On Sunday, two of the best teams in the NFL will meet in Lucas Oil Stadium. Those two teams will be lead by two young, talented, stars-in-the-making quarterbacks. On one sideline there will be a coach who inspired a nation. On the other… a <expletive deleted>. One team fighting for a division, the other fighting for the conference. On paper, it may be the best game of the entire weekend.
To celebrate, FOX has sent superstar announcers Kevin Burkhardt and John Lynch to commentate this week's Seattle Seahawks at Indianapolis Colts showdown. Oh FOX, that's so Blaine Gabbert of you.
Who will win? Who will lose?! WE'LL FIND OUT AFTER THE JUMP.
COLTS – SEAHAWKS – BURKHARDT – LYNCH – PAGANO – CARROLL. NFL ON FOX. CATCH THE EXCITEMENT.
Tale of the tape
How do the Colts and Seahawks measure up against each other on offense and defense? Let us take a look. NFL.com conventional rankings are listed first, with FootballOutsiders.com advanced stats (DVOA) in parenthesis.
|Passing||23rd (14th)||7th (6th)||25th (5th)||4th (1st)|
|Rushing||4th (2nd)||16th (26th)||5th (11th)||18th (10th)|
|Total||9th (4th)||8th (13th)||12th (9th)||5th (1st)|
When the Colts have the ball
|Indianapolis Colts Offense||Seattle Seahawks Defense|
|87 WR R. Wayne||79 LDE R. Bryant|
|80 TE C. Fleener||99 DT T. McDaniel|
|74 LT A. Castonzo||92 DT B. Mebane|
|69 LG H. Thornton||91 DE C. Clemons|
|64 C S. Satele||53 OLB M. Smith|
|75 RG M. McGlynn||54 MLB B. Wagner|
|78 RT G. Cherilus||50 OLB K. Wright|
|81 WR D. Heyward-Bey||25 CB R. Sherman|
|12 QB A. Luck||31 SS K. Chancellor|
|39 FB S. Havili||29 FS E. Thomas|
|44 RB A. Bradshaw||39 CB B. Browner|
That last sentence, sorry for turning this into a stream-of-conciousness, but I think a key word in really all strategy games is "balance." I talked about balance last week with regards to going deep more often, but there's another kind of balance, one that's even more important. In poker, it's called "balancing your range" – playing such a variety of hands in such a manner that your opponent(s) don't know what you have. This applies in football, as well. You want to "balance your range" by being able to run out of your passing formations and pass out of your running formations. Or, even better, being able to do everything out of 1 or 2 formations. This is obviously a bit of a dream right now, with the injury to Dwayne Allen, but that should be the "end" goal for this offense: the ability to run everything out of their base offense. RIght now, I still feel they are too reliant on "run" and "pass" formations.
What I'm watching for, offense:
1. Rich man, poor man – I was against the Trent Richardson trade. I'm not a fan of drafting a RB in the 1st round and I'm certainly not a fan of giving up a 1st-round pick for a RB 18 games into his NFL career. That said, I don't think the Colts are putting TRich in the best position to succeed. Brown and Bradshaw have both found more success because they are running out of formations that better suit the Colts OL. They aren't good enough to push defenses around. They have to exploit angle, momentum, and misdirection. They need the defense to think pass when it's a run, they need the defense to think left when it's going right. Lining up with 6OL and a FB on 1st-and-10 is just letting the defense hone in on the running game. Not only is it bad for Richardson's stats, it's not great on his body, either. Let him take that punishment on the goal line, not every down.
2. Be quick, like ninja – I love the deep passing game. I think TY Hilton is being used poorly. I think he should DEMAND a trade to Arizona so that Bruce Arians can fix my fantasy teams. But in this game, quick is where it's at. Design routes that get the receivers open quickly and let Luck get rid of the ball before the pass rush can reach him. Not only will this help extend drives, but it will frustrate and tire out the pass rush out. They did it against the 49ers, I expect them to do it again this week.
When the Seahawks have the ball
|Indianapolis Colts Defense||Seattle Seahawks Offense|
|90 DE C. Redding||18 WR S. Rice|
|97 NT A. Franklin||67 LT P. McQuistan|
|95 DT F. Moala||77 LG J. Carpenter|
|93 OLB E. Walden||60 C M. Unger|
|51 ILB P. Angerer||64 RG J. Sweezy|
|50 ILB J. Freeman||68 RT B. Giacomini|
|98 OLB R. Mathis||86 TE Z. Miller|
|28 CB G. Toler||81 WR G. Tate|
|26 FS D. Howell||3 QB R. Wilson|
|41 SS A. Bethea||40 FB D. Coleman|
|23 CB V. Davis||24 RB M. Lynch|
Over the past-two weeks, the Colts have gone with an aggressive press-man and a single-high safety look. This has worked for two reasons: 1) CBs Greg Toler and Vontae Davis have done a great job at not only getting a good jam at the line of scrimmage, but of providing extremely tight coverage and 2) the 49ers and Jaguars didn't have enough receiving weapons to make them pay. So the question is: are WRs Doug Baldwin (3rd DVOA, 18th PFF), Sidney Rice (25th DVOA, 37th PFF) and Golden Tate (29th DVOA, 33rd PFF) good enough to make the Colts pay if they employ the single-high safety?
