12 Things to Watch in Sunday's Colts-Seahawks Game
Oooh. I'm so scared.
Last week, the Colts curb-stomped Jacksonville on their way to their third win of the year. This week, they take on arguably the second-best team in football. Seattle comes to the Luke in search of a perfect 5-0 start. Here's what to watch for…
1. Watch for the stretch. It's here. While the path to 3-1 wasn't quite what everyone expected, the fact is that the Colts are exactly where most of us figured they would be. Sunday opens the second, and most difficult, quarter of the season for the Horse. The second half of the year has five or so wins in it. If the Colts can go 1-3 over their next four games, they have a decent shot at making the playoffs. If they can split, they'll win double-digit games. Of course, they could also go 0-4 very easily, even if they play good football. This stretch is so difficult that Sunday's game is probably the most winnable of the four. If the Colts are a good team, or at least a playoff team, they have to find a way to put victories in the difficult games.
2. Watch for the excuses. People have been making excuses for Trent Richardson since he came into the NFL last year. He had hurt ribs. His line didn't block. He's new to the offense. That last one will likely hang over him for awhile. It's been a while since a good runner was traded mid-season, but it happened a few times in the 80s. Herschel Walker and Eric Dickerson were both instant hits in their new cities. Basically, excuse time is done. If Richardson really is a dynamic elite runner, he needs to start showing it. Seattle is a tough run defense, however, so if he has another sub-4.0 yards per carry week, watch for some to keep coming up with reasons why. There's a need to justify this trade in the minds of fans and analysts because of the price Indy paid. Had he been traded for a fifth-round pick, people would already be talking about how badly he sucks.
3. Watch for the master. As good as the Seahawks pass defense is, they are inexplicably bad against number one wideouts. That works out nicely for the Colts who happen to feature on of the great ones. Reggie Wayne could well go over 1,000 career catches this week, and he's on pace for another killer 90 catch, 1,200 yard, eight-score year. Wayne has had at least three catches every game of Andrew Luck's career, and at least five in 16 of the 20 games they've played together. Look for 100 yards from Reggie this week.
4. Watch the slogan. The Indy secondary has adopted the slogan #NoFlyZone as their motto, and they'll get a great chance to test it this weekend. Seattle's corners are generally considered the league's best right now, but the Indy crew has held their own. The Colts have been especially effective against extra receivers. Vontae Davis has been solid, and Greg Toler has been up and down, but Darius Butler (who I interviewed this week) and Cassius Vaughn have been lock down against guys in the slot. The Colts have the best DVOA in football against third and fourth receivers. Shutting down Doug Baldwin (third in the NFL in DVOA) will be the challenge, but beyond him, the Colts should have success.
5. Watch for the comparison. With Colin Kaepernick struggling and RG3 limping around, the "next great quarterback" competition has narrowed for the moment from four to two. Luck and Wilson stand head and shoulders above their peers. I voted for Wilson for Rookie of the Year in the PFWA awards last year, but would have ranked him second to Luck heading into this year. By DVOA the two are nearly identical, but Luck holds a big edge in QBR thanks to his legs and his fourth-quarter exploits. Luck is the better player, but it's very close. It's a privilege to watch these two up close at this stage of their careers. Both figure to be relevant for a long time.
6. Watch the seam. As noted last week, Coby Fleener is having a nice season. He's on pace for 48 catches, 660 yards, and eight scores. All would be better than the numbers Dwayne Allen put up last year. That kind of production will be hard to replicate against the best defense in the league against tight ends. The good news is that Owen Daniels put up six for 72 against Seattle last week, and he's used in a similar way to Fleener. The bad news is that the Seahawks have picked off five passes intended for tight ends. Luck is going to have pick his spots to target Fleener.
7. Watch the Game Script. I love the work of Chase Stuart at Footballperspective.com on game scripts. This comes from the idea of tracking not only run/pass ratio, but doing so with the actual score in mind. Teams that have a big lead run more than teams that are behind, so when calculating run-pass balance, we need to control for that. The only game the Colts have run more than they passed was Week 3 against San Francisco, a game in which they lead throughout. It was also balanced against the Raiders, but again, Indy led most of the way, and the run plays were bolstered by six Andrew Luck carries. Even in the San Fran game, the ratio was balanced until Indy ran on 12 of the final 14 plays to put the game away. All this to say, the Indy O is playing very well right now, and they are passing more than they run. On the year, counting Luck scrambles as passes, Indy is throwing around 57 or 58 percent of the time. That's just not that far off from what I would consider ideal, and given the fact that they've played from ahead, it's pretty good.
8. Watch for beast mode. Marshawn Lynch has had some sick runs, and containing him will be difficult for the Colts. Indy's run defense is suspect no matter how you measure it (26th DVOA, 4.2 YPC), but Lynch has had his own struggles (negative DVOA, 3.9 YPC). Indy can't allow him to cut loose. They have to bring him down early in the carry and not allow themselves to get pushed around on the ground. Also, I think robots that transform into animals is almost as dumb as robots that transform into guns, jukeboxes and Volkswagens. I want a robot that transforms into something cool, like a spaceship, or a bigger robot.
9. Watch for grunge. You may have noticed a distinct lack of wit in this week's column. That's because you haven't gotten to the joke point. This week's joke point is all about grunge music and disaffected youth and how Seattle is too cool for school and there's something about Kurt Cobain, and it's all very hip and relevant, or at least it would be if we were still in 1995. That's because for me, it is 1995. It always will be 1995. Jim Harbaugh is still quarterbacking the Colts (I know, right?), Reggie Miller is still playing, I still wear flannel shirts and Seattle is all about garage bands and mid-90s disaffection. The point is that I'm old, and Seattle is a dang hard place to make fun of. Oh yeah, and it rains a lot there! Zing!
The previous point reinforces the tried and true rule of comedy in 2013: if you can't be funny, be meta. Most people can't tell the difference anyway. Lord knows I can't.
10. Watch the scramble. Luck and Wilson are two of the best running quarterbacks in the game, precisely because neither guy is trying to be a running quarterback. The Colts struggled with Pryor against Oakland, but held Kaepernick down by keeping him in the pocket and forcing him to throw. That won't work against Wilson. He actually can throw. Indy will have bring him down behind the line of scrimmage. With a sack rate of almost 12 percent, it should be possible. Whichever QB makes more back-breaking plays with his legs will likely come out on top.
11. Watch Walden. Eric Walden has not looked good on tape. He has four tackles in four games and has been woefully out of place against the running quarterbacks. With Bjoern Werner likely out, Walden has to play and contribute. He's been a disaster most weeks, picking up a negative pass rush score in every game. Of course, he's augmented that with bad run defense. The only thing he does with any proclivity is drop into coverage. Robert Mathis is doing all the heavy lifting, so watch for Walden to either pick up the slack or for Mathis to face an unceasing stream of double teams.
12. Watch for the tension. I've flipped on this game a dozen times. On one hand, I think Indy has a lot of flaws, and it's difficult to get past how they played the last time I saw them up close. On the other hand, the NFC isn't a fantastic as it first appeared and this is a 1 PM game for Seattle on the road. My head tells me Indy gets beat, but my gut keeps saying this is a game they pull out. Colts 24 Seahawks 21.