Last week, the Colts squeezed out a 10 point win over the Chiefs. This week, they hit the road for a prime time clash with the Washington Redskins. The Colts' season is at a cross roads. What do they need to do in order to topple the 'Skins? This week, be sure to watch for:
1. Watch the backs. This is getting ridiculous. Not only is Don Brown likely out on on Sunday, but Addai and Hart are both banged up as well. If anything will ultimately derail the Colts, it will be injuries, and the number of nicks and bruises to the running backs has to scare Colts fans. After all, we are also dealing with an equal number of dents and dings to the receiving corps. Of course, the Redskins aren't exactly flush at the running back spot either, as Clinton Portis will miss Sunday's game with a groin injury.
2. Watch for AA. And I don't mean Alcoholics Anonymous. I'm talking about Redskins wide receiver Anthony Armstrong. The 5'11, 185 pound player out of West Texas A&M isn't a household name. Not yet at least. Armstrong has only seven catches on the year, but they've totaled 188 yards for a hefty 26.9 average. Look forMcNabbto continue the trend and target his speedy receiver deep downfield.
3. Watch for the longball. In addition to Armstrong, McNabb also has favorite target and deep threat Santana Moss to heave the pigskin to. Moss leads the team in receptions and yards, but doesn't deliver his damage in the ten yard range. Moss hauled in a 56 yard grab in week three and pulled down a 52 yard grab last week against Green Bay. Expect Moss to try more of the same against the Colts. The Colts defense is supposed to be designed to stop deep passing plays. Back up-back up safety Aaron Fransisco will be be tested for sure. If the Colts can force McNabb to matriculate the ball down the field, the Colts should win the game. McNabb's YPA for the season is 7.7, despite a low completion percentage. When he throws it's all or nothing.
4. Watch the limp. After putting up monstrous numbers to open the season, Collie had a semi-quiet week against Jacksonville and a rather quiet week last Sunday against the Chiefs catching five passes for 48 yards as a foot injury has him hobbled. But as the offense started clicking late last week, Collie started heating up, grabbing a difficult, low and behind the back pass for a first down. Collie's health is a major question mark right now, and there's no question that the Colts are more efficient when he's involved.
5. Look for the ground and pound. The Redskins have won three games, but they are not blowing opponents out of the water. The Skins score 17.8 points a game, ranking them 24th in the entire NFL. On the contrary, the Colts are scoring 27.2 points a contest, or in other words, third best in the league. Look for Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan to try and run, run, run the ball to bridge that gap and keep the game close. The problem is that the Redskins have just a mediocre rushing attack, with a DVOA of -0.6% (basically league average. They also have one of the highest offensive variances in the league, which means that they are wildly inconsistent (partly because of a reliance on long passing plays). On the other hand, Indy has the 2nd worst run D in football. So there's that.
6. Watch for the alumni. Dwight Freeney and Donovan McNabb both played at Syracuse and much will be made over the first game Freeney ever played against McNabb. In 2002, Freeney had quite the coming out party in his first start, registering three forced fumbles and a sack. Freeney was disruptive last week, but never managed to get his sack. McNabb isn't quite as mobile as he used to be, and the Washington line is only average at pass protection. If drops back to throw long, watch for Freeney to get reacquainted.
7. Watch for the reason you read Eyes. Because I give you stats like this. Manning had a bad day last week in terms of passer rating. That's bad news for the Redskins. Since 2003, Manning is 12-2 following a game where he posted a passer rating of less than 75 (not counting end of season games in which he played sparingly). Moreover, his rating in those games is 102.3. The two losses were to Jacksonville and Tennessee in 2008. Peyton Manning rarely has back to back statistical clunkers. He had a low mark last week, so watch for him to take out his wrath on the Redskins. For those that wonder, I generated that stat by combing over his game logs at 1:30 in the morning and then running them on a spreadsheet. I do it for you. ALL FOR YOU! and because maybe I have a personality disorder.
8. Watch the underperformer. The Colts have the best DVOA in football against #1 wideouts, so maybe Kelvin Hayden hasn't been entirely terrible, but he hasn't made a lot of big plays either. His personal foul penalty last week gifted the Chiefs a field goal, and his dropped interception the week before might have cost the Colts a win. Hayden is supposed to be a big play guy, a difference maker. It's not enough for him to provide good coverage; the Colts need him to make game changing plays. It's been awhile since he has.
