12 Things to Watch for in Sunday's Colts-Raiders Game
Al Davis is gone…or is he?
It's the first game of the 2013 season, and what better way to celebrate than with the oldest of old hats…Eyes in the Backfield! All year long, we'll look at the most pressing issues surrounding the Colts' quest to return to the playoffs. So without further ado, here's what you should keep your eye on…
1. Watch the dawn. For all the fireworks from Andrew Luck last year, it was just the prelude. While it's exciting to have a new season of Colts football, the future of this team has less to do with the seven to ten wins the team collects and more to do with the evolution of the league's next great passer. Luck is the story. He's the story this and every week until the snow falls. My baseline expectations are 4200 yards passing, a 65% completion percentage, 28 touchdowns, 15 picks, and a top eight DVOA. Those numbers would get Indy into the postseason and establish Luck as the next passer to make the leap to title-contender in 2014. It was a short night in Naptown, so wake up, people. Indianapolis is about to become the Land of the Midnight Sun.
2. Watch for the big reveal. Ahmad Bradshaw is playing! For all the off- and preseason blather about running the ball, the Colts have shown about the same ability to run as well, say, an out-of-shape 37-year old sportswriter (or so I've been told by a friend). If there is to be a hidden gear to the Indy offense revolving around the run game, the addition of Bradshaw to the lineup had better reveal it. Otherwise, it'll be another 600+ passing attempt season for young Master Luck. Bradshaw is an accomplished back who has always been productive when healthy. If he can't produce behind this line, no one can.
3. Watch for the experiment. Terrelle Pryor is starting at quarterback for the Oakland Raiders. But Nate, you say, he earned the job fair and square in the preseason. Hmmm. 17-of-32 for 221, 1 TD, 2 INT. Those numbers are positively Painter-esque. Calling Pryor an experiment is like calling a four-year old who shaves the dog and lights the hair on fire to "see how it smells" a scientist. Very few decisions can virtually eliminate a team's chances of winning before kick off, but going with Pryor is one of them.
4. Watch for the limp. Indy has several key players who are all classified as probable this week. Bradshaw, Dwayne Allen, Coby Fleener and perhaps most importantly Anthony Castonzo practiced Thursday and are expected to start. As uneven as Castonzo is, given the putrescence of the rest of the Indy line, his presence has become an operational imperative for the Colts. The fact is that why they can't run effectively up the middle, Castonzo is a good run blocker and when pared with Allen, the team has a fighting chance of actually advancing the ball on the ground. If he's hobbled in either phase of the game, an upset could brew. I'm pretty sure his replacement is a cardboard cutout of Ron Solt. Or the real Jeff Linkenbach. Either one.
5. Watch the rotation. Darrius Heyward-Bey has been admittedly impressive in the preseason, but it's still unclear how his role and that of T.Y. Hilton will play out. Hilton told me that he doesn't care if he plays inside or out, but with Reggie Wayne getting most of the snaps in the slot, Hilton will apparently line up opposite Heward-Bey. Of course, we don't know how much he'll be on the field either. The trap with Heward-Bey comes if he plays just well enough to stay on the field, moving Hilton off the grid on a majority of snaps. The way the Indy offense fleshes itself out is still a mystery. It seems as if there are too many players to satisfy all at once.
6. Watch for the pressure. Maybe you didn't stay up to see it, but an old friend just dropped seven touchdowns on the defending champions. Last year's dream season took a lot of starch out of the Manning-Luck/New regime-Old regime debate, but these things have a way of resurrecting themselves. If the Colts take a step backward at the same time Manning goes bonkers in Denver, fan displeasure will rise. Chuck Pagano especially has a lot to prove. From an in-game standpoint, he's still a rookie coach. This team has got to win, and win early. Losses to teams like the Raiders, Dolphins or Jags in the first four games could spell disaster right from the start. All is well now, but that doesn't guarantee all will be well in a month.
7. Watch the press box. There will be plenty of room in it, but once again I won't be there. No one wants to hear me whine about how the Colts treat on-line journalists, I get that. Still, I received a huge professional honor this week for both blog coverage and column writing (the Luck piece linked in point one). My peers at the PFWA think I can write. As for the Indianapolis Colts? They are kicking off Year Seven of my Colts coverage with another unexplained refusal to credential me. Just putting it out there. Make of it what you will. Seats go unfilled by small-town papers who get passes but never send writers and on-line guys are shut out. I don't get it.
8. Watch for skeletons. Al Davis was one of the great football minds ever. Historically, his impact is underrated thanks to the long, painful way he carved the flesh off his franchise over the final decade of his life. Indy's own Darrius Heyward-Bey is an example of Al's handiwork. Normally, I'd make a zombie joke, but those are reserved for Bob Sanders (let the reader understand). So, do your best to be on the lookout for the undead skeleton army of Al. He's gone, but he's still ruining the franchise from beyond the grave. The withered corpse of JaMarcus Russell was going to show up, but it sounded like too much effort.
9. Watch the pass rush. If there is an advantage to the Colts' seemingly futile quest to develop a pass rush, it's that this week getting after Pryor may not matter. With a mobile, inaccurate quarterback, keeping him in the pocket and begging him to throw might just work. Now, that won't be so effective when Pey-pey (that's what I call him, deal with it), comes back to town, but for one week, it could be the winning strategy. Even so, if the Colts do show an ability to get after the quarterback, no one will complain. Even if it costs a few scrambling first downs, it would bode well for the rest of the year.
10. Watch for my mad tats. While it's not true that I have "18to88" stamped on my bicep or a drawing of Peyton on my thigh (yet), I am a well tatted-individual. You man not be aware, but the whole reason 18to88 was shut down by the NBAA (National Blogging Athletic Association), was that I traded stories for tats. Of course, now I've moved on to trading radio interviews for tequila, but that's allowed under NBAA guidelines. The blog got the death penalty, but I've moved on to a starting role at the next level. The consequence was that highly popular blogger Luke Dunlevy took the fall for the whole affair, though he temporarily took a job as a call screener for the Kravitz and Eddie show. He's still waiting for his next big-time job.
And that last paragraph still makes more sense than what happened to Pryor at Ohio State
11. Watch the Annual disappear. The Colts Authority Annual is only available through Sunday. It's $4.99 and it's spectacular. Remember that if you have any trouble ordering it, check the comments on the post for instructions. The book is an entertaining read, and it comes with a money back guarantee. You won't be disappointed.
12. Watch for the strong start. The Colts may or may not be an elite, but they are still significantly better than Oakland. I wouldn't take Indy by double digits over too many NFL squads, but the Raiders are the exception. With a fired-up home crowd, the Horse handles the Silver and Black with ease. Colts 24 Raiders 13.