Game plan: Colts vs. Buccaneers
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Nov. 28, 2015) – Four areas of interest in the Indianapolis Colts’ meeting with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium: (FOX59, 1 p.m.):
One for the ages: There is no lack of storylines as a pair of 5-5 teams look to add impetus to their playoff aspirations. We’ll start with the two guys under center who are separated by 19 years. The Colts’ Matt Hasselbeck, 40, is the NFL’s oldest active quarterback. The Bucs’ Jameis Winston, 21, is the league’s youngest QB. Hasselbeck was the 187th overall pick in the 1998 draft, when Winston was 4. Winston was the No. 1 overall pick in 2015.
Winston respects his elder.
“One thing about playing against old people is I could say that (Hasselbeck) as balding, but we’ve got so many bald-headed 20-year-olds on this roster, I can’t even make (a) funny joke about it,’’ he said. “He looks better at age 40 than some of the young guys on our team.’’
Replied Hasselbeck: “That’s very kind of him.’’
Hasselbeck has kept the Colts’ season alive while starter Andrew Luck first dealt with an injury to his right shoulder and now is out indefinitely with a lacerated kidney and torn abdominal muscle. He’s 3-0 as a starter and can join Brett Favre as the only QBs since the 1970 merger to win four consecutive starts after turning 40.
The 5-5 Bucs are in the thick of the NFC wild-card hunt, and should thank Winston. His 15 touchdown passes are tied for the most by a rookie through the first 11 weeks of the season since the merger, and his 2,405 passing yards are the third-most.
One stat of note regarding Winston: he’s 3-2 away from home with 10 touchdowns and just one interception. He tied a club record last Sunday with five TDs at Philly.
Line dance: Here we go again. Just when it seemed the Colts’ offensive line was benefitting from continuity, left tackle Anthony Castonzo sprained his right knee last Sunday at Atlanta. He’s week-to-week and his streak of 72 consecutive starts, including the playoffs, is over.
Now, position coach Joe Gilbert must shuffle his deck. Again. In an attempt at keeping the disruption to a minimum, the team will keep the interior intact. That’s a good idea since the Bucs’ best pass-rush threat is tackle Gerald McCoy (a team-high 6 sacks). However, Joe Reitz, the starting right tackle the previous eight games, will replace Castonzo and protect Hasselbeck’s blindside. Rookie Denzelle Good is expected to replace Reitz.
The main issue with that decision? While Reitz will make his 36th career start, including the playoffs, it will be his first at left tackle. And Good, a seventh-round draft pick, will be making his NFL debut. He’s been inactive the previous 10 games.
“We’ll put the best five guys out there and roll with it,’’ Reitz said.
Get T.Y. more involved: There’s no question T.Y. Hilton possesses game-breaking skills. He can take the top off a defense with his deep speed. Of his 22 career regular-season touchdown catches, 10 have covered at least 40 yards. Hilton got free for 87- and 46-yard bombs against the Saints.
But lately, there’s been too little of the 5-9, 180-pound Pro Bowler. In the past three games, Hilton has been limited to eight catches and 118 yards while being targeted just 17 times. Part of that is Hasselbeck’s penchant for spreading the ball around in the passing game and not locking onto Hilton. Last week at Atlanta, Hasselbeck targeted eight players, but none more than five times. Hilton had just two catches for 21 yards while being targeted on four occasions.
The Colts likely will continue to feature a diverse, medium-range passing game to accentuate Hasselbeck’s strengths, but that has to include more of Hilton.
He wears No. 22: Just to be certain the Colts’ No. 21-ranked run defense doesn’t forget the primary task against the Bucs, he wears No. 22 and answers to the name Doug Martin. The fourth-year pro out of Boise State is having a career year, and it couldn’t come at a better time. Martin will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.
Martin ranks second in the league in rushing with 941 yards, and the 235 yards he piled up last week against the Eagles is NFL’s the top single-game effort of the season. He’s a big-play threat every time he touches the ball. Martin has 24 rushes of at least 10 yards, second-most in the league to Adrian Peterson’s 31; leads the NFL with 10 rushes of at least 20 yards; and has two attempts that have picked up at least 50 yards.
“They’re definitely going to ride that horse,’’ linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said of Martin.
The Colts have allowed just 135 rushing yards on 38 attempts the past two games against Atlanta and Denver, but it most be noted they caught a break last Sunday when the Falcons’ Devonta Freeman was forced from the game in the first quarter with a concussion.
Prediction: Colts 27, Bucs 17.