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Colts face new challenge against rested Saints

Cleveland Browns v Indianapolis Colts
Indianapolis Colts nickel Kenny Moore II (23) and defensive end Dayo Odeyingbo (54) sack Cleveland Browns quarterback P.J. Walker at Lucas Oil Stadium — October 22, 2023
Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

The Indianapolis Colts face the New Orleans Saints Sunday in Week 8 at Lucas Oil Stadium.

The Saints have struggled inside the red zone all season, converting just nine of its 24 red zone drives into touchdowns, which is tied for the fourth-worst percentage (37%) in the NFL. New Orleans offense additionally ranks 28th in yards per play and rushing yards per play.

“Each week that is a critical part,“ Colts defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said during Tuesday’s zoom meeting. “All of those situations – red zone, third down, our ability to affect the quarterback – all of those are big components in it, so it will be no different. We know that teams can catch fire. I know they have got a nice little package that they use down there. We have a lot of respect for them.”

Saints running back Alvin Kamara has been ineffective inside the red zone ever since returning from his three-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. On 13 carries, the five-time pro bowler has rushed for just 21 yards with one touchdown, averaging just 1.2 yards per rush.

In the same condensed space, Saints quarterback Derek Carr has been unable to get on the same page with his receiving corps, completing just 14-of-36 pass attempts. Inside the 20-yard line, Chris Olave leads the Saints with three receptions on seven targets for one touchdown. Michael Thomas has caught just two passes on nine intended targets for one touchdown and Rashid Shaheed has one catch for a touchdown on just three targets. Then there’s Taysom Hill, with one rushing touchdown on nine carries and zero receptions on two targets.

“They have a lot of threats down there,“ Bradley said. “Their ability to run the ball (and) the ability to throw the ball. It will be a challenging group to defend.”

The Colts lead the NFL with 48 tackles for loss and five strip-sacks, engineered by linebacker Zaire Franklin with an NFL-best 88 tackles. His 33 defensive stops – essentially a tackle that equates to a failed offensive play – are tied for the most in the NFL.

Indianapolis’ secondary was already thin from the perimeter after cornerback Dallis Flowers suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in Week 4. Rookie CB JuJu Brents injured his quad during Sunday’s loss and currently does not have a timetable to return.

Julian Blackmon led all safeties during Week 7 with a 91.4 Pro Football Focus defensive grade – including a 90.3 coverage grade – and his 17 defensive stops are tied for the most among all safeties this season. Kenny Moore II leads all CBs with 36 tackles, including seven tackles for loss.

The Colts most recent affair against the Cleveland Browns produced eight lead changes, which was the most in any NFL game over the last four seasons. In the aftermath of Grover Stewart’s six-game suspension for violating league policy on performance-enhancing substances, Indianapolis signed defensive tackle Ross Blacklock to the practice squad Tuesday to add much needed interior depth.