Vikings vs. Colts Preview: Opponent Q&A With SI's AllColts
The Vikings are entering Week 2 in desperate need of a victory, but the same can be said about their opponent. The Colts are also 0-1 after a disappointing loss to the Jaguars, so the sense of urgency should be high on both sides during Sunday's game in Indianapolis.
To find out more about the Colts – who the Vikings haven't faced since a blowout home loss in 2016 – I posed five questions to Phillip B. Wilson of SI's AllColts.
Philip Rivers threw for a bunch of yards in the loss to the Jaguars last Sunday, but he also had two ugly interceptions and a third one that was overturned by penalty. How much concern is there about his aggressive nature and, more broadly, his ability to lead the Colts to victories this season?
Rivers kind of shrugs and doesn't seem concerned. The Colts say don't worry. Head coach and new Rivers apologist Frank Reich said one of them was his fault because he called the wrong formation. Optimistic fans point to career stats and say the greatest passers had a lot of interceptions. But strip away all the reassurances and positive spin, and I've told fans there's a reason for concern. Rivers wasn't sacked in Week 1. He didn't see a lot of pressure. But on the few times that the Jaguars got in his face, the 38-year-old gunslinger – who can recognize every possible defense, gets rid of the ball quickly, and isn't supposed to try to be a hero – reverted to attempting risky throws to targets who weren't open. T.Y. Hilton was double-covered on the supposed Reich wrong-formation call. Parris Campbell was expected to get in front of the defender and reach a spot that Rivers anticipated. Uh, that means he was covered. And a huge chunk of Rivers' passing yards were on 17 completions for 142 yards to running backs. This offense can't thrive off screens and dump-offs forever. Anybody who isn't at least concerned is wearing blinders or just not paying attention.
What do you expect the Colts' backfield usage to look like without Marlon Mack? Will it be mostly Jonathan Taylor or Nyheim Hines who steps up?
Taylor is supposed to be the starter now, but after seeing how much the Colts used Hines in the opener, it won't be surprising if there's an equal workload share. Hines had a TD rushing and receiving. While once considered a third-down back because of his speed and elusiveness in the open field, the Colts got off to a good start – they should have been up 14-0 instead of 7-0 – because the Jaguars had trouble with Hines. Taylor didn't enter until the second quarter after Mack got hurt, but the second-round selection has power and speed. His 35-yard screen reception showed both. He ran past two tacklers, then slammed into two others and added about 7 yards after contact at the end. The Colts struggled to run the ball, especially in short-yardage situations, so some fans were disappointed by Taylor gaining just 22 rushing yards in nine carries, but he's the real deal. Reich said another of his coaching mistakes in Week 1 was not calling more run plays. Expect to see a lot of Taylor rushes, presuming he's successful, on Sunday. Hines will get his share of touches, too. Jordan Wilkins will also get some.
What went wrong defensively in the loss to the Jaguars?
In two of the last three games dating back to last season, opposing quarterbacks had only one incompletion. Yeah, Gardner Minshew II last week, and Drew Brees in Week 16 in December. That's because a Colts secondary that plays a lot of zone and doesn't man up on pass-catchers until inside the 30 was too soft. So although Minshew was sacked four times, when he threw it was usually to guys who were wide open. DJ Chark Jr. beat a double team that didn't react. Rookie Laviska Shenault Jr. made safety Malik Hooker look silly on a simple stop-and-go route over the middle. Keelan Cole ran away from Xavier Rhodes on a crossing route. Cole couldn't have been more wide open. Rhodes, the former Vikings All-Pro cover guy, had a dubious debut. The Colts defensive line is improved with All-Pro defensive tackle DeForest Buckner playing the three-technique and drawing double teams. But unless the secondary contests receivers more closely and takes some chances in coverage, stopping offenses will rely too much on the pass rush. Expect to see more man coverage, for better or for worse, unless defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus is stubborn and convinced his zone schemes will work and needs to be reminded again why they often don't.
On a similar note, everyone knows about the talents of Darius Leonard and DeForest Buckner. Who else needs to step up on that side of the ball for the Colts to win on Sunday?
Leonard had nine tackles and Buckner six. Respectable games, but no impact plays. Both say they need to be better. That's going to be difficult if Buckner is facing constant double teams. The team that doesn't double him enough will pay for it. He's a beast. And Leonard is an All-Pro who does everything well, so I'm not worried about him. I'm still looking at that secondary. Hooker didn't have his 2021 option picked up because of his inconsistency. A former first-round pick can't get embarrassed by a rookie on a simple move. Safety Khari Willis was late to arrive on Chark, while T.J. Carrie was underneath and stopped moving while staring at the quarterback. How can either player be guilty of this against the Jaguars' best receiver? And if Rhodes is going to prove he's worth more than the $3 million the Colts paid him in a one-year, prove-it deal, he can't have mistakes like the TD pass to Cole or a pass-interference penalty that wasn't needed because he was in position to make a play.
Prediction time. Which team gets its first win of the season this weekend in Indy?
The confidence level in this prediction isn't high. Both teams can't afford to lose. The home-field advantage is negated because Lucas Oil Stadium will have no more than 2,500 fans in the stands. If nothing else, this game should be fun to watch because there will be a lot of points scored. The Vikings humbled Rivers in a 39-10 road rout of the Chargers last year, when the quarterback threw three interceptions and had a sack-fumble returned for a score. The Colts have a stronger offensive line than the Chargers, but the hunch is history will repeat itself if the Vikings get enough pressure. If for no other reason than wishful thinking, because an 0-2 start would crush the fan base's belief in the Colts being an improved team, the suggestion is Colts 34-27. But I won't be the least bit surprised if it's the other way around.
Make sure to bookmark this site and check back daily for the latest Vikings news and analysis. Also, click the follow button in the upper right-hand corner of this page (mobile users, tap the bell icon – you may have to click ‘News’ first), leave comments below, and follow me on Twitter.