Eyes in the Backfield Rams

12 Things to Watch For in Sunday's Colts-Rams Game

Another Missouri Clemens comes to entertain the locals this week.

Last week, the Colts rallied to top the Texans. Now with a firm two-game lead on the AFC South, they return home to take on the Saint Louis Rams. Here's what to watch for.

1. Watch some bad receivers. After rewatching tape of Sunday's win, the biggest take away was just how terrible Indy's receivers are without Reggie Wayne. Obviously, T.Y. Hilton can play in this league, but we knew that already. After watching Mssrs. Heyward-Bey (-21.8 percent DVOA), Whalen (-30.1 percent) and Brazil slap at balls and bat them to the ground, it became obvious that the Colts don't have an answer on their roster. Whalen made a huge catch late to convert a third down, but he reminds me far more of Blair White than of Austin Collie. This team needs to make a serious investment in the wideout position in the offseason and has to stop signing retread veterans as if they were a fix.

2. Watch for signs of progress. Andrew Luck is amazing, ok. No one is saying otherwise. What's troublesome, however, is the lack of statistical development in his game. His sack rate has actually gotten worse. His YPA is flat. His completion percentage has dipped under 60. Now, I get that his receivers drop passes. I know how bad his line is. But we all saw the passes he left high last week. There were points left out on the field. His major point of improvement is in the area of turnover avoidance. That can be highly volatile and I don't know that he's really going to lead the NFL with the lowest interception percentage all season. The receivers aren't getting better. The line isn't going to get better. Luck is going to have to do it on his own.

3. Watch for the ball in space. We saw Trent Richardson get a couple of passes last week. That was cool right? Pagano made a point this week to mention they want to do that more. The bad news? You know how Richardson's DVOA of -14.5 percent sucks right? Well, his receiving DVOA is actually way way worse. He's fifth-worst in the NFL among qualified backs with a -39.1 percent and a catch rate of 52 percent. So…pass blocking? The numbers say he's about the same as Donald Brown since he joined the Colts, but a little worse if you add in his Cleveland time. I'm not really sure how he should be used at this point.

4. Watch the alternate reality. In January of 2012, the Colts were looking for a new coach. Jeff Fisher was the popular name, but never materialized as a major candidate in Indy, in part because Jim Caldwell was still employed at the time. Instead, the Colts went with Chuck Pagano. Fisher has done a nice job in Saint Louis, taking a 2-14 team to 7-9-1 and had them looking back toward .500 this year before Sam Bradford got hurt. We obviously know what the history has been with Pagano here in Indy.  The biggest difference is that Pagano has overseen real improvement defensively. Indy has gone from 27th against the pass in DVOA in 2011 to 14th this year. The Colts have a credible, but below average defense. The Rams are still bad.

5. Watch the clone. When I watch Zac Stacy run, I see shades of Marshall Faulk. They have similar body types, and Stacy has been terrific this year for the Rams. He's averaging 4.6 yards per carry and has started to break out with hundred-yard games each of the last two weeks. The Rams have to be kicking himself he didn't play more in Week Two against Atlanta in a winnable game. The Colts struggle against the run, so Stacy could have a huge game. He's also a fifth-round pick. Interesting, huh? Can you imagine? A fifth-round pick having a good year at running back? Unheard of.

6. Watch the bounce back. Robert Mathis was shut out of the sack column against the Texans, but look for him to pick up one or two this week to get back on pace. Kellen Clemens has an astronomical sack rate. He's gone down once for every ten pass attempts on the season. Jake Long (another big what if for the Colts) has been fantastic, but the rest of the line hasn't. Right tackle Rodger Saffold (another what-if guy) is a poor right tackle, so Mathis should be able to get a good rush on.

7. Watch the press. The Rams have one of the lowest yards per completion marks as a team. They average only 10.6 YPC on the year, and Clemens has been worse than Bradford was. The Rams don't have the protection, receivers or quarterbacks to go long. The Colts corners need to be up in the grills of the receivers this week. If they get beat deep, so be it. Throwing long is not this team's game. Clemens is just 2-for-7 on long balls this year, and on passes over 10 yards, he's just 9-for-24. Chris Givens has the best yards per reception on the team, but he's only cuaght two passes over 20 yards in the air all year.

8. Watch the Oregon Yankee in King Arthur's Court. Ol' Kellen Clemens is a spinner of yarns who has taken up residence along the banks of the mighty Mississippi. He much for fence paintin' or adventurin', but he'll get a team or two to believe in whatever outlandish story he's peddlin' that day. You might be more familiar with his work under his famous pen name "Brady Quinn Twain". Ok, so the whole Sam Clemens thing is crumbling around my ankles, largely because making fun of Clemens is unnecessary. It would have been easier just to post his career stats as my obligatory absurdist humor reference of the week.

