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Week One Colts vs. Texans: What to Watch For

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Indianapolis Colts Robert Scheer-USA TODAY Sports

Not since 2018 have fans of the Indianapolis Colts had expectations as high as they are now. After last season ended in spectacular failure, Colts owner and CEO Jim Irsay demanded a different result for 2022, and everyone listened. Chris Ballard traded some draft picks and quarterbacks, and with Matt Ryan running the offense, Colts fans have reason to be excited. Let's take a look at some of the things we can expect to see in week one:

How quickly we forget. Early last year, fans of the Carolina Panthers were in a frenzy over the performance of Sam Darnold. Week one, he beat his old team and Albert Breer of SI all but told us things were going to go much better for Darnold in Carolina. After a week three TNF win over the Houston Texans, Panthers fans believed they found the guy.

I’m not saying the 2022 Houston Texans are like the 2021 Carolina Panthers. I am saying both are bad NFL teams and bad NFL teams have a way of playing good football early on in the season.

Texans coach Lovie Smith has enough experience in the NFL to be able to throw plenty of unscouted looks- things the Colts couldn’t have known to plan for, as a way to overcome the talent discrepancy between the two teams. It may or may not be enough for the Texans to get the upset in week one, but the boys from Houston will be ready to play inspired football on Sunday.

  • Another slow start for the Colts' offense?

Reich’s teams have always started slow, from 2018:

When you consider the Indianapolis Colts' slow starts on offense during the Frank Reich era, you don’t have to think too long or hard about why it’s happened. Five different quarterbacks in five years doesn’t lend itself well to quick cohesion in a complex offensive system. That said, when asked about the two losses at the end of last season, General Manager Chris Ballard talked about the Colts' 1-4 start with three 1-score losses to the Rams, Titans, and Ravens- a fair point to make.

As a result, Frank Reich took a different approach to preseason, playing his starters more than in years past. Suppose the Colts' offense hits the ground running. In that case, it might be the most impressive act of coaching we’ve seen from Reich, a man who has had four different QB’s in four seasons and a career win-loss percentage of .569, higher than Tony Dungy’s seven-year stint with the Buccaneers, higher than Chuck Noll- .566, higher than Jimmy Johnson- .556, higher than Brian Billick- .556, higher than Dennis Green- .546, higher than... you get it. I really like Frank Reich.

If the Colts can get off to a hot start, the sky is the limit for the 2022 Colts. If they don’t, I expect December to be much more exciting for Colts fans than any of us want it to be. The question is, can Frank Reich and Matt Ryan avoid another slow start in Indy?

  • Watch for Gus Bradley’s new defensive system

To the uninitiated, the 2022 Colts defense won’t look much different from the 2018-2021 Colts defenses under Matt Eberflus. But if you watch closely, you should notice a difference on the outside with corners playing tighter coverage. Along the defensive line, if things go remotely according to plan, the pass rush should be much more potent.

In the past, Eberflus’s system was focused on stopping the run, which meant that the pass rush suffered. You might have heard announcers call it a “mush rush,” which is a form of pass rush that ensures defenders maintain their rushing lanes so that the quarterback can’t escape. Matt Eberflus didn’t want his defensive ends flying around the edge, leaving a large gap for a quarterback to escape through, he didn’t want his defensive tackles shooting the wrong gap for the same reason.

Gus Bradley doesn’t believe in that.

Gus’ system calls for absolute penetration. Get upfield as quickly as possible and create mayhem behind the line of scrimmage. It’s part of the reason Grover Stewart has looked unblockable at times this preseason:

So the Colts cornerbacks should spend time disrupting routes while the defensive line pins their ears back and tries their best to meet at the QB. On the other end of this system is that long runs are more easily given up. The linebackers, without Shaq Leonard, will be busy in this new system.

  • Texans second-year quarterback Davis Mills

At first glance, this might not be something most Colts fans have on their mind going into the 2022 season, but the development of Davis Mills should be a major concern for fans of any team in the AFC South. A year ago, Mills surprised everyone by outperforming every rookie quarterback not named Mac Jones (another problem).

Because he was a third-round pick and he played for a team that only won four games, it’s pretty easy to brush off Davis Mills’ 2,664 yards, 16 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions and decide he isn’t very good, but we need to pump those brakes:

Mills entered the 2021 NFL draft after playing in just 14 college games, and that inexperience should have led to him struggling greatly early on in the NFL, but it didn’t. And now Mills has had a full offseason to prepare, but with more playing experience than he has ever had.

There is a chance Davis Mills is an average NFL quarterback, and there’s nothing to worry about as a fan of an AFC South team. But there’s also a very real chance Davis Mills is ready to take a huge leap forward and become the franchise quarterback the Texans hope he is. Keep an eye on Davis Mills and hope we aren’t dealing with him for the next 15 years.

  • The young guys!

Kwity Paye, Dayo Odeyingbo, Nick Cross, Alec Pierce, Jelani Woods, and Kylen Granson are all players that expect to have big roles on the Colts in 2022. The only player I don’t expect to see a healthy dose of in week one is Jelani Woods - rookie tight ends almost never produce early. Otherwise, Paye, Cross, and Pierce should all start, while Odeyingbo and Granson should see the field often rotating in.

Another guy to keep an eye on that has as much playing time as a second-year pro:

I’m not going to type the “I-word” he knows it, the coaches know it, Chris Ballard knows it, I know it, you, your best friend, and their mom knows why Parris Campbell hasn’t been on the field. While it seems foolish to hope for too much from the fourth-year receiver, it’s hard to argue seeing him out there on Sunday isn’t something to watch for.

On paper, this seems like it will be an easy win for the Indianapolis Colts, but no game in the NFL is ever easy. For all of Indy’s strengths, there are as many question marks surrounding the team, and the Texans aren’t going to wait for the Colts players and coaching staff to come up with the answers. I still expect a Colts win on Sunday, but there’s a reason they play the games.

Week one is upon us; football is back, and no matter what happens, nothing is as good or bad as it will seem after week one. Enjoy the ride, Colts fans.