Colts Face Packers, Emotions, in their Week 5 Match-up

NFL Teams view the bye week as a chance to correct mistakes and get healthy. Unfortunately for these New Era Colts, they find themselves in a position far too familiar for their fans: exiting the bye in worse shape than they entered it. Not only will the team be without their top-2 LGs, Seth Olsen and the supposedly-still-living Joe Reitz, not only will they be without their #2 and #3 CBs, Vontae Davis and Justin King, but they will also be missing the  man in charge of leading this New Era, of building the monster, their head coach and teacher, Chuck Pagano, as he finds himself fighting not for wins and losses, but for his life.

As Coach Pagano fights Leukemia off the field, how his young team responds to his absence on the field will go a long way to determining how successful their 2012 campaign is.

Will they be able to harness the emotions they’re experiencing and use that energy to enhance their performance? Will they be able to play in a physical, up-tempo, controlled manner for 60 minutes? Will their desire to win one for their coach inspire them to overcome their more talented opponent?

Or will they find themselves in a situation all too familiar to young teams: overcome with emotions, so amped up that they find themselves playing out of their comfort zone? If so, we should expect to see the tell-tale signs: blown defensive assignments from over pursuit, dropped passes as receivers try to run before they catch the ball, and, most importantly, penalties, lots and lots of penalties. If the Colts find themselves overwhelmed by the emotions of the moment, it’s likely that they’ll find themselves being blown out by a Packers team looking to prove itself after a shaky opening to their 2012 season.

The 2012 Colts are learning the same lesson the 2005 Colts learned: there are more important things in life than football. They’ll take the field on Sunday – and every week until the season ends – looking for a win, but the outcome of those games is secondary to the life and health of Chuck Pagano. If the Colts can learn how to keep things in perspective, find a way to harness their emotions, not only in this situation, but in every challenge they face in the future, and if they can learn how to perform to the best of their abilities through all of it, that will be the biggest victory of their season.

Three Keys to a Colts Victory:

1. Block Clay Matthews. Andrew Luck has already proven that if he’s given time, he’ll make good things happen. The best way to give him time on Sunday would be to give the entire Packers defense ex lax-laced donuts for breakfast. Since stunts like these only occur in National Lampoon’s movies (and my brain), the Colts will apparently have to find more conventional ways of protecting their quarterback.

Against Green Bay, that starts and ends with blocking Matthews. Stopping the pass rush specialist is hard for most teams, but the Colts will find this task especially tricky as they trot out an offensive line held together with duct tape, beer bellies, and bubble gum wishes. Interim HC Bruce Arians has shown a dislike for pass blocking with more than his 5 OLmen, but reconsidering that strategy and mixing in a few max protect plays might help Luck and the Colts hit some big plays down field.

The other way for Arians to slow down Matthews and the Packers pass rush would be to mix in more screens and draws, which take advantage of the defense’s over-eagerness to kill poor Andrew Luck. Unlike his protection schemes, this is one area in which Arians has seemed to improve since the week 1 loss at Chicago. If Arians can find the right balance on play calling and protection schemes, Luck and his offensive skill players are good enough to have success against the Packers defense.  If he can’t find that right balance, Luck and the Colts offense could be in for a long, frustrating day.

2. Contain Aaron Rodgers. Phew, that was easy. Colts should win this one going away. Next?

Okay, so it won’t be quite that easy. Sure, the defending NFL MVP has gotten off to a slow start, but that’s more about strength of schedule and strength of offensive line more than any diminished skills on his part. Rodgers is still the best QB in the league, and he’ll be very successful in exploiting the weaknesses in the Colts inconsistent defense.

The biggest of these weaknesses will be the Colts secondary. Already the weakest group on the team, the Colts now find themselves in the position of having to face the potent GB Offense without their 2nd- or 3rd-best CBs, as both Vontae Davis and Justin King are nursing injuries. The Colts will catch a minor break as GB WR Greg Jennings will miss Sunday’s game with a groin injury, but WRs Jordy Nelson, James Jones, and TE Jermichael Finley will be more than good enough to take advantage of whomever the Colts decide to sacrifice opposite CB Jerraud Powers.

So the Colts’ best hope for containing Rodgers and the Packers offense will come in the pass rush, which gets a boost with the return of OLBDE Dwight Freeney. If Freeney and Robert Mathis can attack Rodgers and the GB OL even half as well as the Seattle Seahawks did in week 3, the Colts defense has a chance for a successful outing. With that in mind, look for the Colts to attack early and often, employing multiple blitzes and stunts in an effort to free their pass rushing duo on as many plays as possible.

While some may say, ‘doesn’t blitzing make you vulnerable on the backend’, the Colts should realize, “Our 4th-string CB and Tom Zbikowski are starting in our secondary, we’re already vulnerable,” and, with that realization in mind, should attack Rodgers and the Packers with reckless abandon.

3. Don’t let KR/PR Randall Cobb have a big day. This is all falls on the leg of Pat McAfee. The Colts special teams, as they were from 1998-2011, are a weak point of the team. McAfee’s high, booming punts and kickoffs go a long way to covering up that weakness. Cobb is a dynamic, electrifying player, and if the Colts hope to prevent a back-breaking return from him, they’ll need McAfee and his boomstick to have their best game of the season.

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