9. Watch for the AFC Central. Can anyone explain to me why we can't have Saint Louis, Tennessee and Indy in a division together? This should be a regular rivalry. Indy got screwed out of a division with Cincy, Cleveland and Pittsburgh (move Baltimore East and Miami to the South, duh), but the next best thing would be a home and home with the Rams. I call it the AFC Central. For this to happen, we move KC to the Central, Houston to West and the Jaguars to L.A. and put them in the NFC. This all makes way too much sense not to happen. Instead, the Colts won't play what could be a perfect natural rival again until 2017. But hey, at least we get two games a year with the Texans!

10. Watch for the chip. The Rams have the top pass rush in football. Did you see that coming? They lead the NFL in adjusted sack rate, and defensive end Robert Quinn already has 10 sacks through eight games. Anthony Castonzo is the Colts' best pass blocker, and he'll have his hands full. Indy didn't do a great job with J.J. Watt last week up the middle, and now they'll have to contend with one of the game's best edge rushers. If Luck has time, he'll find a man, but with Quinn and Chris Long coming at him, that won't be easy to ensure.

11. Watch the difference a QB makes. The Rams and Colts have nearly identical special teams ratings. They have virtually the same defensive ratings. They both have issues at wide receiver, and Saint Louis is better at running back right now. Want to find the reason Indy is 6-2 and the Rams are 3-6? It's quarterback play. Bradford and Luck were having similar years, but since he went out, the Rams have lost three straight games, and all were fairly close. Bradford and Luck were two statistical peas in a pod. He's gone now, and the Rams are back to being the Rams. It's a cautionary tale, people. Do you feel appropriately cautioned?

12. Watch for professionalism. Through the years, Colts fans have grown accustom to a team that never seems to lose games it's supposed to win. This a chance for the New Colts to prove they have the same ruthlessness as the Old Colts. Last week, they had a gut-check win. Now it's time for them to have the kind of win that shows they are contenders. Colts 24 Rams 13.

Eyes in the Backfield-Rams (full)

18 Things to watch for during Sunday’s Colts/Rams game

We’re playing the Rams.  Oooooh yeah.

It’s been a couple of weeks since the last 18 Plays, but we’ve managed to stay busy. Ah, who am I kidding.  We’re bored out of our freaking minds.  But take heart, the Colts are back in business this weekend against the St. Louis Rams.  I imagine that no one outside of Missouri and Indiana will be watching this one, but you will, so keep your eyes peeled for:

1.  Watch for a tough call.  Peyton Manning has a real chance to tie Kurt Warner and Steve Young with his 6th consecutive 300 yard passing game on Sunday.  Considering that the Rams are 27th in pass defense and allow a defensive passer rating of 95, perhaps the only thing that could keep 18 from tying the record is good sportsmanship.

2.  Watch the secondary. The Colts’ pass defense has been stellar all season, but it’s about to get even better. With Kelvin Hayden and Bob Sanders expected to play and the nicked up Jerraud Powers fully healed, the Colts should play something that approximates their real secondary.  Marlin Jackson is still out for a few more weeks, but considering the Rams have failed to pass for 210 yards in 5 of 6 games, I think the Horse will do all right without him.

3. Watch the good for nothings.  The Rams have a terrible passing offense ranking just 22nd in the league by DVOA.  That’s the good news for Rams fans.  Their running game has been worse, ranking 28th.  On defense they are 29th against the pass and 27th against the rush.  They can’t run or throw, and they can’t stop the run or the pass.  They are 32nd in points scored and 2nd in points allowed.  What is truly amazing is that despite sucking at everything, there are actually four teams worse overall in FO’s rankings.  Astounding.

4.  Watch for empty yards.  Don’t fear the rush.  Not Limbaugh, the Rams running game.  Not long ago Steven Jackson was considered an elite NFL back.  In some ways his numbers show he’s still a force.  He’s on pace for more than 1300 yards rushing and 500 yards receiving, which would be the second most productive of his career yardage wise.  Unfortunately for Rams fans, he has zero touchdowns.  It’s not like someone has vultured his scores either.  The Rams have zero rushing TDs this season and only 5 passing in 6 games.

5.  Watch for big knocks. While watching for big knockers might be more fun, you can still enjoy some hard hitting by the Colts safeties.  With the return of Bob Sanders, the Colts may put Bethea and Bullitt on the field with him at the same time.  Replacing a corner with a safety could lead to some hard hitting.  Expect the fragile Steven Jackson to have a hard time getting up after meeting the Colts safeties.

6.  Watch the conversions. The Rams best chance to beat Indy is to get off the field on third and short plays and to convert third and longs on offense.  They aren’t likely to consistently win first and second down, but if they can stymie the Colts run game on third down, and keep their own chains moving, they could make Indy sweat for awhile.

