The Colts head into week two with a lot of questions to answer. They fell flat in areas that were viewed as strengths, and their injury report is concerning. To make matters worse, they will get no kind of break in their matchup, as they’ll host a Los Angeles Rams team that looked primed to roll in week one.
To get an idea of what exactly we’re facing as we head into I reached out to Kenneth Arthur of Turf Show Times to get some answers to a few questions. Additionally, I answered some of his questions, which you can read here. Here’s what Kenneth had to say.
The Rams have seemed like an organization primed to step into the top echelon of football since “wonder kid” (Ted Lasso anyone?) Sean McVay stepped into the head coaching role. They’ve flirted with greatness, but haven’t quite been the dominant force it seemed they were destined to be. Then this offseason they added Matthew Stafford. How much of a game changer is Stafford at QB?
Though it isn’t your question, I have to first address the part about McVay: It’s amazing — beyond amazing — the Sean McVay got the Rams to within striking distance of a Super Bowl championship only two seasons after going 4-12. Yes, the following two seasons have been disappointing by comparison, but consider the THIRTEEN seasons prior to McVay’s arrival in 2017 and the fact that the Rams hadn’t posted a winning record since 2003. The fact that he also did it with Jared Goff puts McVay in exceptionally rare and elite territory as a head coach, in my opinion.
Do I think Goff held back the Rams the last two years? It’s a team sport, but yes.
Do I think that Stafford will make McVay better and that McVay will help make Stafford better? Yes.
I fully expect the Rams to be a high-scoring, high-flying, fast, difficult-to-defend passing attack for as long as Stafford remains healthy in the foreseeable future. I know that there’s always talk of Stafford’s availability, but the reality is that outside of back surgery in 2019, he hasn’t missed any other games since 2010. So I’m all in on Stafford and Week 1 was a hell of a beginning, as he posted career-highs in passer rating, yards per attempt, and net yards per attempt. After 12 years, Stafford just had his best statistical performance and the Rams scored a legit 34 points for what felt like the first time in forever.
If you were the defensive coordinator tasked with slowing down Sean McVay’s prolific offense, how would you attempt to do it?
I hate to put myself in the shoes of people who know what they’re doing with Xs and Os, because I certainly do not, but from a rudimentary point of view, I might try and take away Stafford’s deep shots as much as I can. Stafford went 5-of-7 on throws 20 or more yards downfield on Sunday, gaining 197 yards and 2 TDs on those throws. We know that the previous offense couldn’t throw deep with Goff, so LA specialized in winning matchups closer to the line of scrimmage. Perhaps a strong run defense and testing the Rams in the box would take them out of doing what they want to do right now, which is spread open defenses with long-range passes to Cooper Kupp, Van Jefferson, Tyler Higbee, Robert Woods, and DeSean Jackson. That’s one issue with defending the Rams right now though: in addition to finally having a QB, they also have a deep arsenal. However, Darrell Henderson’s abilities as a three-down back are questionable and because Cam Akers was lost for the year, Henderson has been the only option really. Trade acquisition Sony Michel played a couple of snaps in Week 1 and I expect to see more of him in Week 2, but the Colts might be able to stop the run there, and I definitely think that C Brian Allen against DT DeForest Buckner is going to be a huge mismatch opportunity for Indianapolis. I’m just not too concerned about whether Stafford can perform under pressure.
Likewise, if you had to take the reins from Frank Reich calling the offensive plays against the Rams defense, what is your plan?
Likewise from me, “Yikes!”
I would say that right now the focus is on whether or not LA can stop the run if they really want to. Bears RB David Montgomery slashed a 41-yard run early in the game and continued to fight for tough yards throughout. But the Rams weren’t playing that tough in the box, regularly giving those opportunities to Chicago and forcing them to beat them downfield if they could — they couldn’t. Andy Dalton, you get it.
It’ll be important for Indy’s stout defense to get wins and force punts (obviously) because I trust the Rams’ defense, which ranked first in many key categories in 2020, to not get beat for many explosive plays. Jalen Ramsey had one of his strongest performances as a Ram in Week 1 and he will be moving all over the field, covering whoever Indy’s best option is, probably. Aaron Donald is still Aaron Donald too, so I wouldn’t expect many wins up the middle, though seeing him face off against Ryan Kelly and Quenton Nelson is an NFL fan’s dream matchup. LA has some question marks at linebacker too, because many of those players are untested as starters.
Last year rookie wide receiver Van Jefferson wasn’t a major factor in the offense. He racked up just 220 receiving yards and 1 touchdown on 19 receptions for the season. In week one this year Jefferson had 2 catches for 80 yards and a touchdown. Is he primed to see a major second year leap with Stafford dealing the ball?
It was difficult to assess Jefferson’s progress in 2020 because the Rams didn’t feel they had a great place for him. McVay hesitates to play rookies over veteran, experienced players, and that was clearly evident in 2021 too: The Rams have nine rookies on the 53-man roster but the only one I expect to see on offense or defense would be fourth round CB Robert Rochell. Second round WR Tutu Atwell is FIFTH on the WR depth chart (you might see him return a punt, but he’s new to that position) and everyone else is either on special teams, a backup, on a reserve list, or on the practice squad.
Last season, Jefferson was behind Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, and Josh Reynolds, while Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett also had to get their targets before Jefferson. Now Reynolds is in Tennessee, Everett is in Seattle, and Jefferson appears to be the new number three. The fact that his QB now throws it deep — a better specialty for Jefferson, perhaps — is another aspect that won’t hurt or slow down a potential breakout campaign. The only “issue” for Jefferson remains the fact that he’ll be behind Woods, Kupp, and Higbee in pecking order. I would expect Jefferson, whose father Shawn Jefferson was an NFL receiver and is currently the WR coach for the Cardinals, to have weeks when he potentially leads the Rams in yards. But I’d also expect weeks when we don’t hear from him at all. However, the days of him not being in the game plan appear to be over, so long as he keeps catching those passes that come his way. He’s been hyped up in training camp each of the last two years and really we haven’t seen anything on the field yet that would give me pause about his abilities. No drops or anything like that. He seems good!
Everyone talks about Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey, and understandably so. However, this is a far more talented defense than just two guys. Who are some of the other defensive players Colts fans need to watch for that they may not be familiar with?
Leonard Floyd is the third-highest paid and third-most famous player on the defense. He had 10.5 sacks in 2020, but a lot of those came in three of his games, and I’d say he didn’t show up much in at least half of the contests. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t there, it just means that I think he was kind of forgotten about and that’s not necessarily what you want from your second-best pass rusher. Floyd wasn’t heard from much in Week 1 either.
Darious Williams is the CB opposite of Ramsey (or alongside sometimes, as they can both play in the slot) and he might be LA’s version of Kenny Moore II; underrated and on his way to a big pay day.
Sebastian Joseph-Day is Donald’s right hand man and many are expecting a breakout season from the third-year defensive lineman.
Outside linebacker Justin Hollins had two sacks in Week 1. One of those was clearly courtesy of Donald, but Hollins is a legit player in his own right.
Second-year safety Jordan Fuller was the bright spot of the 2020 draft class and one guy who was starting for McVay from Week 1 of his rookie campaign. He calls plays on defense and despite being a sixth round pick (199, the Tom Brady special), Fuller’s a franchise cornerstone already.