Panthers at Colts – Week 12 Game Preview

The Indianapolis Colts (0-10) entered their Week 11 BYE in need of a break. A chance for a team that has been battered – both on and off the field – to gather itself and “right the ship”. As they emerge from their BYE, their next opponent reads “Carolina Panthers”, but it is clear that their biggest enemy is themselves.

A team so accustomed to success – individual success, team success, on-field and off-field success – is now in the midst of one of the worst, most embarrassing seasons in league history, must prove to themselves, the league, and their fans that they have more talent, skill, and ability than their record would indicate.

A quarterback that wants to prove he can play in the NFL. Rookies on the offensive and defensive line that want to prove they are impact players.  A running back desperately trying to shed the bust label.  Veterans on both sides of the ball that are looking themselves in the mirror and wondering how they got here.  And a coaching staff eager to prove that their past success was more than a function of one man.

Their opponent on Sunday is the Carolina Panthers (2-8), but in order to win, they must stop beating themselves.


Tale of the tape

How do the Colts and Panthers measure up against each other on offense and defense? Let us take a look. conventional rankings are listed first, with advanced stats (DVOA) in parenthesis.

Indianapolis Colts

Carolina Panthers

Offense Defense Offense Defense
Passing 30th (30th) 22nd (32nd) 9th (12th) 17th (31st)
Rushing 25th (15th) 31st (29th) 7th (2nd) 30th (32nd)
Total 31st (29th) 29th (31st) 5th (7th) 27th (32nd)


When the Colts have the ball


Indianapolis Colts Offense Carolina Panthers Defense
87 WR R. Wayne 76 DE G. Hardy
84 TE J. Tamme 97 DT T. McClain
74 LT A. Castonzo 94 DT S. Fua
67 LG M. Tepper 95 DE C. Johnson
63 C J. Saturday 50 LB J. Anderson
71 RG R. Diem 55 LB D. Connor
72 RT J. Linkenbach 59 LB O. Gaither
17 WR A. Collie 20 CB C. Gamble
85 WR P. Garcon 30 SS C. Godfrey
7 QB C. Painter 23 FS S. Martin
29 RB J. Addai 41 CB C. Munnerly

Despite an 0-10 record and 4-straight blowout losses, Jim Caldwell kept his job through the Colts’ bye week.  His first post-bye public decision was to announce that QB Curtis Painter would remain the Colts starter for week 12 despite deteriorating play from the quarterback over those same four weeks.

The biggest issue for Painter this week will be ball security.  Going into the season, the biggest concern with Painter was his penchant for turning the ball over.  Painter appeared to be over those troubles, having only 1 turnover in his first four games of the season, but he seems to have fallen back into his old habits with 6 turnovers in the last 4 games – and yes, there seems to be a running theme with “the last 4 games”.

Painter’s best option for attacking the Panthers defense would appear to be handing off the ball.  The Panthers feature one of the worst run defenses in the league – 30th in raw yards-per-game stats, 32nd in DVOA, and 27th in rushing yards per attempt (4.8ypc) – while the Colts feature an above average offense: 15th in rush DVOA, and 9th in rushing yards-per-attempt (4.4ypc).

RB Donald Brown seems poised to shed the bust label as he continues to produce consistently despite getting little to no help from the passing game.  Brown seems not only more decisive with the ball – not hesitating to pick a hole and run – but also stronger on the ball, where the first man to him is not always bringing him down.

The apparent return of RB Joseph Addai should help bolster the Colts running attack, but his biggest contribution may come in the passing game, where his elite pass blocking should help give Painter the extra time in the pocket he needs.  While Brown’s pass blocking has improved since last year, it’s still only average, and Addai may be the best blocking running back in the NFL.

When Painter does throw, the Colts seem to favor the bubble screen to WR Pierre Garcon.  As we’ve seen, however, teams have adjusted, and Garcon is finding no room to run as teams are bearing down on the receiver before his linemen can get out to block for him.  If the Colts are going to continue to rely on the screen for consistent yardage, they would be wise to run a “counter” off of the screen action – a pump fake to Garcon in the flat, and then a pass deep as the defense flows down to Garcon.

The Colts have proven an ability to move the ball against good defenses, so a mediocre Panthers defense should not provide a stiff challenge.  Limiting turnovers, using some creativity in play calling, and relying more on the running game than they have in weeks past should be a formula the Colts can use to earn their first win of the 2011 season.

