Eyes in the Backfield – Lions

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It’s been a humiliating year for Rod Marinelli in Detroit

Last week’s game finally produced a long awaited blowout, and now with the playoffs on the line the Colts are visited by another of the worst franchises in professional sports. The Detroit Lions are threatening to become the first team in NFL history to successfully complete a regular season without managing to fall ass-backwards into even one win.  Can the Colts keep their roll going?  This week watch for:

1.  Watch for the Cover-No One.  The Lions run a Cover-2 scheme, but have struggled to get pressure on the QB and struggled to cover the wide receivers.  They are allowing an opponent’s passer rating of 108.  Yikes.  Of course, they might have more success if they weren’t starting “Hole in the Zone” at corner.

2.  Watch for mistaken identity.  Najeh Davenport was signed to return kicks this week.  He pranked the reporters by pointing out another player and calling him Najeh, and as the 6th different player to return a ‘real’ kick off (non-squib) for the Colts this year, it’ll be understandable if the fans behind us identify him as Simpson, or Frenchy, or even Terrence Wilkins.  Yeah, they don’t pay very close attention.

3.  Watch the Bermuda triangle.  The space between Freeney, Mathis, and Brackett has been a black hole of death for DTs for several seasons.  Now, with Keyunta Dawson already out, Eric Foster has been IRed ending a promising rookie season.  Call it the curse of Corey Simon if you want, but the Colts have got to find a way to keep DTs on the field.

4.  Watch the MVP race.  The key game is Warner vs Peterson.  If neither player has a dominant game, then the door is open for Peyton to put a stranglehold on the race with a 4 or 5 TD day.  The only knock on Manning has been that his stats are down.  We’ve shown for weeks that this isn’t true, but Manning’s passer rating is still below 90.  A big day would lift his numbers into the range where no one can argue his candidacy.

 
5.  Watch the Pittsburgh game.  It never hurts to think ahead.  There is a theory brewing that the Colts might be better off with Pittsburgh as the 6th seed.  No one wants to play at Heinz Field again.  Also, Pittsburgh might be able to play road warrior setting up a #5 vs. #6 AFC title match at Lucas Oil.  A Baltimore loss is better in the short term (brings the Colts closer to clinching), but might not serve the team in the long run.  (Notice that the last two items don’t involve the game against the 0 – 13 Lions?  This is not a coincidence.)
 
6.  Watch the freak.  Calvin Johnson is putting up silly numbers considering he has no quarterback.  He is averaging 18.8 yards per catch and is second in the league with 9 touchdowns.  Don’t be surprised if Detroit’s gameplan involves numerous jump-ball-prayers to the young talent. 

He always seems to come up with at least one garbage time TD.

 
7.  Watch the surge continue.  The Colts are soaring up the sack rankings after strong defensive outings against Cleveland and Cincinnati.  They are now 20th in the league with 24 sacks.  That ranking could improve 5 to 7 spots on Sunday because Detroit has given up a league worst 49 sacks. 

8.  Watch for three quarters.  The Colts have to go on the road for a Thursday night game against Jacksonville, and that will make them more inclined to rest players in the fourth quarter.  If the Horse has a big lead, look for backups to get time early.

9.  Watch for payback.  Buster Davis has openly stated that he’s anxious to face off against his former team.  He was fairly invisible against Cincinnati, and will have to make the most of his time in the spotlight if he wants playing time next year, as Gary Brackett says he’ll be back soon.

10.  Watch for the ghost of Millen.  Rod Marinelli will invariably lose his job because of the complete train wreck that has been this season, but ultimately it is deposed GM Matt Millen who destroyed this team.  Other than the Thanksgiving Day Debacle, the Lions have mostly played hard.  They have no answer at the QB position, and while a win or two would have made the season better cosmetically, they need more than just a new coach.  The entire roster is deeply lacking.

11.  Watch the run game.  Regardless of who plays on the O line come Sunday, the Colts have to show they can run the ball.  The Lions feature the worst run D in the NFL, and there is no excuse for Dom Rhodes not going for 100 yards.  The running game doesn’t have to be brilliant, but it must be at least marginally effective.   The backs have struggled so badly that Dom needs 35 yards tomorrow to put him AND Addai over 1000 yards as a combo.  Against the Lions, it should be clicking.

12.  Don’t watch for a trap.  Some in the media have tried to foster the idea that this is a ‘trap game for the Colts.  Generally, for a game to be a trap game it must be sandwhiched between tough games, or come right before a brutal stretch.  The Colts desperately need this win to make the playoffs, and know that every win counts.  Indy has never been particuarly vulnerable to trap games anyway, and there is no reason to expect them to not show up this week.

13.  Watch for 1000.  Reggie Wayne has struggled in recent weeks, but still only needs 78 yards to go over 1000 for the season.  Watch for him to get to 1000 and secure another Pro Bowl nod later in the week.

14.  Watch for garbage.  Detroit actually throws for more yards a game (183) than several previous Indy opponents (Baltimore, Cleveland, Cincinnati).  Many of these yards have come in the second half when opposing defenses are content to give up yards underneath.  The Colts might be susceptible to cheap yards if they rest defensive starters like Mathis and Freeney.      

15.  Watch for a ton of points.  No shocker here:  Detroit has given up fewer than 20 points just once this season.  They’ve allowed 30 or more points eight different times.   

16.  Watch for very few points.  The Colts have given up 30 field goals, third most in the league.  But they have given up just 23 touchdowns, fourth in the league.  They have allowed fewer touchdowns than Tennessee’s acclaimed defense, when you account for interception returns (3) and fumble returns (1) allowed by the offense.   

17.  Watch for Orlovsky.  Culpepper is doubtful for Sunday.  So enjoy watching Orlovsky.  He’s positively Orlovskian.

 
18.  Watch for revenge.  The Christians and the lions have a testy history going back some 1900 years, but tomorrow watch for Tony Dungy to avenge the martyrs by having his club slaughter the Lions in the arena 38-7.  Demond is eyeing a 41 – 16 victory.
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