This week I had the pleasure of speaking with Josh Wilson from StampedeBlue.com about our week 9 match-up between the Denver Broncos and the Indianapolis Colts. Read on for some great insights from Josh on what is going on with Indy this year.
1) For those in Broncos Country who don't follow Indy closely, can you give us your inside take on what is going on with Andrew Luck this year?
Andrew Luck has been awful this year. That's stunning to see after how good he was in his first three years in the league, but this year has been a disastrous one for Luck. I think there are a number of issues contributing to this (I hardly ever promote articles in these Q&As but we did an in-depth look at Luck's struggles this week that could be helpful in going deeper into what I say here).
The biggest issue is that Luck looks completely rattled and seems to have no confidence in himself or his arm, plus he has made some really stupid decisions. The most surprising part of Luck's struggles has been the lack of confidence that he displays on the field and it looks like he's now uncertain and indecisive. I don't know the reason behind this nor do I know what the Colts need to do to go about fixing it, but Luck looks rattled right now. There are other contributing issues too, though, such as injuries (which have likely plagued him pretty much all year), play calling and coaching (which is a big reason why they fired offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton this week), and the wide receivers' inability to get open. Some of these are bigger things than others, and the biggest one seems to be the stupid mistakes and lack of confidence displayed by the quarterback.
Luck still has the talent and has shown it at times this year, albeit rare and brief. I don't at all think that these are fatal flaws that will ruin his career, but they are legitimate issues that are present this year that have led to a terrible year from Luck. It's the biggest reason for the Colts' struggles as a team, as they're built totally around Luck, and when he doesn't look good then the rest of the team probably won't either. The Colts are still (amazingly) in line for a playoff spot thanks to the awful AFC South, and so while they may make the playoffs, their only hope of doing anything in the postseason is to get Andrew Luck going.
2) What changes to the offense do you expect to see with the recent coordinator change for Indianapolis?
Not much right away. It wasn't a surprise that the Colts fired Pep Hamilton, but the timing was a bit of a surprise since it came on a short week with the bye week following next week. As a result, there's really not the time to turn around and install a new system or anything close to that on a short week, so it's expected to be close to the same thing. The biggest thing that the Colts said they will work on is cleaning up and fine-tuning some things rather than completely changing them, while also putting players in a position to succeed.
Something many are interested in seeing is how Rob Chudzinski uses the tight ends, as the Colts have as talented of a tight end duo as any team in the NFL in Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener, but they have been very underutilized this year and Chudzinski has a long history of developing and using the tight end. So that could be something we see change.
Perhaps the biggest thing we could see is the Colts utilize the up-tempo offense more. That is when Luck and this offense have been most comfortable this year, and that's something the Colts have reportedly been wanting to do more of for a while. They've made a big deal about starting faster instead of waiting for a fourth quarter comeback attempt, so I think we could see some more up-tempo for the Colts on Sunday too. Overall, though, I don't think we'll see any major changes, if only because of it being a short week when they made the change.
3) Tell us about the Indianapolis defense. What are its strengths and weaknesses so far this year?
The stats don't tell the whole story about the Colts' defense because they've been put in a lot of bad situations by the offense with turnovers. With that said, though, there's a whole lot of average on this defense, some weaknesses, and few strengths.
Perhaps the biggest weakness of the defense is their pass rush, which has been largely nonexistent for much of this year. The hope entering this year, with the signing of Trent Cole and the emergence last year of Jonathan Newsome, was that a 34-year old Robert Mathis wouldn't have to carry the pass rush a year removed from a torn Achilles, but he's had to carry the pass rush. Mathis has slowly but surely seeing his snaps increase this year, and he's been their best and most consistent pass rusher this year. In short, this team really, really struggles to get any consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
I suppose if I'm looking at strengths, I'd identify two that can be strengths. Firstly, Vontae Davis is still very talented and has had a good year - nowhere near the elite level he was at last year, but he's still been good and still is dangerous to throw at. Secondly, the defensive line has been much better, as rookies Henry Anderson and David Parry, along with free agent signing Kendall Langford, have been better than expected and have helped the team this year. A lot of the strengths are inconsistent, however, and as I already mentioned, this defense has a lot of average. You can do a lot worse than this Colts' defense and a huge reason for their bad stats have to do with turnovers, but this isn't a great defense by any means.
4) Can you talk to us about a player or two from each side of the ball that may not be well known outside of Indy who should be and why?
Offensively, Donte Moncrief is a player to watch for sure. In the midst of a very disappointing season for the Colts' offense, Moncrief has been a bright spot. The second-year wide receiver has really taken strides forward and has become a legitimate receiving threat. He has caught 36 passes for 399 yards and five scores this year, averaging 11.1 yards per catch, and that's with a struggling quarterback. That puts him on pace for a 72 catch, 798 yard, ten touchdown season in his second year in the league, a big positive. He's been seeing a lot more reps as the team's number two wideout recently, and if T.Y. Hilton can't play on Sunday, Moncrief could draw the Broncos' attention as the most dangerous wideout on the Colts' offense. He's a guy to keep an eye on, for sure.
Defensively, Henry Anderson is a guy that isn't well-known but who has been having a very good season for the Colts. The rookie out of Stanford has started every game this year along the defensive line and has done very well, particularly in the run game. He's been able to get some pressure in the area of pass rush, but he's been very good when defending the run and blowing up plays. He's a guy to keep an eye on along the Colts' defensive line on Sunday.
5) What are the keys to the game for the Colts and what's your prediction for the game?
The biggest key to the game for the Colts is this: don't turn the football over. That always seems like a logical key to the game, but for this year's Colts, it's desperately needed. The offense has really struggled with this issue this year, and that has led to several things. Firstly, it has led to early deficits, like last week against the Panthers where the Colts turned the ball over on each of their first two drives and basically spotted the Panthers and early ten-point lead. The Colts can't afford to get behind early against a defense like the Broncos' so avoiding turnovers will help with that. Secondly, the turnovers have led to a bad spot for their defense. Take Monday night for example again, as 19 of the Panthers' 29 points came off of turnovers. Thirdly, the turnovers have been symbolic of the struggles of the offense overall. Stupid mistakes and decisions have most often been the cause of the turnovers, so if the Colts can cut down on those stupid mistakes, the turnovers will go down and the offense will look better. Of course, this is much easier said than done, but the Colts can't afford to turn the football over on Sunday and expect to be a good Broncos team.
As for a prediction, until the Colts show they can beat anyone outside of the AFC South, I can't pick them to upset an undefeated team. If Andrew Luck suddenly is cured of all his struggles then the Colts could certainly win, but I doubt we'll see a total turnaround. The Colts may be able to keep it closer than some expect, but I really don't see them winning.