will once again be Matt Hasselbeck, hoping to lead the Colts to a 3rd win this season, this time against a non-divisional opponent.
The Falcons, on the other hand, started off the season like gangbusters, 5-0 out of the gate, but there were signs that things weren't as good as their record indicated. They had to make 4th quarter comebacks in four of those five wins, the last one won on a pick-six against the Redskins in overtime. Since then they've lost to the Saints, Buccaneers, and 49ers while beating the Titans 10-7, making it a four game stretch that definitely is as bad as it looks. The Bye week lets them reset and work some of the issues out that have been plaguing them for a month now. It's either that, or they just really like playing close games.
The series between the Colts and Falcons has been extremely one-sided in favor of the Colts, who have won 13 of the 15 games played all time, and sit at 5-2 since coming to Indianapolis. The two losses were in Peyton Manning's rookie year, a 28-21 strange game that saw 49 points in the first 32 minutes, but no points the rest of the game, and the Colts held a 21-7 lead with just over 5 minutes to go in the first half, but gave up two TDs before the half and a quick one after a Manning interception to start the 2nd. The other loss was the last time these two teams met, a 31-7 debacle where the lone TD was a Jerraud Powers easy six yard interception return and Julio Jones had a 50 and an 80 yard TD catch. It was not a good day for the Colts, and this was two week after the Saints drubbing.
How do these two teams match-up in 2015? Let's take a look and find some keys to the game.
|Orange Zone Eff||60.0%||8||56.6%||21||60.5%||7||64.6%||29|
|Avg Start Pos||27.8||24||30.5||25||30.3||12||32.9||30|
|3 and Outs||4.07||25||3.35||21||3.51||14||3.48||19|
|Penalty Yds / Play||0.769||14||1.152||2||0.837||19||0.585||30|
Keys to the Game:
- When the Colts Offense will be on the field, the two units will be pretty evenly matched, but coming in right at or around league-average. Both sides have things they do well, and other things they're bad at. Several stand out too.
- The Colts biggest advantage will come when they get into scoring territory. The Colts rank 8th in Orange Zone Efficiency and 9th in the Red Zone, making it a strength all season. The Falcons, on the other hand, rank 29th and 31st respectively, meaning they hold open the door for opponents to score touchdowns once they get inside the 35. We all love Adam Vinatieri, but seeing him trot on the field for anything other than an extra point will be bad news for the Colts.
- The Falcons rank 2nd in the NFL in Time of Possession per Drive on Defense, and it looks really strange when matched up with some of the other drive-related stats, like ranking 26th in Drive Success Rate and 21st in Yards per Play. Here's what I think it is: they are worse than the Colts in terms of field position, so teams have short fields often to work with. One of their strengths is stopping the run, so teams avoid running the ball against them, causing more passing, and in turn, incomplete passes stopping the clock. I'm struggling to find another explanation for their lofty ranking, so I hope this fits.
- Hasselbeck didn't throw an interception in either start earlier in the year, but the Colts did have several fumbles. I know the big number in Turnovers is largely attributed to Luck, but it's still a concern, as the Colts margin for error is much smaller without Luck's play-making ability.
- The Falcons Offense looks good overall, but they've really struggled over the past four games (save their comeback attempt in the 4th quarter against TB). Here's hoping the bye week didn't bring up any solutions to their problems.
- Their drive stats have been at or near the top of the league all season, making it a priority for the Colts Defense to just get them off the field. The Colts range from slightly above average to slightly below average in these stats, so it's not an impossible task.
- I expect one of the biggest changes the Falcons made was finding more ways to get Julio Jones the ball, as he's by far their most dynamic player, and a top five "game-wrecker" in the NFL. The task of slowing him down will be on Vontae Davis, with hopefully some help over the top. If Jones is kept in check, I really like the Colts chances. That's a gigantic "if" though.
- Everyone now also knows the name Devonta Freeman, thanks to being the #1 ranked RB in Fantasy Football. He's been a touchdown machine this season. The Colts have done an "average" job against the run this year, but losing rookie DL Henry Anderson, quite possibly the MVP of this entire Defense, is a big blow and will be interesting to watch Sunday. Success in the running game takes away the over the top help on Jones, which could lead to big plays.
There's usually an advantage in your first game back after a bye week, but for the second year in a row the NFL has given the Colts no such advantage, as their opponent also was resting the week before. The extra prep time certainly helped Matt Hasselbeck learn more of the (new-ish) playbook (remember the Colts changed Offensive Coordinators? Seems like ages ago), as did not having any chicken burritos from a large Mexican fast-food chain. He'll undoubtedly be better prepared than he was against Jacksonville and Houston, but so will the Falcons Defense, as there was no question he'd be the starter this week.
I believe this game will end up fairly high-scoring, and I actually think the Colts would win if Andrew Luck were playing. I do think Rob Chudzinski will pay to Hasselbeck's strengths to keep the Colts in the game, but I think the Colts lose a nail-biter, in a game that looks a lot like every other Falcons game this year.
Falcons 26, Colts 25
Thursday Night Pick: Jaguars 24, Titans 23