If they can get that kind of pressure while maintaining their gap discipline (keeping Wilson in the pocket), they will get to the Seahawks' QB. If they get to the Seahawks' QB, the numbers (we'll get to them later) show that he will make mistakes. If he makes mistakes, I'm tellin' you right now: the Colts will win!
What I'm watching for, defense:
1. Where's Walden - Last week, Erik Walden had his best game of the year. Unfortunately, it came against the Jaguars. But it was a good game. I watched him closely, especially after the injury to Werner, to see how he held up. There were a couple of really nice plays in there, and no glaring mistakes. Was this Walden getting his act together? Or a byproduct of playing one of the worst offenses in NFL history? Definitely a lot of the latter, but let's be optimistic and not rule out a little bit of the former. With Werner out until after the bye week, the Colts are going to need Walden to continue to play well.
2. WILLLLLLLLLLLLLLSON - Wilson has been good this year, but he hasn't been perfect. You probably don't know this, because no one has told you, but Russell Wilson has 3 interceptions on the year and 4 (FOUR) fumbles (2 lost). If you can pressure him, he WILL make mistakes. The Colts must be able to do to Wilson what they did to Kaepernick. While Wilson has a few more weapons than Kaepernick, his offensive line is hurting. And as everyone should know by now: neutralize the QB and you neutralize his weapons. Or, as Terry Silver said in Karate Kid III, while teaching Daniel-san his patented Quicksilver Method: IF A QB CAN'T SEE, HE CAN'T THROW. FEAR DOES NOT EXIST IN THIS DOJO. HIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIYA. I need a vacation.
Keys to the game (Besides outscoring your opponent)
1. Protect Luck (For the fifth-consecutive week!) – No jokes this week. The Seahawks – on the strength of their dominant defensive line – are one of the best pass rushing teams in the NFL. The foursome of Bryant, McDaniel, Mebane, and Clemons are able to create havoc in the offensive backfield without any assistance via blitzes. This pass rush, in tandem with an aggressive press-man philosophy in the secondary, robs opposing QBs of time to think and windows to throw into. If the Colts are going to have success in the passing game on Sunday, it will start up front with the offensive line.
If Luck can get time, the numbers suggest that he should be able to make plays: Seattle is 29th in the league at covering #1 WRs per DVOA. The rest of their coverage numbers (vs WRs) are pretty favorable, as well: 18th against #2 WRs and 15th against "Other". Where they do shine, however, is against the TE: Seattle ranks 1st in DVOA in covering TEs. So while there's been a lot of love for Fleener in recent weeks, I'm not sure I expect him to have a big day catching the ball.
Seattle has a great defense, but it can be scored on. If Luck has time in the pocket, he's good enough to exploit every possible opportunity. If the OL fails to protect him, expect to see throws similar to the interception(s) thrown against Jacksonville last week.
Extra stat note: the Colts may want to use the shotgun formation sparingly this week: Seattle is tops in the league against the shotgun formation (by DVOA) while "only" 14th in the league against non-shotgun plays. Maybe we're taking these stats things too serious.
2. Run the ball (no, really) – But Greg you say you have to pass to win!!! It's true, the Colts aren't going to be able to win on Sunday without a big game from Andrew Luck, but as we saw against the 49ers, a big game doesn't always have to include gaudy passing numbers. Sometimes, not turning the ball over, making the smart, efficient play, and capitalizing on the 1 or 2 chances you do get is enough. That's what Luck will have to do on Sunday.
The rest of the damage will have to come on the ground. I mention this earlier in the piece, but I hope the Colts are able to incorporate Trent Richardson into their more creative running plays, the type that Ahmad Bradshaw and Donald Brown have been running this season. It's those plays – the ones that allow the OL to use angles, not power, and the threat of the pass, not overwhelming blocking numbers – that have really made this running game effective.
So why run? Seattle ranks 1st against the pass in DVOA, 2nd in PFF, and 4th in conventional yards-per-game. Against the run, they rank 10th in DVOA, 4th in PFF, and 18th in conventional yards-per-game. Seattle's run defense isn't a weakness, it's just not as dominant as their pass defense. That gives this Colts rushing attack, which ranks top-4 in DVOA, PFF, and conventional stats, a chance to make a difference. And who knows, maybe if the running game is effective, it gets the Seattle secondary to peak in the backfield, which allows Andrew Luck to hit a big play off of play action. In a game I feel will come down to 1 or 2 big plays, that could be the difference between a big win and a disappointing loss.
