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Indianapolis Colts vs. Green Bay Packers preview

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NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Indianapolis Colts Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The Indianapolis Colts (3-5) will travel to Lambeau Field this Sunday to face the Green Bay Packers (4-3) in what will be their first meeting since the Chuckstrong game in 2012.

The teams are 21-21-1 all-time against each other, but they haven’t won at Lambeau since 1988, having lost three in a row to the Packers on the road. That history won’t really come into play this Sunday, however, and the Chuckstrong game is nothing but a memory.

At the time in 2012, the Colts were in just their fourth game in the Andrew Luck era, and that game (and that season overall) gave reason for hope for the future. If that Colts team could come from behind to beat the Packers, go 11-5 on the year, and make the playoffs despite a rebuild, the future was bright. But now, in year five, the Colts are just 3-5 at the halfway point of the year and are in third place in the worst division in football - which probably wasn’t the bright future the team had in mind back in 2012. As the team hopes to turn it around this year before it’s too late, a win on the road against the Packers would be a nice way to begin.

That won’t be an easy task whatsoever, though. The Packers are a well-rounded team with one of the best quarterbacks in football, while the Colts are a bad team built very much around one franchise player (plus a couple of other key contributors). So this game will feature a matchup of two very good quarterbacks, but beyond that it features a matchup of a good team versus a bad team.

There has been a lot of talk about Aaron Rodgers this year and whether he’s lost a step, and while he hasn’t been the dominant player we saw in past years, Rodgers is still at the very worst an average quarterback and often this year has been well above that level - such as last week, when he completed 73.7% of his passes for 246 yards and four touchdowns without a pick in a loss to the Falcons. On the year, Rodgers has completed 64% of his passes for 1,742 yards (6.3 yards per attempt), 17 touchdowns, and four picks through seven games, good for a passer rating of 96.4 - while also adding 156 yards and two touchdowns rushing. So don’t be fooled by any talk about it being a bad year for Rodgers: he’s still one of the best quarterbacks in the game and doing a nice job. In his career, he’s completed 65% of his passes for 34,141 yards, 274 touchdowns, and 69 touchdowns, good for a passer rating of 103.6. He’s the NFL’s all-time leader in career passer rating and career interception percentage (1.6%), while he’s also a two-time NFL MVP, a two-time first-team All-Pro, a five-time Pro Bowler, and a Super Bowl MVP.

The Packers offense has shifted much more to a Rodgers-centric focus this year, particularly recently with running back Eddie Lacy on injured reserve. In fact, of the players currently active and on the team, Rodgers is the Packers’ leading rusher on the year. Next up is wide receiver Ty Montgomery (a hybrid type player), fullback Aaron Ripkowski, and running back James Starks - none of whom have more than 66 rushing yards on the season. So the Packers have gone to an overwhelmingly pass-based offense, with Rodgers dropping back 60 times two weeks ago and 47 times last week as opposed to 21 non-Rodgers rushes two weeks ago and 13 last week. So the Packers are very much going to be focused on passing the football this Sunday, and in that regard they have several dangerous weapons. Jordy Nelson (31 catches for 415 yards and six touchdowns), Davante Adams (40 catches for 424 yards and five touchdowns), and Randall Cobb (39 catches for 388 yards and two touchdowns) are Rodgers’s top weapons in that area, and they likely will be targeted quite a bit on Sunday.

With the weaknesses of the Colts defense, it’s reasonable to expect that the Packers will be able to score points. They’ll have a rookie who has been struggling starting at safety in place of Mike Adams (T.J. Green), they’ll be without a starting defensive lineman (Kendall Langford), and they’ll have their normal inside linebackers and pass rushers - which is also a problem. The only true reason for optimism is at cornerback, as Vontae Davis, Patrick Robinson, Darius Butler, and Rashaan Melvin make up a pretty good group - but keep in mind that Davis is questionable as he has yet to officially pass the concussion protocol, though the Colts expect him to be cleared in time to play. And with their weak linebackers and weak pass rush, there will be plays for the Packers to make in the passing game all day.

So once again, it likely will come down to Andrew Luck and the offense putting up a lot of points if the Colts hope to win. Even owner Jim Irsay has admitted this year that the offense probably needs to score 30+ points per game to win, which isn’t a good situation. But Luck has been playing very well this year, as he’s having a career year and has completed 63.7% of his passes for 2,284 yards (7.3 yards per attempt), 16 touchdowns, and five picks for a passer rating of 96.2, while he’s also rushed for 209 yards and a touchdown. Luck is playing at a really high level, and he’s gotten some help from receiver T.Y. Hilton, running back Frank Gore, and tight end Jack Doyle this year - but overall, the supporting cast hasn’t been great. Luck has been sacked more than any quarterback in football, and the Colts have struggled with plenty of drops this year.

The Packers have a good defense too, as they rank 7th in the league in yards per game allowed (321.6), while they’re 15th in points per game allowed (22.3). They’re fifth in third down percentage (34%), and they’re strongest against the run - they’re second in the league in rush yards per game allowed (74.4) and tied for first in yards per rush allowed (3.3). The Packers have a very good run defense, so the Colts may have some trouble establishing the ground game with Frank Gore, especially behind a line that will be without two starters. The biggest weakness of the Packers defense is in the secondary, and Green Bay is dealing with injuries there. Starter Damarious Randall is out, while other top corners Quinten Rollins and Demetri Goodson are both questionable. So the Colts may be able to get their passing game going on Sunday, and they’ll need to do just that if they hope to have a chance.

Ultimately, we should expect this game to be very similar to every Colts game we’ve seen this year: a struggling defense gives up points, forcing the offense to be very good and score quite a few points to have a chance. In three games, we’ve seen Luck throw a game-winning touchdown pass in the fourth quarter, and if the Colts win this Sunday it will likely be more of the same. The problem is that the Packers are a good team, and considering Indy’s defensive problems, it’s going to be a really tall task for the Colts to pull out the road win in Lambeau.

Predicted Score: Packers 38, Colts 27