If you’re looking for good news heading into Indy’s week 7 match up against the Buffalo Bills, you can start with being grateful that the game will not be played in a blizzard. This fact won’t necessarily change the outcome but it is a good place to start.
For a second straight week, the Colts are getting important pieces back from injury. Today, Pro Bowl receiver T.Y. Hilton is expected to start and to help provide some juice to an otherwise disappointing receiver room. Defensive lineman Margus Hunt was wreaking havoc to start this season and has already put up a career high in sacks. He will be back on the field to help a unit that clearly missed him against the Jets.
Things certainly aren’t perfect. Starting 3-tech Denico Autry is still out, tight end Jack Doyle will not play; starting wide receiver Ryan Grant will miss his first game of the season; offensive lineman Denzelle Good is inactive; the Colts will continue to take their cautious approach with starting safety Clayton Geathers; and veteran running back Robert Turbin is injured after getting his first meaningful reps of the season a week ago — yielding a fumble that didn’t help the cause.
There are numerous others who have been lost for the season that were otherwise expected to produce for Indianapolis this season. This list includes second round defensive lineman Tyquan Lewis, undrafted wide receiver and preseason standout Deon Cain, multi-talented offensive lineman Joe Haeg, starting right guard Matt Slauson, starting-caliber safety Matthias Farley and tight end Ross Travis. In their absence, others have been forced to step up. Hopefully a couple of those players will have the chance to return this season, with rookie Lewis as the most likely candidate following the Week 9 bye.
This week, we will see the introduction of fifth year veteran receiver Dontrelle Inman to the Colts offense. It will be interesting to observe how involved he is after only one week of practice. It has been announced that he will start in place of Grant.
Keep in mind that Inman is familiar to Frank Reich from his time with the Los Angeles Chargers, so there is reason to believe that he is already familiar with concepts of his system and the verbiage he uses to call plays. Can he take advantage of the trust Chester Rogers and Zach Pascal have lost with the Colts coaching staff to establish an important role?
One of the biggest stories of the game will be that Buffalo Bills rookie quarterback Josh Allen is out with an elbow injury and NFL veteran Derek Anderson will be filling in for him. Anderson’s 14 years of experience should help prepare him for the challenge but only two weeks familiarizing himself with Buffalo’s system and to establish timing and rapport with his receivers should give the Colts defense an advantage.
While last week’s loss to the Jets likely sealed the team’s fate for a meaningful shot at a playoff opportunity, they sit only two games back in a very suspect AFC South. At this point, I would not encourage members of the Colts fan base to “hold out hope” for anything other than to see young players get better and a first-year coaching staff find its stride. This year can end up as a win if the team establishes an identity and starts cutting down on unforced errors that turn plausible wins into disappointing losses. If you want to hope, hope for that.
For those fans who simply can’t help themselves, I will entertain the idea that this game is a must-win to keep Indy’s AFC South divisional hopes alive. There are five AFC South games ahead of the Colts after their bye. No team in the division has reason to feel super confident in the future. If the Colts start winning games, maybe they end up the best of the worst and claw out of a devastating early season hole.
Maybe... but don’t count on it.
Count on this — our keys to the game.
ESTABLISH THE GROUND GAME
In the second half last week, Marlon Mack and the Colts offensive line starting having some success on the ground. Our film review shows that the success was due to the offensive line opening up nice holes and getting movement up front and Mack displaying better vision, decision-making, and a willingness to run the ball between the tackles. Was this all a fluke? Was this due to the fact that the Jets were letting the Colts run the football?
This week Indianapolis has a chance to come out and dictate the pace of the game. They have a chance to be more physical in the trenches and use the threat of running to open up receivers in the passing game. At some point, the Colts offense will need to find balance to become more efficient and to frustrate defenses. This game provides a chance to build off of the second half a week ago and take the next step in the installation of a new offense.
PLAY AGGRESSIVELY IN THE SECONDARY
Whether the secondary is in zone or man coverage, the unit needs to be more aggressive to be effective. Early in the season, the secondary was outplaying their collective talent level by getting a strong break on the ball, wrapping up players immediately after a catch to stop long gains, and knocking down or breaking up passes at the catch point.
Injuries may have slowed things down a bit but the defense needs to take on Darius Leonard’s play-style as its identity. Flying around the field, confidently pursuing the ball, being stingy and even taking risks from time-to-time need to become part of their DNA.
Derek Anderson has had a respectable NFL career and he will gladly eat up soft zones if they’re presented to him. However, there is no way he has perfect timing with his receivers with such a short time in Buffalo. The Colts secondary should take full advantage of this fact.
GENERATE CONSISTENT PRESSURE
The Colts started out this season as one of the most effective defensive units at generating pressure on opposing quarterbacks. In the Meadowlands, this attribute was absent. Rookie quarterback Sam Darnold was able to sit back and pick apart the Colts secondary without taking nearly enough hits or feeling enough pressure in his face. Frankly, Indianapolis cannot afford to return to their old ways. If they can’t generate pressure with Turay, Sheard, Hunt and Leonard this week — it does not bode well for the rest of the season.
The Bills offensive line is beatable and Derek Anderson isn’t going to blow you away with his athleticism. Indy needs to take advantage.
CATCH THE DAMN BALL
This will be a key to the outcome of every Colts game until the issue is fixed. Dropped passes are drive killers, touchdown erasers, game losers. Andrew Luck has had a compelling 2018 season that few would have predicted. His arm is strong, he is making all of the throws, and he looks more and more comfortable in Frank Reich’s offense.
All he needs now is for his running backs and receivers to stop batting up passes that hit them in the hands and dropping perfectly thrown passes that would have otherwise gone for big plays. The Colts offense is better than it looks like on paper if not for dropped passes. Right now, that is the identity of the offense. It has to change.
NO BACK BREAKING TURNOVERS
The blame for back breaking turnovers can be spread all over the offense. Running back Robert Turbin fumbled the ball away on a third and short possession and gave the Jets a short field a week ago. Rookie back Jordan Wilkins had the ball stripped in the midst of a compelling Colts comeback in New England. Tight end Jack Doyle fumbled the ball away against the Bengals in Week 1 on what would have otherwise been a game winning scoring drive.
Andrew Luck has thrown some boneheaded interceptions at the worst possible time. He failed to locate Darron Lee in the middle of the field and gave up an important possession, giving the Jets excellent field position and the chance to shorten the game. He had no idea that Patrick Chung came down to defend Nyheim Hines on a pass he threw without looking to avoid pressure. He threw a pick in the red zone against the Bengals in Week 1 on a drive that would have otherwise yielding points.
These things have to stop. Luck needs to begin getting more comfortable with the time the offensive line is affording him. He needs to settle down in the pocket and take the extra split second to see before he throws. His ball carriers need to secure the ball and stop batting it in the air. No matter what it takes, the turnovers have to stop. It makes winning football games extremely difficult.
1pm ET Sunday October 21st, 2018
Lucas Oil Stadium – Indianapolis, Indiana
CBS – Spere Dedes and Adam Archuleta
WFNI (1070 The Fan) and WLHK (HANK FM) — Matt Taylor (play-by-play), Jim Sorgi (color) and Caroline Cann (sideline)