Some extra notes before we move on. Anthony Castonzo has been one of the best LT in the entire NFL this season, and he's a particularly good run blocker, so running behind him is never a bad thing, but FootballOutsider's – they chart every game, so I trust them and so should you – numbers suggest that plays to the right might be more effective (if the Colts blocking holds up, of course). Seattle ranks 1st in runs around left end and 6th on runs behind the LT, but 24th on runs up the middle, 18th on runs at the RT, and 28th on runs around the right end. This may be one of the games the Colts break out the unbalanced line and run right until the Seahawks show they can stop it.
3. Get to Russell Wilson - It's no secret that all QBs struggle when pressured, so we're not reinventing the wheel here, but Russell Wilson – especially this year – has been especially bad in the face of pressure. For the season, Wilson has passed for 787yds while completing 61.5% of his passes, with 6TDs and 3INTs, for a qbrating of 95.3. Those are perfectly fine numbers. Under pressure, however, his numbers plummet: 7 of 26 (26.9%) for 119 yards (4.6ypa), 1 TD, 2 INT, and a 26.9 qbrating.
The danger with Wilson – as it is with Andrew Luck and 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick – is that you have to create "controlled" pressure. If you get up field and do a fly by on the QB, sure, you're "creating pressure", but you're also creating a running lane. And if you give Russell Wilson a lane, he'll take it. The good news for the Colts is since their week 1 debacle against Terrelle Pryor, they've been great at pressuring the QB without creating a running lane.
Can Robert Mathis continue his torrid sack pace? Can the Colts get to Wilson without blitzing? If you answer yes to these questions, then the Colts probably win this game. On the turf, at home with the crowd noise? And against a banged up Seattle OL? I need to stop writing about this, I almost feel optimistic.
4. No soup for Lynch - Like the Colts, the Seahawks like to insulate their young QB with a punishing running game, and when it comes to punishment, no one dishes out more than Marshawn Lynch. While he's not off to the best start of his career (308 yards on 79 carries for 3.9ypc and only 3 runs of 20+ yards), Lynch is still dangerous enough to turn every carry into a highlight reel run. Unlike last week, the Colts will get no… "easy" plays against Seattle.
The key for the Colts will be stopping the run without having to bring a safety into the box with regularity. This means Erik Walden will have to build on what I consider his best game of his entire life last week against the Jaguars. If he can be THAT Erik Walden every week – nothing flashy, no WOW plays – but also not getting pushed around by 5th-string TEs who just signed Saturday morning fresh out of the CFL – the Colts have a shot. If they are forced to bring Bethea/Landry/Howell into the box, Russell Wilson and his trio of capable WRs will make the Colts pay.
The injury reports
NOTE: This guide comes out Thursdays, official injury statuses are not released until Friday, the Probable or Questionable designation in these reports is based on Wed/Thur participation only.
|RB Ahmad Bradshaw||NECK (QUESTIONABLE)|
|CB Vontae Davis||FOOT (QUESTIONABLE)|
|FB Stanley Havili||ANKLE (I DON'T THINK SO)|
|S Delano Howell||TOE (QUESTIONABLE)|
|DT Ricky Jean Francois||GROIN (QUESTIONABLE)|
|S LaRon Landry||ANKLE (QUESTIONABLE)|
|G Hugh Thornton||SHOULDER (QUESTIONABLE)|
|OLB Bjoern Werner||FOOT (OUT)|
|DE Michael Bennett||BACK (PROBABLE)|
|DE Chris Clemons||NOT INJURY RELATED (PROBABLE)|
|RT Breno Giacomini||KNEE (QUESTIONABLE)|
|DT Jordan Hill||Biceps (PROBABLE)|
|SS Jeron Johnson||HAMSTRING (QUESTIONABLE)|
|CB Jeremy Lane||HAMSTRING (QUESTIONABLE)|
|RB Marshawn Lynch||NOT INJURY RELATED (PROBABLE)|
|C Max Unger||ARM (QUESTIONABLE)|
|RB Spencer Ware||ANKLE (QUESTIONABLE)|
|LB KJ Wright||SHOULDER (PROBABLE)|
Series note and a video
- The Colts and the Seahawks have squared off 10 times in the regular season with the Colts holding a 6-4 series lead.
Identifying the coverage
Who(Visually): Kevin Burkhardt and John Lynch
Who(Audio): Bob Lamey and Jim Sorgi
Is the Game on in your area? Good question! The people at 506Sports will be able to tell you.
Officiating Crew: RON WINTERRRRRRRRRRRRrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr
Seattle – 21, Colts – 20