Colts at Saints – Week 7 Game Preview

The Indianapolis Colts (0-6) look to overcome inconsistency, injuries, and frustration in an effort to earn their first victory of the 2011 season as they travel to Louisiana to take on the New Orleans Saints on Sunday Night Football.  A season that started with the nightmarish prospect of losing quarterback Peyton Manning for a significant period of time has become downright Freddy Krueger-ish in nature, as some of the Colts best chances at a victory (CLE, KC, @CIN) have all resulted in losses.  Now the Colts begin what should be the toughest portion of their schedule against a New Orlean Saints team that will be looking to rebound coming off of a tough divisional loss.

Tale of the tape

How do the Colts and Saints 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.

Indianapolis Colts

New Orlean Saints

Offense Defense Offense Defense
Passing 28th (24th) 18th (29th) 2nd (5th) 19th (21st)
Rushing 28th (15th) 30th (22nd) 18th (13th) 14th (23rd)
Total 31st (22nd) 27th (28th) 2nd (4th) 17th (24th)

When the Colts have the ball

Indianapolis Colts Offense New Orlean Saints Defense
87 WR R. Wayne 90 DE T. McBride
44 TE D. Clark 92 DT S. Rogers
72 LT J. Linkenbach 98 DT S. Ellis
76 LG J. Reitz 97 DE J. Charleston
63 C J. Saturday 54 SLB J. Herring
78 RG M. Pollak 51 MLB J. Vilma
71 RT R. Diem 58 WLB S. Shanle
17 WR A. Collie 33 CB J. Greer
85 WR P. Garcon 41 SS R. Harper
7 QB C. Painter 27 FS M. Jenkins
34 RB D. Carter 22 CB Player From Indiana

 


The Colts offense has shown flashes of competence since QB Curtis Painter took over the starting job from injured QB Kerry Collins in week 4.  Painter has been especially surprising, exceeding all expectations and occasionally looking like a legitimate NFL quarterback.  For all of the good the offense has done, however, they have done a lot of bad to counter it.  Poor blocking from the offensive line, drops, fumbles, and poor throws have all conspired to kill key drives.

These inconsistencies have been especially noticeable in the second half of games, where the Colts have struggled to sustain drives, let alone score points.  If the Colts are going to pull off the upset on Sunday, they will have play a complete game and finish as well as they start.  Doing so will not only lead to points on the scoreboard, but should help prevent the Saints from putting up points of their own, as they afford a worn out and thin defense the opportunity to rest, something they have desperately needed as they have worn down in the second half in the past few games.

The key for the Colts continues to be a running game that has performed better than expected, even after injuries ravaged the tackle and guard positions.  Despite the success in the running game and being in close games for four quarters, the Colts have continued to look to pass far more often than they have looked to run.  At some point the coaching staff must realize where their strengths are, and find a better run-pass balance.

When they do throw, Painter could use some help from his friends.  While he has not been perfect by any means, Painter has played well enough to win, his wide receivers – specifically Austin Collie, Pierre Garcon, and Dallas Clark – have not.  Collie and Clark have both been shells of their former selves, with Collie struggling to get open (and yes, the officials could call defensive holding in Collie’s favor on almost every play), Clark struggling to hold on to the ball, and Garcon – who has admittedly been better recently – still showing signs of the inconsistency that has plagued him throughout his career.

A healthy dose of the running game, mixed in with some timely play-action passes, as well as the Colts’ effective screen game, as well as some ball security, and the Colts offense should have the formula for an upset.  A failure in any one of those areas and Colts offense will more than likely find itself 0-7.

When the Saints have the ball

 

Indianapolis Colts Defense New Orlean Saints Offense
93 DE D. Freeney 12 WR M. Colston
99 DT A. Johnson 85 TE  D. Thomas
95 DT F. Moala 74 LT  J. Bushrod
98 DE R. Mathis 77 LG C. Nicks
53 WLB K. Conner 50  C  O. Kreutz
51 MLB P. Angerer 73 RG  J. Evans
50 SLB P. Wheeler 64 RT  Z. Strief
25 CB J. Powers 19 WR D. Henderson
30 SS D. Caldwell 9  QB  D. BREES
41 FS A. Bethea 35 FB  K. Hall
27 CB J. Lacey 23 RB P. Thomas

 


The Saints will feature the most dangerous, well-balanced offense the Colts have seen since their week 1 loss to the Houston Texans.  QB Drew Brees is the poster child for spreading the ball around, and will utilize each of his offensive targets as he and Saints head coach/offensive coordinator/triple-reverse-caller Sean Payton aggressively attack the Colts defense. If Brees and Payton recognize the Colts secondary as a weakness – and they will – look for the Saints to limit their use of the traditional running game, instead using screen, swing passes, and wheel routes to RBs Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas as a more effective rushing attack.

Given the number of weapons the Saints have, and the aggressiveness of their play calling, look for the Colts to play a lot of their base cover-2 defense in an attempt to limit big plays.  As a counter, look for Brees to attack the Colts cornerbacks underneath with slants and in-routes – where his wide receivers should pick up yardage after the catch – while attacking safeties Joe Lefeged and David Caldwell with a lot of vertical routes.

The Colts best hope to slowing down the Saints offense is to get their pass rush going early – and the potential return of DT Drake Nevis would be a big boon in this area – and to combine that with aggressive play by the secondary,  attacking the Saints wide receivers at the line of scrimmage.  Brees has shown a tendency to turn the ball over in the past, both through interceptions and sack fumbles, but if you sit back and play passively, he will pick you apart.

