The Colts are in no position to lose a third straight game. At some point, Indianapolis cannot rely on losses by their AFC South opponents to stay in the mix for a division championship and playoff berth.
With players like Mike Hart, Justin Tryon, Brody Eldridge, and possibly Gary Brackett set to return, injuries will play a smaller role in a game against a weaker opponent than the San Diego Chargers, New England Patriots, or Philadelphia Eagles. Additionally, three out of the Colts last four games are division games. It is time for Indianapolis to find some consistency and it would be best for the beginning of that consistency to start at home against Dallas.
Two of the most important players to step onto the field for the Colts offense on Sunday will be running back Mike Hart and tight end Brody Eldridge, who could help Indianapolis get its running game back on track. With the offensive line struggling to block recently and Peyton Manning feeling pressure to run an imbalanced attack that allows defenses to sit back and jump routes, getting players who improve blocking and gain tough yards on the ground may be key.
Justin Tryon and Gary Brackett will allow the special teams game to also improve. Giving up favorable field position to opponents makes it more difficult for the defense to keep teams off of the scoreboard. The inability to consistently give the offense the ball beyond the 20 yard line also allows defenses to be more aggressive, attempting to create negative plays to push the Colts back against the goal line. Tryon has been the most decisive kick returner to take the field since Devin Moore went down to injury, so if Indianapolis can be disciplined and cut down on penalties on returns, Manning will not have to deal with as much pressure to start drives.
Unlike Tom Brady and Phillip Rivers, Jon Kitna regularly makes mistakes the Colts pass coverage can take advantage of. When the defense was able to create turnovers against the Bengals, the team’s offensive limitations were easier to overcome. Brackett, in particular, should go a long way in cutting down the passing lanes in the middle of Indy’s zone defense.
The Cowboys offensive line has also struggled to get Marion Barber (who is slated to miss the game) and Felix Jones going on the ground. If the defense can force the Cowboys to be one-dimensional, it will put more pressure on an offensive line allowing two sacks a game. Look for Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis to be very active if the Colts manage to get out to an early lead.
The final aspect of the game that should play in the Colts favor is that the Cowboys defense is weak against the pass. With Blair White continuing to develop, Pierre Garcon coming off of a big game, and Jacob Tamme looking more and more comfortable filling in for Dallas Clark, Manning should be in a good position to get things back on track.
The fact is, this match-up is one that favors an Indianapolis revival. An offense getting key weapons back going against a defense that has been producing at a lower level than recent opponents. A defense playing against a mistake-prone quarterback and an offensive line that has been incapable of protecting the pocket or getting a ground game going. Playing at home with key players returning to the field.
All indications suggest the Colts should win this game. They need to win this game. If they are unable to win a third game in a row, a second home game in a row, against an opponent that they should defeat even with injury concerns, the outlook for a playoff berth will drop significantly.
It is unlikely Manning and company will let that happen. The Colts should win this game 24-34.