Dolphins at Colts: Areas of interest


INDIANAPOLIS, IN – NOVEMBER 25: The line of scrimmage of the Indianapolis Colts against the Miami Dolphins at Lucas Oil Stadium on November 25, 2018 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

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  • Kickoff: 4:05 p.m.
  • Broadcast: CBS4.

It’s Brian Hoyer’s offense

Well, at least for one game. The uncertainty regarding Jacoby Brissett and his sprained left knee was cleared up Saturday when he was ruled out and Brian Hoyer named the starting quarterback. This is the reason Chris Ballard invested a three-year, $12 million contract in a 33-year old – now 34 – QB in early September in the aftermath of Andrew Luck’s sudden retirement in late August.

Hoyer has been around – seven teams in 11 seasons; 66 games, 37 starts. He’s 16-21 as a starter but is making his first start since week 6 of 2017. He’s passed for more than 10,000 yards with 51 TDs and 21 interceptions.

More recently, Hoyer replaced Brissett in the second quarter of last Sunday’s loss at Pittsburgh and passed for 168 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. It was a commendable performance considering he had had virtually zero work with the No. 1 offense up to that point. His role in practices had been running the scout team.

Hoyer’s first pass as a Colt was an 11-yard TD to Jack Doyle. His 14-yard TD to Zach Pascal was his first pass – ever – to Pascal. Clearly, this will be a learning process for Hoyer and his support cast.

From our perspective, the offensive line needs to step up and provide Hoyer with better protection than it’s offered over the last two games. After allowing 7 sacks in the first six games, the pass protection – that includes running backs and tight ends – have yielded 9 to Denver and the Steelers. It’s reasonable to expect Hoyer to be a little less decisive on his throws than Brissett, which might mean holding the ball a tad longer.

Which approach on offense?

Pro Bowl tight end Eric Ebron initiated a meeting with Reich this week centered around him being more involved on offense. While Ebron wants more opportunities to make plays – he has just 18 catches, 248 yards, and three TDs in eight games – he also believes, and rightly so, his presence on the field creates opportunities for others.

Maybe that meeting results in more for Ebron and the other tight ends. But maybe the timing isn’t conducive for such an offensive approach, at least not to the level Ebron wants. That’s especially true with the Colts going with their backup QB.

While Hoyer must do his part – make the throws when the situation warrants – no one should be surprised if Indy leans heavily on Marlon Mack and a running game that needs to get back on track. Mack is averaging 84.9 yards per game and on pace for 1,358, and the ground game still is 9th in the NFL, but the Colts have dipped to 4.2 yards per attempt (19th in the league).

Here’s where we mention the Dolphins’ run defense is atrocious: 150.8 yards per game allowed, 4.7 per attempt. Six different backs have eclipsed the 100-yard mark against them, including Ezekiel Elliott (19 carries, 125 yards) and Tony Pollard (13 for 103) in a week 3 shellacking at the hands of Dallas. It must be noted the run defense has gotten a tad better after yielding 265 to the Ravens and 235 to the Cowboys. Over the last five games, the averages are 116.4 yards per game and 4.2 per attempt.

Again, Hoyer is going to have to make plays with his arm. But the Colts need to ease his load by relying on Mack’s legs.

Look past the 1-7:

We’re not going to waste our time or insult your intelligence and insist the Dolphins are the best 1-7 team in the NFL. Even if they are, it’s a sorry group that includes Atlanta and the New York Jets.

It’s been well-documented Miami is in serious reboot mode – at last count they’ve got every first-round pick in the next two drafts (OK, not really) – and the threadbare roster ranks near the bottom of virtually every statistical category: the offense is 30th in yards and points per game; the defense is 29th and 32nd, respectively. It’s 31st in rushing yards per game generated and allowed. After trading Kenyan Drake to Arizona and Mark Walton’s suspension, the Dolphins’ leading rusher is Kalen Ballage. The second-year back has 70 yards on 35 carries.

And then there’s this: the average score for Miami this year is a crisp 32-12. It’s managed 12 touchdowns or one fewer than Christian McCaffrey.

Human nature might cause the Colts to overlook what clearly is an inferior opponent, but Reich should have no trouble motivating everyone.

“Unfortunately it should be easy for us not to . . . overlook them because we just lost,’’ he said. “I don’t think we would’ve either way, but coming after a loss, this business is brutal.

“You lose (at Pittsburgh) and you feel the sting of it and you feel like your back is against the wall and we have to respond. I’m trusting our guys to have the maturity to understand that and know that in this league every opponent is a good opponent.’’

Houston on a roll:

Justin Houston downplayed what’s going on, but we won’t. The Colts signed him to a two-year, $23 million contract during the offseason to bolter their pass rush and he’s responding. Houston leads the team with 6 sacks, and has 5 in his last four games. His four-game streak with at least one sack is tied for the second-longest of his career. He twice had six-game streaks in 2014 when he piled up a Kansas City-record and NFL-best 22.

Ryan Fitzpatrick is one of those hot-and-cold QBs. He’s capable of throwing for 250 yards and multiple touchdowns, but also prone to putting the football at risk. In 148 career games, he’s passed for 30,552 yards with 198 TDs and 155 interceptions. Oh yeah, he’s been sacked 259 times.

(BULLET) Keep it up on D: You’ve gotta like the direction being taken by Matt Eberflus’ defense. It ranks in the middle of the pack – 14th in yards per game, 17th in scoring – but allowed 279 yards in the win over Denver and 273 in the loss at Pittsburgh. Yes, neither team featured anything resembling an elite quarterback, but we’re still going to give the defense some credit.

The last two games, it has been solid on third down (a combined 7-of-25 conversions). Over the last four games, the red-zone defense has been downright stingy (five TDs allowed on 15 trips by the opposition).

As we mentioned, Miami brings one of the NFL’s least effective offenses to town. It’s time to dominate.

And the winner is

Colts 27, Dolphins 13. Let’s keep this simple. Whether it’s Jacoby Brissett, Brian Hoyer or Chad Kelly at quarterback, the Colts should take care of business.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51

And be sure to catch the Colts Blue Zone Podcast:

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