Earlier this week I made some bold predictions for the season, but today I am going to take a stab at a few that are specific to the looming season opener. With the Cincinnati Bengals heading to town, the Colts remain an unknown. What can they be? The possibilities are wide and no one is certain what this group is capable of yet. With that in mind, let’s jump into some of these predictions.
The Colts’ defense will have more sacks than the Bengals’ defense
Okay, so this one might be bold to the point of lunacy, but hear me out. The Colts know that they are up against a very good defensive line. They also are facing a less than stellar group of linebackers, and have a strong group of tight ends who will likely feast on the middle of the field, creating opportunity for quick passes.
On the flip side, we haven’t seen this defense get totally cut loose yet in the preseason, but we have seen that the Colts’ defensive line is capable, and they have gotten to quarterbacks throughout the preseason. Whatever improvements they have made, the Bengals’ offensive line is a weakness. Expect the Colts to get after it, and I think we’ll see them prove effective at getting to Dalton.
Malik Hooker will get his first pick of the season
When he is under pressure, Andy Dalton starts making mistakes. With a speedy group of Colts along the defensive line, this is a group that can get into the backfield, and they’ll be facing an offensive line that is ill equipped to stop them.
Because of this, Dalton is likely going to get forced into making some throws he is uncomfortable with. That’s where Hooker comes into the equation. Hooker is a bona fide play maker and one who steps up when quarterbacks start making risky throws. He has a deceptive range, and can close on the ball in a hurry, making him a danger to pick off anything left hanging too long. I think he gets one away from Dalton and gets himself off to a strong start in 2018.
Jordan Wilkins will go for over 100 yards rushing
Last year the Colts faced the Bengals armed with a dreadful coaching staff, an atrocious offensive line, and a backup quarterback who held the ball too long. Their starting running back was Frank Gore. This may be an unpopular opinion among people around here, but Frank Gore had lost a significant step over the last season and a half. While his vision was as good as it ever had been and he remained a valuable locker room guy and pass blocker, he had absolutely no burst, especially by week 8, when he faced the Bengals.
Against largely the same group of defenders the Colts will face on Sunday, Gore put up 82 yards on 16 carries. With nothing else on the offense working, except Jacoby Brissett passing the ball to Jack Doyle, this defense still couldn’t stop the run effectively.
Sunday, we’ll have Quenton Nelson starting at left guard, instead of Jeremy Vujnovich, who started in their last game against the Bengals. While Nelson will have some struggles against a player as good as Geno Atkins, he’ll win sometimes too. That means it is likely that the Colts are going to run the ball, and do so effectively.
With Wilkins widely expected to get the bulk of the carries as Marlon Mack is recovering, it isn’t inconceivable that he could have a 100+ yard performance. I think the Colts will work to stay balanced and keep this defense honest. Andrew Luck commands some respect form defenses, so they can’t sell out to stop the run. That will show and will open up the door for Wilkins to shine.
Jack Doyle and Eric Ebron will combine for 2 touchdowns and 160 yards of offense
The weakest spot in this Bengals defense is at the linebacker position, as you would know if you read the opponent scouting report. That means you should expect to see the tight ends and running backs getting a lot of work. It doesn’t hurt that with the addition of Eric Ebron in the offseason, tight end is one of the strongest position groups on the Colts’ roster.
Jack Doyle had his best game of the season against Cincinnati last year, catching 12 of 14 targets for 121 yards and a touchdown. That was on a team that wasn’t missing starting linebacker Vontaze Burfict. This Bengals defense is even more vulnerable in the middle due to that suspension.
I expect Frank Reich to use a heavy dose of short and medium passes over the middle of the field to help negate the pass rush and attack the weakest spot of the defense. This should be a very good start to the season for the Colts’ starting tight ends.
Andrew Luck will make one play that will make every Colts fan grin from ear-to-ear
This isn’t really a bold prediction, it is nearly a certainty. However, when that moment comes that Luck does one of those characteristic Andrew Luck things, we can truly appreciate as a fan base how great it is to have him back.