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.