In many ways, the Indianapolis Colts have quite a few similarities to the Minnesota Vikings. They are a team that many projected to be a playoff contender, but have seen their 2016 season sidetracked by injuries along the offensive line and to key players at other positions.
When you talk about the Colts, the conversation starts with quarterback Andrew Luck. A former No. 1 overall pick, Luck has become one of the game’s top quarterbacks, but has been battling shoulder injuries that caused him to miss one game and be limited in practice in the two games since. Still, he remains one of the most dangerous quarterbacks in the league. In the 12 games he has played, he has thrown for 3,381 yards with 25 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He has thrown two or more touchdowns in eight of those games and has at least one in all of them. The problem, which will be laid out below, is that he has been sacked 37 times – two or more times in 10 games and five or more in four games. Keeping him upright has been a problem that likely won’t be cured this season.
The running game in Indianapolis has leaned heavily on 12-year veteran Frank Gore. No other running back on the team has more than 31 carries. Gore has 208 carries, with 15 or more in eight games. As the Vikings attempt to make the Colts offense one-dimensional, stopping Gore will be the key because he is almost the exclusive running threat in the Indy backfield.
The receiver corps will be a bit shorthanded because starter Donte Moncrief is out with a hamstring injury, which creates a dilemma because it leaves the number of healthy wide receivers down to three – T.Y. Hilton, Phillip Dorsett and undrafted rookie Chester Rogers. Hilton is clearly the centerpiece of the pass offense. He has 78 receptions for 1,203 yards and six touchdowns. His receptions are only one less than the next two Indy receivers combined and 11 more than other three wideouts on the roster combined.
Few teams throw to tight ends as often as the Colts, as much by necessity as design. Dwayne Allen and Jack Doyle have combined to catch 76 passes for 825 yards and nine touchdowns. Both are used extensively, especially in the red zone, so the Vikings linebackers and safeties will have to pay special attention to their contribution to the Indianapolis offense. If not, they will get burned by them.
As stated earlier, the biggest problem on the Colts is the same as it has been with the Vikings – injuries along the offensive line. At the start of training camp, the intention was to have Anthony Castonzo and Denzelle Good at the tackles, Jack Mewhort and Hugh Thornton at guard and first-round rookie Ryan Kelly at center. Then the injuries hit.
Both guards, Mewhort and Thornton, have been placed on injured reserve – forcing backup Jonathan Harrison into the left guard spot, sliding Good from right tackle to right guard and slotting fifth-round rookie Joe Haeg at right tackle. Already shorthanded on the line, the Colts will be without Good on Sunday because he is in the concussion protocol. The problem with that is that the Colts depth chart lists just two guards and with one of them out, they’re going to need to fill in with yet another backup.
The reason the Colts are struggling to get to .500 is because their defense has struggled badly. In their first nine games, Indy allowed 26 or more points in seven of them. They have the 29th-ranked defense – 24th against the run and 26th against the pass. They can be had in both realms of defense, allowing teams can run on them and throw on them.
The Colts run a 3-4 defense, but will be without defensive tackle Arthur Jones, leaving rookie Hassan Ridgeway and nose tackle David Parry as the only healthy starters. They haven’t been able to consistently maintain the line of scrimmage and running backs have feasted on them all season.
The second line of defense is headed up by veteran Robert Mathis, but he has slowed a step and in no longer the pass-rushing beast he was in previous year. The new top pass rusher is Erik Walden, who leads the team with eight sacks – almost one-third of the 25 sacks the Colts have recorded this season. This is more of a coverage group than an attacking unit and teams routinely pepper them with short passes.
The strongest unit of the defense is the secondary. Vontae Davis is one of the best corners in the league, but has battled injuries that have caused him to miss time during the season. Opposing quarterbacks have tried to pick on cornerback Patrick Robinson. Safeties Mike Adams and T.J. Green are solid, but not great, and too often show up a step late on deep passes, which helps explain why opposing quarterbacks have a passer rating of 97.2 – throwing 23 touchdowns with just seven interceptions.
The Colts are what their record says they are – a team that likely has to score 28 points or more and can’t accomplish that with any consistency. They are not to be taken lightly – they’ve won three of their six road games, including a win in Green Bay last month – but this is a team that can be had if teams don’t make critical mistakes against them.
As the Vikings try to continue their late-season push for a playoff spot, beating Indianapolis won’t be as easy as it should have been last week against Jacksonville, but the Colts are a banged-up team that can be taken down.