INDIANAPOLIS – Areas of interest in the Indianapolis Colts’ Sunday meeting with the Raiders in Las Vegas’ Allegiant Stadium:

The basics:

  • Kickoff: 4:05 p.m.
  • Broadcast: CBS4.
  • Spread: Raiders by 4½.

History lesson Part I:

Welcome to the Big Chair, Jeff Saturday. And good luck. Let’s forget the ruckus owner Jim Irsay created when he named Saturday interim coach after firing Frank Reich. The question moving forward: What’s next?

Saturday is the Colts’ sixth interim coach put in place since 1970 because the head coach was fired. The previous five were 1-4 in their debuts. The outlier: Ron Meyer, who took over an 0-13 team in 1986 when then-owner Robert Irsay fired Rod Dowhower. Meyer’s salesmanship qualities injected immediate life into the team, which manifest itself in a 28-23 win at Atlanta in his first game (thanks for the blocked punt, Tate Randle). The Colts finished the season with three straight wins.

The fate of the others: Rick Venturi, a 21-3 loss to Pittsburgh in 1991; Hal Hunter, a 16-10 loss at New England in ’84; Joe Thomas, a 42-3 loss at New England in ’74; and John Sandusky, a 24-20 loss to the New York Jets in ’72.

There’s no mystery to the overall lack of success by interim coaches. The position became available because the team got its head coach fired. The combined record of the Colts at the time their coach was fired during the season: 8-41-1.

History lesson Part II:

For what it’s worth, the Raiders – Los Angeles, Oakland, Las Vegas, pick a version – lead the overall series 11-9. But the Colts have won four of the last five on the road, including a 44-27 decision in 2020. An interesting note about that previous trip to Vegas. It came during the inaugural season of the 65,000-seat Allegiant Stadium, and during the COVID-19 pandemic. No fans were allowed in the building.

QB situation:

Saturday shuffled the deck at quarterback heading into his first game. Sam Ehlinger makes his third career start, but Matt Ryan was moved into the backup spot. Nick Foles, the backup the past two games, will be inactive.

We’re more than a little interested in whether Ehlinger will be a short leash. Ryan was benched after the week 7 loss at Tennessee and suffered a sprained right shoulder against the Titans. But he returned to full practice Thursday and Friday. That’s a clear sign Ryan is healthy enough to play.

Regardless of what anyone believes about Ehlinger’s long-range potential, Ryan – or Foles – gives the Colts the best short-term chance at success. That’s not meant as a knock on Ehlinger. It’s an indictment of the entire offense. But Ehlinger has directed the NFL’s worst offense to one touchdown and four field goals on 25 legitimate drives in his two starts; that’s 9.5 points per game. The Colts have been outscored 40-10 in the first quarter and 118-42 in the first half, and haven’t generated a single point on their opening drive in 11 straight games.

If Ehlinger opens with several ineffective drives against the Raiders, how much patience will Saturday show?

JT returns:

This is another one of those situations where a rattled team generally turns to its foundational strength. With Indy, that always has been the offensive line and the running game. But neither has been up to snuff, which ultimately cost Reich his job.

Even so, Jonathan Taylor returns after missing the offensive implosion at New England and we’re expecting Saturday to test the stability of Taylor’s right ankle. Remember, the interim coach is a former offensive lineman, and at his core an offensive lineman believes in running the football. A robust JT would do wonders for an offense that’s 32nd in scoring (14.7) and 30th in rushing (86.7).

The possible issue with that approach is the Raiders defense has been decent against the run – 14th overall in yards per game (116.0), 7th in yards per attempt (4.2) – but absolutely awful against the pass. They’re giving up 255.3 yards per game (26th) and 7.3 yards per attempt (28th).

It’s been a collective mess for the Raiders’ pass defense. It has just three interceptions (tied-3rd fewest) and QBs are completing a league-best 70.5% of their passes with a 106.7 passer rating.

One of the primary reasons the pass defense isn’t working? The lack of a pass rush. Despite the presence of Maxx Crosby and Chandler Jones, the Raiders have a league-low 9 sacks. Crosby has 6 sacks, 12 quarterback hits and a league-high 13 tackles for loss. Jones has .5 sack and just six QB hits.

If the Colts’ pass protection can hold up even a bit after giving up 9 sacks against the Patriots, there should be opportunities for Michael Pittman Jr., Alec Pierce and Parris Campbell to do damage.

Raiders threats:

Gus Bradley’s defense has played at a winning level much of the season, and it got a break this week when the Raiders placed tight end Darren Waller and wideout Hunter Renfrow on the injured reserve list.

But quarterback Derek Carr still has a pair of game-breakers in wideout Davante Adams and running back Josh Jacobs. Adams leads the league with seven touchdown catches and is 8th in receptions (48) and yards (658). Jacobs is 4th in rushing (743 yards), but has been limited to 110 yards on 27 attempts in the Raiders last two losses to New Orleans and Jacksonville.

Carr has had adequate success against Indy. He’s won three of five starts, including last season’s 23-20 decision that required a fourth-quarter comeback. He’s averaged 247.2 passing yards with 11 touchdowns, four interceptions and a 104.4 rating.

And the winner is: Raiders 20, Colts 16.

We’re this close to going with Indy. Vegas is the perfect backdrop for Ryan to replace Ehlinger, direct the 46th game-winning drive of his career and fourth of the season, and author a dramatic end to a crazy week. But we just can’t go there. It’s difficult to expect things to change until the offense comes out of its funk.

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

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.