Know Your Opponent: Colts Edition
Patrick D. Starr
It is that time again and we are closing in to the biggest game of the season with the Indianapolis Colts coming to Houston on Sunday. The prime time game will put the Texans on the spot against the AFC division leaders in the Colts.
Know Your Opponent
How will this team deal with the loss of Reggie Wayne?
Pray? I have no idea how they're going to do it. They didn't have the resources to make a trade after spending 2014 first and fourth-round picks on Trent Richardson (more on this later) and rookie Montori Hughes (traded up in the draft), who has yet to be active in a game. They've brought up Griff Whalen from the practice squad, who had a decent preseason as a slot receiver, and Darrius Heyward-Bey and Coby Fleener should see more looks in the middle of the field. But Luck doesn't trust anybody like he trusted Wayne, and how the Colts strategy changes on third down and in the red zone will be fascinating.
Of all the injuries the the Colts have suffered, which ones have had the biggest effect on the team?
The Colts now have five offensive starters on IR, but the biggest one was the injury to TE Dwayne Allen in Week 1. Allen had a phenomenal year as a rookie and showed an ability to be one of the league's best all-around tight ends. His all-around ability would have made him a perfect fit in Pep Hamilton's offense, and his absence has forced Coby Fleener into a role that doesn't really fit him. The Colts have managed fine on offense without him more often than not, but things would look much different with Allen healthy.
Robert Mathis has the respect of the Texans. Talk about what Mathis has done this season.
Mathis should have their respect as he's really the only every-down pass-rusher that the Colts have. Nobody else on the roster has shown a consistent ability to rush the passer, but Mathis has still managed to rack up 11.5 sacks in the first seven weeks. That includes a sack in six of the seven games, and multiple sacks in five of the seven. Without him, the Colts aren't 5-2. The secondary has improved tremendously, but without Mathis the Colts are nearly devoid of pass rush.
Andrew Luck is something all teams covet with his ability as a franchise quarterback. How has his progression as pro gone from year one to year two and are their any concerns with anything he does on the field?
Colts fans better not take this time for granted, that's all I can say. Luck's playing like one of the league's best quarterbacks in his sophomore campaign. He's most improved in his accuracy and pocket presence, in my opinion. Obviously the numbers back this up (completion percentage and sack rate are both down), but it's obvious in the film as well. Luck isn't missing open receivers this year and he has a better feel for when rushers are close, which has led to less turnovers in general. Earlier in the season, he didn't seem to be reading the field as well in this new offense, but those concerns have faded as of late.
With Wayne out, who picks up the slack? DHB or T.Y. Hilton?
I don't know, to be honest. T.Y. Hilton is the better player, but is very different from Wayne. DHB should get more looks in short-intermediate routes, which is where Wayne's production was. Actually, if anybody picks up the slack, it will probably be Coby Fleener. Hilton needs to continue to be a deep threat to spread the field, but at this point, nothing that Pep Hamilton does will surprise me.
Who are some surprising players who have stood out that you didn't expect this season?
Not many. Individually, the Colts have performed pretty much as expected (although Mathis' productivity has far exceeded expectations). As a unit, the defense has played much better than I expected, however. There have been several reasons for that. First, pass rush has been surprisingly effective. Mathis has been the main reason for this, but the interior line has been able to get enough push to make QBs uncomfortable with Mathis coming off the edge. At the second level, Jerrell Freeman has been playing phenomenally, especially when asked to spy the quarterback, which he did pretty often through the first seven games. Most importantly, however, the secondary has been fantastic, especially Vontae Davis. Davis has gotten a lot of attention for his game against the Broncos, when he held Demaryius Thomas in check, but he's been solid all season and the secondary is sixth in the league in passing DVOA as a result.
What are your initial thoughts of trading for Trent Richardson?
I hated it when it happened. I still hate it. I don't think I'm ever going to not hate it. Philosophically, the trade was stupid. You don't need to spend a first round pick on a running back. You just don't. Plus, running back wasn't the Colts' problem. Offensive line and defensive playmakers were bigger needs, and still are. Spending a first round pick on a running back was only going to make sense if that player was an AP-like talent. T-3.0 is not. So, not only was the whole philosophy behind the trade faulty, but Richardson has looked bad, so the trade looks three times worse. Out of the four halfbacks that have gotten snaps this year (Ballard, Bradshaw, Brown and Richardson), Richardson has looked the worst, by far. I hope he turns it around but I just don't see it happening. Not him, not with this offensive line.
Which rookies have made an impact for the Colts this season?
Not many, which is depressing. First round pick Bjoern Werner played in a few games, but tore his plantar fascia at the end of September and missed the last month. Third round pick Hugh Thornton has started in place of Donald Thomas (IR) for the last five games, but he's played like a rookie, unfortunately. The rest of the Colts rookies haven't seen the field yet this season.