The Colts have enjoyed a relatively soft start to their 2020 schedule. Their losses include to the Cleveland Browns and Jacksonville Jaguars on the road and against the Baltimore Ravens at home. The Jaguars game was a big early season gaffe that could easily haunt the Colts later in the season if things don’t go their away over the next few weeks.
The general rule in the NFL is 10 wins and you’re in, as it relates to the odds of a playoff berth. Nine wins can get it done but frequently relies on the failures of opponents and places a team’s destiny in the hands of others.
One of the two most challenging remaining on the Colts’ schedule will kickoff this afternoon. It will pit one of the league’s stingiest defenses against one of its most potent offenses - including MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers. If the Colts can beat a playoff-caliber opponent at home today, they could be squarely in the driver’s seat for that 10-win target. If the Titans fall to the Ravens today, it would break the tie in the AFC South and set Indianapolis up to put a big stamp on the division when they face Tennessee for a second time in a week.
Pressure Aaron Rodgers
If Aaron Rodgers spend much of the afternoon in a clean pocket and has time to scan the field, the Colts defense will struggle. The return expected return of Kemoko Turay could prove key in this matchup, particularly with Denico Autry out on the COVID-19 list. His teammates Tyquan Lewis and Al-Quadin Muhammad will also be asked to play a big role.
Arguably no player is a bigger key to this working than DeForest Buckner. Asking more out of one of the best and most consistent defenders on the team might seem unreasonable. However, defensive player of the year candidates show out in big games and an explosion from Buckner today could make the difference.
Force Green Bay to be one dimensional
One of the most powerful aspects of the Packers offense is that it has incredible balance. Aaron Jones has been one of the most productive running backs in the NFL for a few years now and is among a short list of dominant running backs the Colts face this season. While Jones is not like Derrick Henry physically, his impact on a game can be just as big and slowing him down will disrupt what the Packers want to do on offense.
Backup Jamaal Williams has also been very productive this season when he has had to step in for Jones. This isn’t a one weapon backfield and it will require discipline from this defense.
Run the Damn Ball
Arguably the most important key to the game for the Colts is finding a way to establish the running game. In Tennessee, Nyheim Hines had a breakout effort and made big impacts on the ground and through the air. He should still be a key part of the offensive game plan but this is a prime opportunity for rookie Jonathan Taylor.
Taylor will be playing the Packers, who have a strong Wisconsin Badgers fan contingency, and he will be going against a defense that has been absolutely gashed in its losses this season. The Minnesota Vikings are not a better football team than the Indianapolis Colts. Dalvin Cook is certainly a better running back than Indianapolis has but Taylor has the same kind of home run potential.
This is a big opportunity for the rookie. Two weeks in a row with light loads, some learning/coaching moments have had a chance to set in, and at some point he’ll need to show some of the potential fans were expecting. He may not get a better opportunity this season.
Establishing the running game will keep the clock moving, keep the Packers defense on the field, and importantly keep Rodgers on the sideline.
Win the turnover battle
Rodgers has been incredibly efficient this season and limited his mistakes. This is arguably the toughest defense he will have faced this season. He is due to make a mistake and the Colts are a defense that thrives on picking off passes.
Xavier Rhodes is highly familiar with Rodgers and his tendencies after spending seasons in Minnesota. Darius Leonard has chosen to take issue with the face that Rodgers identified Fred Warner as the best linebacker in the NFL. Julian Blackmon has been quiet for a few weeks in terms of big pass breakups or an interception.
This defense has a lot of unique characteristics that can bit Rodgers if he gets too comfortable. Don’t be surprised to see Matt Eberflus throw in a few wrinkles in this one to make something big happy.