When the Panthers have the ball


Indianapolis Colts Defense Carolina Panthers Offense
93 DE D. Freeney 89 WR S. Smith
99 DT A. Johnson 80 TE J. Shockey
95 DT F. Moala 69 LT J. Gross
98 DE R. Mathis 70 LG T. Wharton
53 WLB K. Conner 67 C   R. Kalil
51 MLB P. Angerer 63 RG G. Hangartner
50 SLB P. Wheeler 77 RT B. Bell
25 CB J. Powers 88 TE G. Olsen
30 SS D. Caldwell 17 WR L. Naanee
41 FS A. Bethea 1  QB C. Newton
21 CB K. Thomas 34 RB D. Williams

The Colts are an organization that has preached the need for stability throughout the Polian era.  This season they are proving just how much they value that stability through their treatment of Larry Coyer, the man that has been on a one-man mission to destroy the reputation of the Cover-2 defense.  The Colts continue to employ Coyer as defensive coordinator despite the fact that he’s turned a talented group of defensive players into a mishmash hodgepodge unit that seems lost and confused on most Sundays.

The key attribute of the Cover-2 is simplicity – understanding where you are suppose to be on every play, playing safe coverages that keep the receivers in front of the secondary and limit the big play, and harass the quarterback and running backs with the front four.  Instead, Colts defenders rarely understand where they should be (or why), they give up the big play in bunches, and their defensive line – which on paper seems filled with talented starters and backups – has struggled when rookie DT Drake Nevis is not in the lineup.

This week the Colts face an offense that can attack you in a variety of ways: passing to talented wide receivers and tight ends, handing off two a duo of talented running backs, and a quarterback that is a threat to tuck the ball in and run on every play. The Colts will have to be responsible, maintain their assignments, and fly to the ball for an entire game, something they’ve been unable to do so far.

The Colts best bet for dealing with the Panthers offense would be to stick with their base Cover-2 system – it would allow them to play bracket coverage on Steve Smith, would allow their back seven to play with their eyes towards Cam Newton and not be punished for it, and it would prevent them from being out-schemed in the running game.

The Panthers have shown that they can move the ball against even the best defenses, so thoughts of the Colts shutting them down would be unrealistic. Slowing them down, playing good, technically sound football is a reasonable expectation, however, and if the coaches can simplify the defensive game plan, it could go a long way towards helping the Colts win.

Five key match ups

1. WR Steve Smith vs. Colts secondary – QB Cam Newton has been far more successful when throwing the ball than many people, fans and experts alike, thought he would ever be, let alone in his “rookie” year.  Part of the reason for his success?  [Insert synonym for short, scrappy, tough player here note: DON’T SAY WES WELKER!] WR Steve Smith has rebounded from a horrible 2010 campaign in startling fashion.

Smith is amongst the league leaders in receptions (56), yards (992) and yards-per-completion (17.7ypc) and he leads the league with 20 catches of 20-or-more yards.  He is the definition of a big play receiver, and if the Colts hope to slow down a Panthers passing offense that ranks 9th in the NFL, they must slow down Smith.

Through 10 weeks, the Colts defensive staff has refused to move CB Jerraud Powers around the field to match up with the opposing teams #1 WR.  If this trend continues this week, Smith will likely find plenty of room to operate against CBs Kevin Thomas and Terrence Johnson, who have both struggled to keep tight coverage on opposing receivers.

Smith and Newton have also found chemistry on jump balls, where Smith, despite his size, has shown an uncanny ability to out-leap defenders.  Given the Colts DBs lack of size and awareness, the Panthers will likely try to exploit them with this type of play on Sunday.

2. RBs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart vs. Colts front seven – The Colts defense has struggled to hold up to the run for a full 60 minutes all year.  While most of their struggles can be attributed to the lack of scoring support from their offense, the reality is that the Colts defense is going to consistently face 30 or more runs per game for the rest of the season.

Their task does not get any easier Sunday, as they face off against one of the better running back duos in the league, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Both are tough, physical players that can beat you by running and catching the ball. If the Colts cannot contain the duo for four quarters, they will find themselves overwhelmed by an offense that can attack them in too many ways.

3. QB Cam Newton vs. LB Pat Angerer –  While Newton’s throwing ability has been a pleasant surprise, the 5th-year pro’s running ability has been as good as advertised.  Through 10 games, Newton has run the ball 77 times for 411 yards (5.3ypc) and 9 touchdowns.  In years past, the Colts Cover-2 scheme has offered them some success against mobile quarterbacks.  The ability to watch the quarterback while playing zone coverages allowed them to react quicker to the quarterback’s movements.

This year, however, with the Colts playing a defense that is Cover-2 only in name, the Colts seem more susceptible than ever to quarterbacks that decide to scramble out of the pocket.  Look for the Colts to assign a “spy” to Newton in an effort to limit his rushing yards.  If that task falls to LB Pat Angerer, he certainly has the brains, quickness, and athleticism to be effective against Newton.

