Eyes in the Backfield: Raiders

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.

Eyes in the Backfield-Raiders

18 Things to Watch for During Sunday’s Colts Raiders Game

Well, uh…Ho ho yo ho ho

Last week, the Colts kept the season alive.  This week, they’ll head out to Oakland for a holiday battle with the Raiders.  The game may or may not mean anything, but the Colts have to treat it as a must win playoff game.  Put down your eggnog and watch for…

1.  Watch the pass rush.  The Raiders have 40 sacks on the season and rank second in adjusted sack rate for a defense.  The Colts have allowed a league low 15 sacks and have the best adjusted sack rate.  The team that wins this part of the matchup will likely win the game.  With Addai possibly playing on Sunday, he could be the difference as a blocker.

2.  Watch the turn around.  Darren McFadden is showing just how foolish it is to write a player off after just a season two. He has more yards and touchdowns this season than in his first two combined.  His yards per attempt are up by almost two yards over last year.

3. Watch the Jags.  If Jacksonville loses to Washington in the early game, this game with Oakland means exactly zero for Indy’s chances of making the playoffs.  If the Jags win, this game becomes a desperation game for Indy who doesn’t want to give up control of their destiny.

4.  Watch the passenger list.  The nice thing about road games is that we find out Saturday night who made the trip for the Colts.  Joe Addai is back at practice, but CJ, Hayden, and Session were all limited.  Those that fly to Oakland have a good chance to play.

5.  Watch the great deal.  The Richard Seymour trade was panned by experts who thought the Pats were giving up an old guy for a top 5 pick.  The Pats have sorely missed Seymour, and Oakland’s 7 wins already put them in the middle of the first round instead of the top.  Seymour has been productive as part of a strong Oakland line.

6. Watch for two in a row.  Don Brown’s breakout game last week was nice, but he’ll be hard pressed to repeat it this week.  Oakland is stout running in all directions, and I doubt the Colts are able to surprise the Raiders in quite the same way.

7.  Watch the hobbled super-star.  Nnamdi Asomugha is arguably the best corner in football.  He’s been battling an ankle injury, however, and is listed as questionable.  The last time Indy played Oakland, he held Reggie Wayne to one catch.  That one catch was an insane third down grab where Wayne leaped high in the air and snagged a pass one handed.  If Nnamdi is healthy, Wayne shouldn’t be a factor at all.

8.  Watch the carbon copy. The Raiders are a lot like the Jags offensively, though not as good in the passing game.  Oakland wants to impose its will in the run game, and it will be incumbent on the Indy D to show that they can shut down a strong running attack two weeks in a row.  McFadden won’t be hobbled like MJD was, however.

9.  Watch Tamme.  For the first time in a while, Jacob Tamme didn’t show up on the injury report.  His effectiveness has been limited as he’s struggled with a back injury.  The Raiders do a bad job covering tight ends, so the Colts need Tamme to go off. He had seven catches for just 34 yards last week.  Indy needs him to be more dynamic than that.

10. Watch for motivation.  The Raiders are trying to sell their players on being in the playoff race.  That’s a little insane, honestly.  Actually by 4 PM on Sunday, it may not even be true. The Raiders need two wins, plus two losses by the Chiefs and a loss by the Chargers to get in.  If the Chiefs beat the Titans at home on Sunday, Oakland is all but finished.  If the Raiders are hoping that fever over making the playoffs will help them, it could be a bad gamble.  Post elimination depression might be a bigger factor.

11.  Watch for 30.  Peyton Manning needs two touchdowns for 30 this season.  That will be the 6th time he’s hit that mark.  Favre holds the record with nine.  For those keeping track, Tom Brady finally did it again this year for just the second time ever.

12. Watch for roadkill. The Indy defense has given up at least 24 points in 6 of 7 road games this season.  They forced 7 turnovers in 7 road games compared with 13 in 7 home games.  At some point the defense HAS to show up on the road, or it won’t matter much if Indy makes the playoffs or not.  Amazingly, a win Sunday and the Colts finish 4-4 on the road for 2010.

13.  Watch the old familiar shoe.  It’s Dierdorf and Gumbel again this week.  This marks the fourth or fifth time they’ve called an Indy game this year.  Dierdorf is like an old comfortable shoe.  It fits like a glove, but it full of holes and eventually makes your feet hurt.  Also, the dog has been chewing on it and it looks like hell.

14.  Watch the weak sisters.  The AFC and NFC West are the two worst divisions in football.  The Raiders are 7-2 against the West divisions and 0-5 against all others.  If you don’t think the AFC West is horrible, just imagine what the division would be like without each team getting four games against the NFC West. The Chiefs, for example, are 4-0 against the NFC West, 5-5 against everyone else.

15.  Watch for brevity.  It’s Christmas, so you’ll have to forgive me if the entries today are shorter.  Christmas is one of the lowest traffic days of the year at 18to88, so I’m not going to kill myself writing a piece almost no one will read!  The funny thing is, that Eyes always used to be like this.  When did I get so long winded?

16. Watch Campbell verses the stacked box.  Indy shut down the Jags by overloading the line.  Jason Cambpell is going to have to hit throws against a decimated Indy secondary. If he does, the Raiders could easily post 30 points.

17.  Watch for Colts fans.  Several 18to88 readers have requested a plea for those going to the game to possibly meet up.  If you are going to the game in Oakland, leave a note in the comments section if you are interested in hooking up with other Colts fans.  There’s safety in numbers!

18.  Watch for the happy holiday.  This game won’t be easy, but if the Colts want us to believe they are playoff worthy, they have to be able to beat a mediocre team on the road.  The Raiders have been all over the map this year, and the Colts will most likely need this game.  Indy gets it 30-27.