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Key to the Game: Colts at Bears Week 4

Syndication: Indianapolis Jenna Watson/IndyStar via Imagn Content Services, LLC

The Colts carry a two-game winning streak into Soldier Field on Sunday afternoon. The franchise’s last trip to Chicago resulted in a 41-21 beatdown back in 2012. The only two players who are still on the roster from that Colts team? Anthony Castonzo and T.Y. Hilton. Side note: Hilton didn’t play in that game due to a shoulder injury.

Point being, nothing in the past matters anymore. Although, there was a game in Miami back in February of 2007 that stands out in the minds of every fan who will tune in for this one.


FAMILY REUNION?

Outside of the Super Bowl connection, there are a lot of other interesting reunions to note.

Chris Ballard spent over a decade with the Bears as a scout and as the franchise’s Director of Professional Scouting.

Ballard also spent years with current Bears head coach Matt Nagy in Kansas City. Nagy was the quarterback’s coach under offensive coordinator Doug Pederson, who later became the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles.

Pederson hired Frank Reich after he was dismissed by the Chargers as his offensive coordinator, a pairing that culminated in a Super Bowl victory for the Eagles in 2017.

Reich’s quarterback’s coach in Philadelphia was John DeFilippo who is now on the Bears sideline.

The two collaborated to help Carson Wentz have a successful start to his career but also helped backup Nick Foles develop — which turned out to be critical as an injury to Wentz forced Foles to start and lead the Eagles to their Super Bowl win.

Foles will be Chicago’s starting quarterback on Sunday.

When the Colts played the Bears in Chicago in 2012 Indy’s head coach was Chuck Pagano, who served as the team’s head coach through 2017. Pagano is now the defensive coordinator in Chicago.

While Pagano’s teams never found the on-field success fans expected after years of dominance with Peyton Manning at quarterback, he did have a profound impact on the city of Indianapolis and the NFL through his Chuck Strong movement after he missed much of his inaugural season as head coach battling leukemia. He is also one of the nicest guys in the NFL and the architect of some of the most memorable “coach speak” moments in interviews in the game’s history.

One of Pagano’s defensive coordinators in Indianapolis was Ted Monachino, who has joined his defensive snaps as an assistant and outside linebackers coach.

One player on Pagano’s defense is linebacker/end Barkevious Mingo, who played a rotational role on Indy’s defense in Pagano’s final season.

Which side of this benefits most from all of the familiarity? Foles has given credit to Reich for unlocking his potential as a player. Will Reich’s familiarity serve as particularly useful for Matt Eberflus and the Colts defense? Will all of the team’s film and familiarity with Pagano’s defensive style help the offensive line have a big game?

The players will determine the outcome. No doubt. But the connections on the sidelines could certainly serve as a bigger factor in this game than they will in any other game this season.


RUN THE DAMN BALL

The Chicago Bears will serve as the biggest test of the Colts’ young season. There is a ton of defensive talent to account for and the group has found ways to overcome late-game adversity to remain unbeaten. One way to control the game is to take away some of Chicago’s defensive aggressiveness and force Khalil Mack to honor the run.

It happens that the Bears’ biggest defensive weakness is on the ground and arguably the Colts biggest offensive strength comes from its dominant offensive line and deep backfield. To this point, the Colts running game hasn’t hit full stride. Indianapolis’ offense is 17th in total rushing yards and tied for 26th in the league in yards per carry.

T. Troy Russell will tell you that volume stats like these aren’t particularly useful — and I would agree — but I also think Troy would agree that this running game has underperformed expectation to this point in the season.

The line and the backfield needs to starting finding its way. Production on the ground could not only play a key role in establishing a lead — it could be the key to stifling another Bears comeback.


WINNING THE TURNOVER BATTLE

Philip Rivers and the Colts offense has been mediocre to start the season. Rivers has been efficient but has also turned the ball over. The defense has been incredibly opportunistic in the last two games, gathering six interceptions, returning two of them for touchdowns and tallying two safeties.

When the Colts defense is opportunistic and pressure is taken off of Rivers’ shoulders, Indianapolis looks like an AFC contender. When Rivers is asked to press and try to will the team to victory, some of the mistakes he made in 2019 pop back up.

Which of these defenses is more active? If Mack and the Bears defense can hassle Rivers and force him into mistakes, Foles will get a chance to keep Chicago’s streak going. If the Colts can stay balanced on offense and win the turnover battle on defense, it will likely extend the Colts win-streak to three weeks.