Colts at Bears: How we see it

Sports

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA – SEPTEMBER 27: Philip Rivers #17 of the Indianapolis Colts passes the ball in the game against the New York Jets during the second quarter at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 27, 2020 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)

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INDIANAPOLIS – Areas of interest in the Indianapolis Colts’ meeting with the Chicago Bears in Soldier Field:

  •  Kickoff: 4:25 p.m.
  • Broadcast: CBS4

Defensive encore

Anyone knocking the defense for manhandling the Vikings and Jets the past two weeks and emerging as the NFL’s top-rated unit – fewest total yards (225.3), passing yards (132.0) and points (15.0) allowed per game – has an axe to grind. Give ‘em their due. They completely shut down Kirk Cousins, who’s legit, and Sam Darnold, who’s semi-legit. The defense has generated six interceptions, 5 sacks and two safeties in the last two weeks. Opposing QBs have compiled a league-low 64.0 passer rating.

But with success comes increased expectations. In short, do it again. And again. And again.

That starts with dealing with a Bears’ offense that ranks 17th in yards and 20th in points. But let’s not focus on those numbers. At issue is dealing with quarterback Nick Foles. He replaced Mitchell Trubisky and led the Bears’ second fourth-quarter comeback in three weeks, and has been installed as the new QB1.

For the defense to maintain its top-level performance, the line must continue to set the tone. DeForest Buckner has been as advertised as a 3-technique force (15 tackles, 1.5 sacks, five QB hits, one safety) and Justin Houston has a team-best 2.5 sacks, three QB hits and a safety. Also, Grover Stewart has emerged as an interior force.

The backend of the defense faces another shuffle with T.J. Carrie out with a hamstring injury suffered in Thursday’s practice and Rock Ya-Sin back after missing two games with a stomach issue. Xavier Rhodes and the rest of the corners face a stiff challenge in Allen Robinson, the Bears’ top wideout (18 catches, 230 yards, one TD).

So far, so good. But keep it up.

Still waiting for run game

Yes, we’re still waiting. Three weeks have done little to establish the Colts as one of the NFL’s better running teams. We’re not overly concerned with the per-game yield (119.3). That’s down from last year’s 133.1 that ranked 7th in the league, but still would be the team’s 2nd-best average in the 19 years.

It’s the 3.8 per-carry average that concerns us a bit. That’s primarily a byproduct of rookie Jonathan Taylor not really stretching his legs to this point and a few short-yardage failures by the entire group. Taylor is averaging 3.8 on his 48 carries with a long of 16. Reliable Jordan Wilkins has the longest run to date, a 22-yarder against the Jets.

We fully expect Taylor to flash his game-breaking speed sooner, not later. He’s still a tad indecisive with his cuts, but that will disappear with experience and when he truly trusts his instincts.

Maybe that time is Sunday. The Bears’ run defense is allowing 5 yards per attempt, 23rd in the NFL. If coach Frank Reich and offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni remain committed to giving Taylor his touches, he’ll break off a few chunk plays.

Protect Rivers

This is where a reliable running game would come in handy. The Bears feature three formidable pass-rush threats in Khalil Mack, Robert Quinn and Akiem Hicks. Rivers isn’t the nimblest of QBs, and that’s being generous.

We’ve got no issues with the Colts’ pass protection through three games. It’s yielded three sacks, but only one is legitimate. If Chuck Pagano’s defense is to have success against the Rivers-led offense, it must get to him and disrupt what has been an extremely efficient, rhythmic passing game. Rivers is completing a league-best 78.3% of his attempts.

The return of tight end Trey Burton – he missed the first three games with a calf injury – should be a boost to Rivers. The two quickly developed chemistry during training camp.

To drive home the extent of the threat presented by Mack, Quinn and Hicks, consider they’ve combined for 6 sacks and 11 pressures in three games.

Deal with Foles

It’s clear Bears coach Matt Nagy wasn’t exactly all-in when he named Mitchell Trubisky his starting QB coming out of training camp. That commitment lasted 2½ games. When the Trubisky suffered an interception early in the third quarter at Atlanta that helped push the Falcons in to a 23-10 lead, Nagy had had enough.

Enter Nick Foles. By game’s end, Foles had delivered yet another Bears’ comeback by throwing for 188 yards and three TDs. Moving forward, it’s his offense.

Reich has deep knowledge of Foles. They were together in 2017-18 in Philadelphia and Foles credited Reich, the Eagles’ offensive coordinator, with helping him emerge. Foles replaced an injured Carson Wentz in ’17 and led the Eagles to their first Super Bowl championship with a 41-33 win over New England. He was named Super Bowl MVP after passing for 373 yards and three TDs, and catching a TD pass.

“He was the one who really figured me out as a player and realized that we had it all wrong,’’ Foles said of Reich. “They just threw some plays out there one day and said, ‘Just go play these plays. We studied you and these are the plays you do.’ And sure enough, something triggered inside of me.

“And he figured me out as a player to where, even during games when I’d come to the sidelines . . . he was like, ‘I trust you. Just do your thing.’ He cared more about the person than the player. And that says a lot about him and that’s why I have all the respect in the world.’’

That flows both ways.

Reich said Foles is “really composed, unflappable under pressure. Nick is a really unique player in that regard. A lot of quarterbacks in the NFL have that composure. I just think Nick’s is maybe at another level.

“Part of that is he’s fearless. He’s a fearless competitor.’’

This won’t be the first time Reich has faced his former QB.

Foles signed a four-year, $88 million free agent contract with Jacksonville in the 2019 offseason only to suffer a broken left clavicle in the season opener. He returned to the starting lineup in week 11 against the Colts in Indy, and endured a tough day. Reich’s Colts won 33-13 as Foles completed 33-of-47 passes for 296 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.

It’s worth noting that while Foles has enjoyed success during his nine-year career – he’s 26-22 as a starter with 74 touchdowns, 36 interceptions, an 88.3 rating and the world championship – he’s with his third team in as many years and fourth in five years. The Jaguars traded him to Chicago in March.

And the winner is

Colts 23, Bears 20. We still have questions about this group, but if the Colts are going to be relevant in December, this is a game they absolutely, positively must find a way to win. They already let one get away at Jacksonville. The Bears are hardly a pushover, but it’s worth noting their 3-0 record has come against teams that are 1-8. And yes, the Colts’ are 2-1 against teams that also are 1-8.

Get the lead, ride Jonathan Taylor, get in Nick Foles’ face and don’t give the Bears a reason to believe they can perform another Houdini act.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

Listen to the Colts Blue Zone Podcast for weekly coverage and analysis of the Indianapolis Colts.

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