If he can do so, if his ability to chase down Newton forces him to stay in the pocket more often, it will give the Colts pass rushers the ability to harass Newton and force him into some rookie mistakes.  Newton has 14 interceptions and 5 fumbles on the year, the Colts must not let him get comfortable, they must net let him dictate how he will play the game.  Angerer and the Colts linebackers will be a big part of that containment.

4. Colts running backs vs. Carolina front seven – The Panthers have perhaps the worst defense in the NFLThey surrender 4.8 yards-per-carry, 140.7 yards-per-game, and have given up 14 rushing touchdowns this season.  You can attack and beat the Panthers defense with the running game.

This matches up well for the Colts, a team that, if nothing else, features a good running attack, where they gain 4.4 yards-per-carry.  If the Colts can buck recent trends, and lean more heavily on the running game than the arm of Curtis Painter, they have a chance to not only put up some points against a bad Panthers defense, but to also limit the amount of time that Newton and the Panthers offense is on the field.

If, however, the Colts decide to allow Painter to be Peyton, it’s likely they the Colts will once again suffer through short drives, very little offensive support, and find themselves with a defense that is too worn out to slow down the opposition as the game moves into the second half.

5. LT Anthony Castonzo vs. DE Greg Hardy – Rookie LT Anthony Castonzo started the year playing like a five-year veteran before keeping with Colts’ tradition and suffering an ankle injury that sidelined him for several weeks.  Since returning from his injury, Castonzo’s play has been inconsistent at best.  This week he gets to face a defense that is 25th in the league in sacks, with 19.0 on the year.

The match up against RDE Greg Hardy is one that the young tackle should be able to have success in.  If he can regain his early-season form, he should help stonewall the Panthers pass rush and afford QB Curtis Painter enough time to find open receivers down field.

If he continues to struggle, not only will it hamper the Colts ability to have success in the passing game, it will also raise concerns about Castonzo’s level of play, and some may question whether or not he should be sat until he’s completely healthy, mentally and physically.


The injury reports

Indianapolis Colts

Player Name Injury (STATUS)
Peyton Manning NECK (OUT)
Dallas Clark LEG (OUT)
Terrence Johnson ANKLE (PROBABLE)

Carolina Panthers

Player Name Injury (STATUS)

Series notes

  • The Colts are 1-3-0 All Time against the Carolina Panthers. I’m pretty sure they got cheated the last time they played the Panthers in Indianapolis, though.
  • This is QBs Curtis Painter and Cam Newton’s first time facing the opposing team. While this is Painter’s first year starting in professional football, Newton’s issue is related to the lack of appearance fee the Colts were offering him.
  • WR Reggie Wayne has played against the Panthers twice, and has 11 catches for 239 yards and 2 TDs in those games.
  • No one knows if TE Dallas Clark will play on Sunday. What we do know is that he has faced the Panthers twice in his career, hauling in 4 passes for 53 yards and 0 TDs.
  • RB Joseph Addai is the only Colts RB that has previously faced the Panthers. In one game he racked up 23 carries for 100 yards and 2 TDs. He also added 2 receptions for 9 yards and 1 TD. Not bad for a day’s work.
  • DE Dwight Freeney has squared off against the Panthers once in his career, amassing 2.0 sacks in that game. His partner in chaos, DE Robert Mathis, has yet to record a sack against the Panthers.
  • Carolina RB DeAngelo Williams has played the Colts once, rushing 5 times for 14 yards. He also caught 6 passes for 11 yards.
  • WR Steve Smith has played the Colts twice, catching 8 passes for 121 yards and 1 TD.
  • TE Jeremy Shockey has hauled in 12 catches for 175 yards and 1 TD in 2 career games against the Colts.
  • TE Greg Olsen has faced the Colts once in his career, and caught 2 passes for 36 yards and 0 TDs in that game.

Identifying the coverage

Where(Visually): FOX
Who(Visually)Chris Myers and Tim Ryan
Where(Audio): 1070 AM The Fan WFNI and 97.1 HANK FM
Who(Audio): Bob Lamey and Will Wolford
Sigh: Chris Myers?  The guy that brought us this emotion-killing call?  Glad FOX is sending their announcers to the Joe Buck school of not caring.
Is the Game on in your area? Good question. The people at The506 will be able to tell you.


Panthers – 28, Colts – 10

Holiday wishes

Happy Thanksgiving to you, Happy Thanksgiving to you, Happy Thanksgiving to all of the people reading this who happen to be celebrating Thanksgiving, Happy Thanksgivingggggggg tooooo youuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu.