Raiders at Colts: Areas of interest

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 22: Jacoby Brissett #7 of the Indianapolis Colts hands off the ball to Marlon Mack #25 of the Indianapolis Colts during the first quarter of the game against the Atlanta Falcons at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 22, 2019 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Bobby Ellis/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Areas of interest in the Indianapolis Colts’ meeting with the Oakland Raiders Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium:

  • Kickoff: 1 p.m.
  • Broadcast: CBS4

Depth matters

We’ve mentioned how the top-to-bottom strength of the roster is the best it’s been since 2009. That’s about to be tested, especially on defense.

Safety Malik Hooker is expected to miss at least a month with a knee injury, and linebacker Darius Leonard will miss a second game with a concussion. Rotational d-lineman Tyquan Lewis (ankle) won’t play Sunday. Jabaal Sheard has missed the first three games after undergoing a knee procedure in training camp. He’s been practicing on a limited basis but might be another week away from playing. Cornerback Pierre Desir (hamstring) and end Al-Quadin Muhammad (neck) were limited in practice.

We’ll save you the trouble. That’s an All-Pro linebacker, emerging centerfielder and four other defenders dealing with something.

Coordinator Matt Eberflus hasn’t shied from using his rookies – five were on the field at the same time at some point against the Falcons – but things escalate when a young player transitions from backup to starter. Khari Willis is in line to make his first career start for Hooker, while Bobby Okereke makes his second in place of Leonard. If Desir is out or limited, look for Rock Ya-Sin’s reps to increase, and he’s already played a ton.

The Raiders’ offense is nothing special: 26th in total yards, 29th in scoring, 16th in rushing and 24th in passing. This isn’t the time for rookie mistakes, or mistakes in general, to aid Oakland.

Depth matters, Part II

All signs point to Pro Bowl wideout T.Y. Hilton resting his sore quad. He’s doubtful on the injury report – that means he’s unlikely to play – and the team added rookie wideout Ashton Dulin to the active roster from the practice squad.

So now what? Adjust and move on.

“We view every guy on our roster as a guy who can play winning football,’’ Frank Reich said.

It will be interesting to see how Reich and coordinator Nick Sirianni compensate for the absence of Hilton. As much as they endorse a diverse offense, the passing game has been extremely T.Y.-centric. He’s off to the best three-game start of his career with 20 catches, 195 yards and four TDs. Need perspective? He’s accounted for 30% of Jacoby Brissett’s completions and 27% of his targets (25 of 92).

Here’s where we remind you the Colts lost No. 2 wideout Devin Funchess in the opener (clavicle). That leaves five available: Chester Rogers, Zach Pascal, Parris Campbell, Deon Cain and Dulin. Campbell and Dulin are rookies, and Cain’s experience consists of three games and three catches after missing his rookie season with a knee injury.

Who’s Brissett’s go-to guy when it’s not Hilton? It might be Jack Doyle and/or Eric Ebron. No one should be surprised if this is the game the tight ends really exert themselves.

Mack attack?

This might be one of those games where Reich and Sirianni decide to lean on Marlon Mack and the run game. If so, who could blame them? The Raiders’ run defense isn’t atrocious – 19th in yards per game (112.3) and 13th in yards per attempt (4.1), but it’s vulnerable. In back-to-back double-digit losses, it allowed 31 yards on 22 attempts to the Chiefs – of course, Patrick Mahomes ripped ‘em for 443 yards and four TDs – but then was gashed for 211 yards by the Vikings. Dalvin Cook hit the Raiders for 110 on 16 carries.

Mack’s 299 yards rank third in the NFL and are the ninth most by a Colt in the first three games of a season. He’s benefiting from an offensive staff committed to running the ball and an offensive line that makes it possible.

Anyone remember the results of the latest meeting with the Raiders? It was 11 months ago, and Indy ran early and often in a 42-28 road win. Mack finished with a then-career best 134 yards, and the team finished with 222 on 40 attempts.

Or more from Brissett?

As tempting as it might be to go full-Mack attack, the Raiders bring one of the NFL’s worst pass defenses to town. It’s tied for 24th in yards per game and 30th in yards per attempt (9.2). Opposing QBs have compiled a 118.6 rating on the season on six touchdowns and zero interceptions. Of course, Mahomes has a lot to do with those crooked numbers.

The Raiders have allowed 16 completions of at least 20 yards, including TDs of 44, 42, 39, 35 and 27 yards.

Brissett started to stretch his legs in the passing game last week against the Falcons. His 310 yards included a 35-yard TD to Pascal and a 30-yard completion to Ebron. We’re not expecting him to spend the day looking deep, but there likely will be opportunities.

And the winner is: Colts 27 – Raiders 17

Banged up or not, there simply are games a playoff-caliber team must win. This is one of those. At home, where the Colts have won seven straight. Against a team that has dropped two straight by a total of 38 points – 28-10 to the Chiefs, 34-14 to the Vikings. Even though the fan base might have an eye on the Oct. 6 trip to Kansas City, this is no time to be caught looking ahead.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51

And be sure to catch the Colts Blue Zone Podcast:

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