9. Watch the nemesis. Mike Shanahan has to hate seeing Peyton Manning on the schedule. Peyton has just obliterated Shanahan coached teams in his career. He's 6-2 all time against Shanny, though in one of those losses he only played a series. Moreover, including his two playoff obliterations of Shanahan's Broncos, Manning has thrown 17 TDs and 2 picks with a passer rating of 116.4. Shanahan has called Manning the smartest quarterback ever. He can't be relishing another go around with 18.
10. Watch for controversy. Phil B Wilson thinks Gonzo will probably sit this week and come back for the Monday night game. Meanwhile Pierre Garcon continues to nurse a sore hamstring. Garcon has been brutal this year, ranking near the bottom of the Footballoutsiders wideout rankings. His catch rate is an unholy 38% and his production ranks him 83rd out of 84 qualified receivers. The Colts need a big game from Garcon, and Garcon needs a big game if he hopes to keep his job when Gonzo heals up.
11. Watch the road warriors. Try this stat on for size:
Since 2002, the Indianapolis Colts' road record -- 49-18 (.731 winning percentage) -- is better than the home record of every team in the NFL except New England.
The Colts need this trend to continue. They've opened the year 1-2 on the road, and need to go at least 4-4 if they hope to keep their streak of 12 win seasons alive. Playing at Washington is a tough task, but this remains among the most winnable road games on the schedule. The Colts have been great on the road in recent years, and they'll need to be great again come Sunday.
12. Watch for Father Time. Ron Jaworski created a stir this morning by wondering if Manning was getting old because he 'wasn't as sharp' the last couple of weeks. Gee, Ron. Maybe the fact that all his receivers are hurt, or all of his running backs are hurt, or the fact that his line can't be trusted at all might have a lot more to do with things than age. Manning has had a passer rating over 99 in four of his five games. His YPA has been over 7.5 in four of five games. He basically had three bad series after Addai got hurt last week and now the sky is falling? Come on.
13. Watch the security blanket. Tight end Chris Cooley has been the Redskins second leading receiver this year. The Colts have been mediocre against tight ends this year, despite some historic success against them. Gary Brackett must shut Cooley down in coverage if the Colts hope to get the Skins off the field on third down. Indy has to win this matchup in the middle of the field.
14. Watch for the political puns. Midterm elections are coming up and this will be a midterm test for the Colts and Redskins. Jim Caldwell has a red state demeanor. Peyton Manning is always trying to filibuster at the line. Brackett Obama. Jerraud Pelosi. He vetoed that pass! I'm hoping Michaels will show some restraint, but if the game gets out of hand at all, you know he'll bust them out.
15. Watch for a statement. Peter King recently declared Washington end Brian Orakpo a better pass rusher for the next five years than Dwight Freeney. Freeney didn't like it. Right now, Orakpo leads DFree 4 sacks to 3. Freeney did the talking and now he needs to do the walking...all over McNabb's face.
16. Watch for your no-name fifth cousin from Bismarck to run the ball for Washington. Ok maybe not, but we all know Mike Shanahan's ability to transform an undrafted free agent, a monkey wrench, a half bottle of Sunny D, and some electrical tape into a 1,000 yard rusher. The Redskins don't have a fear inducing backfield with Clinton Portis out. But look for Shanahan to spread the ball among Ryan Torain, former Colt Chad "The Human Touchback (except for the one time we needed an ACTUAL TOUCHBACK in the Super Bowl)" Simpson and practice squad call up Keiland Williams, and just maybe your fifth cousin.
17. Watch for the make up interview. Peyton declined to talk to Andrea Kramer after dismantling the Giants a few weeks back. There's no way he turns down an interview tomorrow night. The NFL is contractually obligated to provide Kramer with a certain number of quarterbacks each year so that she can stare creepily at them with her haunting, beady eyes. I would pay good money to hear her say, "We wanted to interview Dwight Freeney, but he declined, so we're stuck with Peyton Manning".
18. Watch for a gritty win. Forget style points. Forget blowouts. The Colts need a win going into the bye week if they want to keep their hopes for a good seed in the AFC alive. Beating a team like Washington on the road would be quite an accomplishment for a beat up club. I think they get it: Indy 24 Washington 20.