At this point we are all aware that the Indianapolis Colts are going to begin their season without the franchise quarterback. We don’t know when Andrew Luck will return, but we know – and have known – that it won’t be this week.
Despite that, the Colts have their hands full taking on a Los Angeles Rams organization that hasn’t had a winning season since 2003. And you thought the past couple years have been unbearable, huh?
Having Scott Tolzien under center, multiple injuries to key players and a ton of new faces will be a major task to undertake. Then, you have to consider facing a defense coached up by none other than Wade Phillips. While we don’t really know what to expect from second-year quarterback Jared Goff, or first-year head coach Sean McVay, the Colts have a long sample size of playing against Phillips-led defenses.
Even with that familiarity with his two-gap, 3-4 base scheme, the Colts have certainly taken more than a couple on the chin when facing off with Phillips, who is widely regarded as one of the best defensive coordinators in recent NFL history. Phillips has been known to be unique in how he dials up pressure, to confuse numerous quarterbacks with various disguised coverages and getting the most aggressive and opportunistic performances out of his players.
There’s a chance that the Colts will be forced to close a few pages of the playbook with Tolzien under center, and that offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski will need to put forth a gameplan with concepts that have a high-percentage chance of being executed effectively by this nicked-up offense. New starters along the line and at least one new tight end being heavily added into the mix will limit a lot of what “Chud” can do, theoretically.
The running game may be relied upon to be a very big part of the formula to wear down some of the Rams’ defensive playmakers who can turn this game on its head in just a few plays. Here’s to hoping Marlon Mack shows some of the electricity that he flashed through the preseason, and that Frank Gore and Robert Turbin are especially effective on early downs.
As stated above, there is quite a history with Phillips and it doesn’t necessarily bode well for the Colts. Phillips has been a defensive coordinator for the past 35 years, with 2001 and 2014 being the only two seasons he hasn’t had a job throughout that span. So, in preparation for the Colts’ Week 1 matchup against the Rams, let’s take a look at this history with Phillips and the results that have come from it.
The Colts’ first meeting with Phillips took place in 1989 during his first stint as the Denver Broncos defensive coordinator. To say that the Colts’ offense didn’t excel may be quite the understatement, as they could only manage a field goal throughout the game. This would become a trend through the early meetings as the Colts were only able to beat Phillips once in the first 10 opportunities (13 points in that victory), and averaged 15.9 points per game. The Colts were able to turn their fortunes around a bit ever since, though, winning 10 of the next 16 meetings and were able to put up over 24.5 points per game in that time span.
As you can imagine, who was playing quarterback had a little bit to do with the Colts’ point totals through this sample size. The Peyton Manning years drastically turned this matchup back towards the Colts, but Manning wasn’t just a good quarterback in the league; he’s literally one of the five best in NFL history to ever sling the ‘skin.
Ever since Manning entered the league, we’ve only seen two games quarterbacked by anyone else, with the 2011 seasons being one of true disgust, and then Luck arrived and things have largely been pretty good ever since.
There will be no Luck on Sunday, though, as we all know. Tolzien will be under center, and history doesn’t look to be in the Colts favor with that being the case.
Among the 27 total meetings with Phillips, the Colts are 11-16 and have averaged 20.4 points per game. Not great. In 10 meetings with Manning at quarterback, the Colts are 5-5, and put up 25.8 point per game. Luck’s six opportunities have yielded a 4-2 record and 24 points per game.
I think you know what’s coming next.
In the 11 other games, without Manning or Luck, the Colts are a dreadful 2-9 and are only putting up 13.6 points on average. On the other hand, the Colts have taken better care of the ball in those 11 games, whereas they’ve only had 12 turnovers (1.1 TO/game). Under Manning, they had 20 in 10 games (2 TO/game), and 8 in Luck’s six meetings (1.3 TO/game).
This presents an interesting situation, right? The offense typically doesn’t score more than one touchdown against Phillips-led defenses without Manning/Luck, but there aren’t as many mistakes either.
This, more or less, is exactly what we already think about Tolzien’s abilities, and apparently what the coaching staff sees in him as well. He doesn’t push the ball down the field and will struggle to put points on the board, but he’s safer and won’t — theoretically — make many mistakes.
It appears that the Colts defense couldn’t be more important this week given what we know now. If the Colts offense can’t put up more than 13 points – even against an offense that struggled last season – they will undoubtedly start the season with an ‘L’ for the fifth time in the past six seasons.