Five key match ups

1. Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis vs. Jermon Bushrod and Zach Strief – If the Colts are going to win a game this year, the Colts pass rushing tandem of Freeney and Mathis will have to play a key part.  Clearly suffering from a lack of Drake Nevis in the middle, Freeney and Mathis had their quietest game of the season in week 6, failing to register a sack for the first time all year.  Their lack of pressure allowed Bengals QB Andy Dalton – who had completed less than 60% of his passes through 5 games – to complete 78% of his passes on Sunday.  Now the Colts face QB Drew Brees, one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the NFL.  If Freeney and Mathis cannot make Brees uncomfortable in the pocket, Brees will likely pick the defense apart and send the Colts to 0-7.

2. Colts defensive backs vs. Saints wide receivers - While the defensive line has clearly struggled to pressure the quarterback in recent weeks, the Colts secondary has not done much to slow down opposing wide receivers.  To worsen matters, the Colts’ past three opponents have featured offenses that featured a single play making receiver, while Saints’ QB Drew Brees has a plethora of receiving weapons at his disposal.  While pressure from the defensive line will help limit some of the damage Brees can do, the Colts secondary will have to play its best game of the serious if they are going to successfully contain this dangerous group of wide receivers.

3. Dallas Clark’s hands vs. The Ball – Dallas Clark has had a rough go of it recently, to the point where – after countless drops and a fumble lostColts fans have started booing Dallas.  While that reaction seems a bit silly for a player that was as vital to the Colts offense as any non-Peyton Manning player was for many years, it is hard to argue with the underlying point:  Dallas Clark’s play has slipped to the point where it was costing the Colts a chance to win.  Clark did rebound towards the end of the Cincinnati game, hauling in a magnificent one-handed touchdown, and the Colts will need more of that Dallas if their offense is going to be good enough to win.  If he continues to struggle, one has to wonder how long the coaching staff will wait to replace Clark with TE Jacob Tamme.

4. NBC vs. Two Teams with Four Total Wins in Week 7 – When the schedule came out several months ago, the executives at NBC must have been licking their lips over having this match up.  Now, six weeks into the season, the 0-6 Colts lead by Curtis Painter vs. the 4-2 Saints lead by Drew Brees just does not have the same ring to it.  If NBC’s coverage and “hype” leading up to the game is any indication, NBC’s plan for dealing with this game revolves around talking about anything but the play on the field.  Look for a lot of talk about a certain neck (Peyton Manning), a certain leg (Sean Payton), a certain contract (Pay(ton) that man his money – Drew Brees), and.. well, I’m out of Peyton/Payton turn of phrases.  With a duo that already gets a lot of the mute treatment from this writer, look for Colts fans to synch up the Colts’ radio broadcast with the television feed.

5. Colts Fans vs. Highlights - The final piece of NBC’s plan for covering the game?  A lot of talk and highlights about a certain game they claim took place on February 7th, 2010.  We are referring, of course, to Super Bowl XLIV, which happened to feature these very same teams.  The Saints reportedly won that game – that is what we are lead to believe, anyhow – and NBC’s coverage is sure to feature a lot of highlight packages of that game , especially if Sunday night’s game becomes a blow out.  None of these highlights will be all that enjoyable for Colts fans, so be sure to have some other programming on standby, just in case.

The injury reports

 

Indianapolis Colts

Player Name Injury (STATUS)
Peyton Manning NECK (OUT)
Anthony Castanzo ANKLE (QUESTIONABLE)
Kerry Collins CONCUSSION (QUESTIONABLE)
Dwight Freeney REST (PROBABLE)
AJ Edds CONCUSSION (DOUBTFUL)
Kavell Conner FOOT (QUESTIONABLE)
Drake Nevis BACK (QUESTIONABLE)
Brody Eldridge KNEE (PROBABLE)
Antoine Bethea REST (PROBABLE)

New Orlean Saints

Player Name Injury (STATUS)
DT Sedrick Ellis ANKLE(QUESTIONABLE)
TE John Gilmore NECK(QUESTIONABLE)
LB Will Herring HAMSTRING(QUESTIONABLE)
C Olin Kreutz NOT INJURY RELATED(PROBABLE)
DE Turk McBride SHOULDER(QUESTIONABLE)
OT Zach Strief KNEE(QUESTIONABLE)
LB Jonathan Vilma KNEE(QUESTIONABLE)
TE David Thomas CONCUSSION(QUESTIONABLE)

 

Identifying the coverage

Where(Visually):  NBC

Who(Visually):   Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Dan Patrick, Tony Dungy, Rodney Harrison, Bob Costas, Mike Florio, and Peter King. Probably. Maybe. Call it a 40% chance.

Where(Audio):   1070 AM The Fan WFNI and  97.1 HANK FM

Who(Audio): Bob Lamey and Will Wolford

Is the Game on in your area?  Unless you live in the arctic north, some random foreign country that doesn’t show American Football, or don’t own a TV, you will be able to watch the Colts play on Sunday night.  Lucky you.

Series notes

  •  The Colts are 5-6 all-time against the Saints.
  • According to the NFL, the Colts and Saints met in a Super Bowl recently, though no evidence can be found to support these claims.
  • Reggie Wayne has 12 catches for 172 yards and 2 touchdowns in three games against the Saints.
  • Dallas Clark has 3 catches for 59 yards and a score in two games against the Saints.
  • Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis have combined to produce only 1 sack in two regular-season match ups against the Saints.
  • DREW BREES has completed 71 out of 105 passes (67.6%) for 737 yards, 4 TDs and 5 INTs in 3 career games against the Colts.
  • WR Devery Henderson has caught 3 passes for 34 yards against the Colts.
  • WR Marques Colston has hauled in 6 passes for 47 yards against the Colts.

Prediction

Saints – 27, Colts 14

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