Colts at Raiders: What to watch for Sunday
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Areas of interest in the Indianapolis Colts’ Sunday meeting with the Raiders in the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.
Kickoff: 4:05 p.m.
- TCB in Oakland:The scenario is similar to last weekend’s, when the Colts faced the struggling Bills. It was imperative to take advantage of an opponent in a serious downward spiral and breathe life into your season. You know, Take Care of Business.
So, do it again, this time some 2,000 miles away.
Whether the Jon Gruden-led Raiders are tanking is a debate for another time. What’s inarguable is they’re a mess. Leading rusher Marshawn Lynch is on IR with a season-ending groin injury. Premier pass rusher Khalil Mack is in Chicago. Former top wideout Amari Cooper is in Dallas. Quarterback Derek Carr used his Twitter account to tell everyone he wasn’t crying on the field after suffering an injury to his left shoulder against Seattle in London in week 6.
Oh, and there’s the matter of Gruden possessing an offense that ranks 28th (18.3 points per game) and a defense that ranks 29th (29.3) in scoring. Carr still has viable targets in tight end Jared Cook and wideout Jordy Nelson – a combined 54 passes, 723 yards, 5 TDs – and backup running back Doug Martin is a former Pro Bowler with a pair of 1,400-yard seasons on his resume.
But again, the Raiders are a mess.
So again, Take Care of Business. If the Colts are to remain relevant over the second half of the season, they must build on the blowout of the Bills. Coming out of next week’s bye, Indy faces a three-game home stretch against Jacksonville, Tennessee and Miami.
Now is the time to determine the course of ’18.
- Offense getting healthy:Don’t look now, but the offense never has been healthier. For the first time this season, Andrew Luck’s supporting cast will include left tackle Anthony Castonzo, wideout T.Y. Hilton, running back Marlon Mack and tight ends Jack Doyle and Eric Ebron. Doyle is in line to make his first appearance since suffering a hip injury in week 2 at Washington. Castonzo returned two weeks ago after missing the first five games with a hamstring injury. Hilton and Mack were back last week against the Bills after dealing with hamstring injuries.
And let’s not kid ourselves, even though there are promising signs on defense – most notably rookie linebacker and NFL tackle leader Darius Leonard – the Colts will remain an offensive-driven bunch. They’re coming off a wholesale dismantling of Buffalo during which Luck did a lot with a little (four TDs on just 23 pass attempts), Mack posted the first 100-yard game of his young career and the offensive line didn’t allow a sack for a second straight game. Luck hasn’t been sacked in his last 125 attempts, the longest sackless streak of his career.
It’s important for the offense and the O-line to build on what’s going on, not sit back and admire their handiwork. The Raiders appear to be exceedingly vulnerable on defense: 29th in points allowed (29.3), 32nd in yards allowed per play (6.7), 27th in rushing yards per game (131.8), 32nd in passing yards per attempt (9.0) and 29th in third-down efficiency (46.1 percent) They rank last with 7 sacks and their 6 takeaways are tied for 3rd fewest.
In keeping with the theme of the day: Take Care of Business.
- Turn up the pressure:At some level you have to feel sorry for Carr. The 2014 second-round draft pick is getting pummeled behind an ineffective offensive line (17 sacks, an injury to his left shoulder against the Seahawks). Now he’s without Lynch and Cooper, and Pro Bowl left tackle Kelechi Osemele, who’s missed the last two games with a right knee injury, is questionable for Sunday.
The defensive priorities should be twofold: contain Martin, who is looking to re-establish himself with Lynch out, and pressure Carr. The Colts were successful on both fronts in their dominant outing against Buffalo. They came up with five takeaways for the first time since 2008, sacked Derek Anderson twice and kept an opponent out of the end for a second time this season.
Don’t look now, but the Colts are tied for 3rd with 15 takeaways and tied for 4th with 21 sacks. That difference-making combination has helped compensate for allowing opposing QBs to complete 73.1 percent of their passes and compile a 99.5 rating.
Coordinator Matt Eberflus will be without one safety – Malik Hooker, out with a hip injury – and Clayton Geathers is questionable with a neck issue. Veteran Mike Mitchell has been a solidifying force despite being in town less than a month (AFC Defensive Player of the Week last week), but his sidekick against the Raiders might be Corey Moore. He started 11 games in three seasons in Houston, but has one tackle in seven games this season.
- Vinatieri Watch:Adam Vinatieri’s methodical pursuit of Morten Andersen could end in front of Raider Nation, providing he’s given the necessary opportunities and as long as his ailing right groin cooperates. Vinatieri needs 5 points to eclipse Andersen (2,544 points) as the NFL’s all-time scoring leader.
- And the winner is: Colts 27, Raiders 13:The uptick in optimism following the blowout of Buffalo would immediately evaporate with a stumble against the 1-5 Raiders. We’re not ready pronounce the Colts worthy of contending for anything, but they simply must escape the Black Hole with their first back-to-back wins on consecutive weekends since the final two weeks of 2015.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.