7. Watch the blitz. Rams Coach Steve Spagnuolo loves to bring extra pressure but to this point the Rams have only corralled 12 sacks.  If they come after Manning, he’ll be looking to burn the Rams with deep balls to Garcon and Wayne.  Spagnuolo will have to disguise his blitzes or Manning will crush the Rams secondary.

8.  Watch for the least funny city in America.  It’s freaking hard to come up with a joke about Saint Louis.  What’s to say?  Sure you can hit on the sagging downtown economy, but other than that, what is there?  They love baseball…um…Matt Holliday dropped that ball. I got nothing.  I defy anyone to come up with a good joke about the city of Saint Louis.  It’s like a bigger version of Fort Wayne…hey!  I got one!

9.  Watch for progress. The run game has been effective (14th in DVOA), without generating the kind of yardage the Colts expect (29th in the league at 3.3 YPC).  While the DVOA improvement (up from 27th last year) is important (it shows the Colts are getting first downs), the YPC shows that the run game isn’t a serious threat.  The Colts have been deadly with the play action fake this year, but as the season moves along, good teams will stop respecting it.  The Colts offensive line simply must start blocking better on the edges (21st and 22nd on runs wide left and right) and can’t allow the RBs to get hit for losses (30th in the league in runs for 0 or negative yardage).

10.  Watch for the end of the cushion.  The Colts have had nice long break from scary football teams that is about to come to an end.  After the Rams game, 8 of Indy’s next 9 are against teams with .500 records or better.  Fortunately, most of the toughest ones are home games.  As much fun as it’s been pummeling the Seahawks, Titans and now Rams, eventually they’ll have to get back to the business of beating good teams.

11.Watch another game? Rumor has it that Fox 59 will be showing the Vikes/Steelers opposite the Colts/Rams.  This is a break from normal protocol because the local team usually gets the airways unencumbered by completing games.  This is the first time I can remember anyone airing a game in Indy at the same time the Colts play.  I confess that Demond went out and subscribed to the Red Zone Channel on Monday, just in case Sorgi time ends up being an entire half.

12. Hey!  That reminds me.  Watch for Sorgi time!  If the Colts get a big lead, it’s reasonable to assume that Jim Sorgi will get his earliest pass attempt in any season in his career.  The earliest date in the season during which Sorgi threw a pass came on October 28th, 2007 against the Panthers.  For his career, he has 5 pass attempts outside of the month of December.  Given that Curtis Painter will be the emergency QB and surely won’t play, Sorgi might get to make a toss or two this week.

13.  Watch for what could be.  With a stadium looking more and more like reality in Los Angeles and the Jaguars failing to sell out games in Jacksonville, realignment could be in the cards.  The Jags could go to the NFC West, and the Rams could move to the AFC South.  That would make a division of: Arizona, SF, LA, Seattle and my long dreamed of AFC ‘Midwest’:  Indy, Nashville, Saint Louis and Houston.  A yearly home and home with the Rams would provide some extra ‘ticket insurance’ for both franchises.  The move makes too much sense.  That’s why it’ll probably never happen.

14.  Watch for the system QB. Remember how there was a time when people thought Marc Bulger was good?  Kurt Warner once lost his job to this guy, but the further Bulger gets from the Mike Martz era, the worse he’s been.  Sure, he’s been hurt (a lot), but he hasn’t played very well when he was in the line up.  He hasn’t completed 60% of his passes since 2006, nor has he posted a passer rating better than the 80.8 he has right now.  His handful of good seasons were closely related to Martz-ball and hasn’t found the grove since he left.

15.  Watch the chains. The Rams are allowing a opposing passers to complete 2/3rds of their passes on the season.  Against Peyton Manning who is completing passes at better than 72% this season, that should mean lots of first downs.  Manning can shred a zone and loves to pick on man coverage.  The Rams can’t stop Manning without getting serious pressure.

16.  Watch for false starts.  We are expecting the Dome in St. Louis to be a sea of blue and white on Sunday.  Expect Colts’ fans to make plenty of noise, especially if the game gets out of hand early.  The idea would be for Indy crowd noise to aid in a least one false start by the Rams offense.  There is nothing sweeter than jacking with the home team during a road game.

17.  Watch for the goose egg. The Rams have scored the fewest points in football, and have been shut out twice.  The Colts have allowed the second fewest points in football.  St. Louis will have a hard time getting on the board Sunday.

18.  Watch for a blowout. The Rams are last in the NFL in point differential at -115.  Indy is 5th in the NFL with +66 (in 5 games).  This one won’t be close.  DZ says Indy wins 38-0.  Demond says Indy 37, Rams 20.