Talk about falling from great heights; the matchup between the 1-3 Indianapolis Colts and the 0-4 San Francisco 49ers represent two teams that are in the process of rebuilding after as recently as 2013-14 making solid playoff runs. Since then both rosters have changed a great deal, as have both front offices. Unfortunately, one thing that hasn’t changed is the disappointing results early in the season. Both teams need a win here in the worst way.
The 49ers with their new GM John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan have a tough schedule ahead. Following their matchup against the Colts, they travel to face the Redskins, are home against the Cowboys, and go to Philadelphia to take on the Eagles. Those are all tough games, and losing against the Colts gives them the very real possibility of going 0-8. Not what you want as a part of a new regime.
For the Colts, a loss to the 49ers is more immediately painful. While the 49ers are not viewed as likely to be competitive within their division this season, the Colts are very much alive in theirs. With two divisional games on the horizon, the Colts need this win to stay in the race and keep pace with their underachieving division. If they are able to tread water until Andrew Luck returns toward the end of the month, this team might have it in them to make a run at the playoffs. If they falter and go 1-4, that scenario starts to get out of their hands.
Oh, and there is something going on where the Colts are retiring a jersey for a guy who used to play quarterback here as well. And something about a statue. Maybe you heard about it. I hear his library smells of rich mahogany.
With all these reasons present for the Colts to go out and get a win, let’s look at 5 players who need to have an impact to make it happen.
No rookie in recent memory has had as big an impact for his team as Malik Hooker has for this Colts defense. For a defense that desperately needs turnovers, Hooker has notched 3 interceptions through 4 games. As a point of reference, the team had 8 total through all of last season.
Before you all start with the naysaying, I’ve heard you. He has been the recipient of some good plays and a lot of luck. He has not played perfectly. You are correct. However, good players take advantage of those opportunities that luck affords them. How many times over the last couple years have we watched an errant pass or a tipped ball “almost” be an interception for our defense?
Being in the right place at the right time is one part of the equation, but finishing the play is the other part. Hooker is a finisher. What’s more, he is a young and inexperienced one. Give this guy a season to grow and develop and it is totally fair to expect him to grow to be a perennial pro-bowler.
All that said, we need him to have a big game this weekend. It will be the goal of this Colts defense to clamp down on the run and force the pass. However, making a team one dimensional is only helpful if you are able to benefit from that. This means Hooker needs to be ready to create more turnovers and make Brian Hoyer look like the mediocre quarterback that he is.
The Colts running game has been poor at best. They have totally failed to get any kind of consistent rushing attack. Whether you blame a lack of talent in the backfield or totally inept run blocking by the offensive line there would be data to argue your case. That is where Mack comes in.
His numbers have not been impressive. 21 yards. 1.3 yards per carry. Yuck. But the tape shows something more than that. Mack has some explosive big-play ability that the other backs do not have. Many of his opportunities have been poorly designed and badly blocked. There is another number that is intriguing though. Mack has 32 yards on two receptions.
When you factor in that this 49ers team is one of the worst in the league in receiving yards allowed to running backs, as well as the return of Ryan Kelly at center, the stage is set for Mack to be a factor on the offense in a big way. The question is how much time he will play given his shoulder injury. Those can be tough on running backs, but even if he only sees a few snaps, look for them to be opportunities for big plays.
No one wants to see the likes of Brian Hoyer torch the Colts at home with Peyton Manning in the building. The problem is that Kyle Shanahan is a smart coach who will draw up creative opportunities to take advantage of this young and inexperienced Colts’ secondary. That puts a ton of pressure on the front seven to get after Hoyer.
Sheard has not created a lot of that so far this season but has steadily gotten better game by game. We need him to take the next step this week and put serious pressure on the quarterback to take the pressure off the secondary. With Vontae Davis still recovering from a groin injury, and Rashaan Melvin questionable with a hamstring issue, this secondary will need the pass rush to do as much for them as they can. If Sheard and Simon can do that, it’ll make for a long day for the 49ers.
So far this season nothing about his play would demonstrate that Donte Moncrief deserves a big contract. That should bother him. But this is his opportunity to right the ship. He has now had time to develop chemistry with Jacoby Brissett, and that is something that will be critical in this game. Brissett’s security blanket, tight end Jack Doyle will miss this game. That means that someone has to take over that role. While Marlon Mack might serve to do that in the short passing game, the ideal candidate is Moncrief.
As a bigger, more physical receiver, the Colts need Moncrief to be the reliable player he has been for Andrew Luck in the past. Without Doyle in the game, a lot of the attention will be directed at T.Y. Hilton, meaning that Moncrief will be in a position to make something happen. If he cannot do it against this 49ers team at home, maybe he simply doesn’t have it in him.
Brissett has been a great pickup by Chris Ballard. He has been light years better than Scott Tolzien. Before you say anything, I am aware that light years is a unit of measurement of distance, not quality. Don’t sass me. Brissett has had moments where he has been very good. But he also has had plenty where he has struggled.His play against the Seahawks was poor, and he has struggled, as has all the Colts offense, to put a full game together.
As our own Matt Danely has pointed out on numerous occasions on the Colts Cast, Brissett is still missing open receivers and holding the ball too long. That makes life hard on this makeshift offensive line. His decision making in this game will be critical to how the Colts do. The return of Ryan Kelly will be a big help in solidifying the line and protecting him. It will also hopefully help generate a better rushing attack which will benefit him as well.
However, if he cannot make the right reads and pull the trigger when guys are open, it won’t matter how well or poorly the offensive line blocks. Like so many of these young Colts, we need to see Brissett take a step forward in this outing if the Colts are going to get a win and continue clinging to life while they wait for Andrew Luck to return.