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Colts at Washington: What to watch for Sunday

SEATTLE, WA - AUGUST 09: Quarterback Andrew Luck #12 of the Indianapolis Colts passes against the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field on August 9, 2018 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Areas of interest as the Indianapolis Colts meet the Washington Redskins Sunday at FedExField in Landover, Md. The Colts are looking to avoid a fifth straight 0-2 start.

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

 Broadcast: CBS4

  • Take some shots: We’re on board with the offensive approach of Frank Reich and Nick Sirianni. Shorter drops. A rhythmic passing game that probes for favorable matchups, accentuates crossing routes and spreads the football around. Fans need to get used to it. It’s efficient and sustains drives as long as something adverse doesn’t occur, like a penalty or a sack.

But at some point, there needs to be at least the threat of stretching the field. Andrew Luck needs to take some shots to prevent defenses from crowding the line of scrimmage, which impacts the intermediate passing game and the running game. In the opener against Cincinnati, Luck limbered up his arm a few times – he underthrew a deep post to T.Y. Hilton, Hilton dropped what would have been a 35-yard completion and was penalized for pushing off on a 20-yard catch – but his only completion of at least 20 yards was Eric Ebron’s 26-yard touchdown.

No one should question Luck’s ability to make all the necessary throws. We’re not asking for a return to the No risk it, no biscuit days of Bruce Arians, but chunk plays – or the threat of them – need to be a part of the game plan.

  • Will Luck have the time?: As much as the Colts need to incorporate occasional deep passing in their offense, it’s fair to wonder whether the status of their line will allow it. Anthony Castonzo’s balky hamstring and a hamstring injury that sent right tackle J’Marcus Webb to the injured reserve list will result in yet another adjustment up front. We’re expecting Joe Haeg, who started at left tackle in week 1, to move back to right tackle and Le’Raven Clark, who was a healthy scratch last week, to make his first career start at left tackle.

Sirianni undoubtedly will provide Clark with help in the form of a tight end – probably Ryan Hewitt – but Clark and Haeg must hold up on the edges. Washington had just two sacks in its opening blowout of Arizona, but was credited with 19 pressures and another seven QB hits. The Redskins feature one of the NFL’s underappreciated pass-rush threats in Ryan Kerrigan. The 2011 first-round draft pick out of Muncie and Purdue has started 113 consecutive regular-season games and is one of three non-QBs to start every game since ’11. The others: Brandon Carr and Patrick Peterson.

Kerrigan’s durability is impressive, but so is his ability to get to the quarterback. He ranks third in team history with 71.5 career sacks and has added 22 forced fumbles. Kerrigan has generated at least 7.5 sacks in each of his first seven seasons, including 13 last year.

“Kerrigan is as productive as a defensive player as there is in the league,’’ Frank Reich said. “I mean this guy is a stud, so you’ve got to know where he is at all times.’’

Washington isn’t a one-man show when it comes to pressuring the quarterback. Strong-side ‘backer Preston Smith had 8 sacks last season and end Matt Ioannidis 4.5. Jonathan Allen, a 2017 first-round draft pick, also is a force.

  • Bend, but only so much: Like it or not, Matt Eberflus’ 4-3 defense is considered a bend-but-don’t break scheme. It generally allows long drives, but is supposed to tighten up as the goal line approaches.

Sustained drives appear to be the forte of Washington’s offense. In their season opener, the Redskins dominated Arizona. They piled up a league-high time of possession (38 minutes, 8 seconds) by mixing 42 rushing attempts (another league high) with quarterback Alex Smith’s precise passing (21-of-30, 255 yards, 2 TDs, a 118.1 rating).

Reich (formerly of Philadelphia) and Eberflus (Dallas) are familiar with the Redskins from their NFC East days.

“Washington has always been committed to the run. They always have,’’ Eberflus said. “They are going to stay with it and you have to do a great job. You have to be consistent.’’

When rookie running back Derrius Guice suffered a season-ending knee injury in the preseason opener against New England, the Redskins looked to free agency and snatched up Adrian Peterson nine days later. Peterson, 33 and in his 12th season, made a strong debut with 96 yards on 26 carries. Chris Thompson was a stellar complement with 128 total yards from scrimmage: 65 on just five carries and another 63 on a team-high six receptions. Thompson’s five carries included runs of 16, 15, 14 and 13 yards.

The key to dealing with Peterson and Thompson?

“You tackle in terms of getting population to the ball,’’ Eberflus said.

  • Vinatieri Watch: For those keeping track at home, Adam Vinatieri needs four field goals to break Morten Andersen’s NFL record of 565 and 47 points to replace Andersen (2,544) as the league’s all-time scoring leader.

Vinatieri enjoyed a productive opener with 11 points: 21-, 38- and 51-yard field goals and two PATs. A 55-yard field-goal attempt fell short.

Reich hasn’t second-guessed his decision to have Vinatieri attempt the 55-yarder in the third quarter. The Colts were looking to expand their 23-17 lead, but the miss gave the Bengals a short field and they capitalized by driving 55 yards for the go-ahead touchdown.

“I know it’s a long field goal so the percentages are a little bit lower,’’ Reich said. “But we got the best in the world. I mean, this guy is the best in the world. He is the best in the world. There is nobody better.’’

  • And the winner is: Redskins 27, Colts 20. We just don’t like the matchup. Eberflus’ defense is vulnerable to sustained drives, and that’s Washington’s strength with Smith, Peterson and Thompson. The pressure will be on Luck to be efficient with what might be limited possessions.

On the plus side, the Colts traditionally have handled Smith. He’s lost three of four regular-season meetings and his 50.0 passer rating includes two TDs and six interceptions. Smith was with Kansas City when he enjoyed one of the best games of his career in the 2013 playoffs at Lucas Oil Stadium – 378 yards, four TDs, no interceptions – but looked on as Luck rallied Indy from a 38-10 third-quarter deficit to a 45-44 victory.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.