Rams at Colts: What to watch for Sunday

Indianapolis Colts

INDIANAPOLIS – Areas of interest in the Indianapolis Colts’ Sunday meeting with the Los Angeles Rams at Lucas Oil Stadium:

  • Kickoff: 1 p.m.
  • Broadcast: FOX59

Uh oh, 0-2?

Consider this today’s history lesson. The Colts have proven to be one resilient bunch under Frank Reich. They’ve bought into his take-it-one-week-at-a-time philosophy. They’ve lost all four season openers under him, but have rebounded to win in week 2 in the three previous occasions – at Washington (21-9) in 2018, at Tennessee (19-17) ‘19 and against Minnesota (28-11) last season.

“You have to have a sense of urgency every week,’’ he said. “I thought we had a sense of urgency in week 1 and we didn’t get it done. Just come in week 2 . . . I think the team’s dialed in, focused.’’

The Colts showed incredible resiliency in ’18. They recovered from a 1-5 start to win nine of their final 10 to earn a wild-card playoff spot.

But here’s a twist.

Since their relocation to Indy in ’84, the Colts have started 0-2 14 times and earned a playoff berth only once in a non-strike season. That was in 2014 when they quickly got their act together behind quarterback Andrew Luck, finished 11-5, won the AFC South and reached the AFC Championship game. The only other 0-2 start came in the strike-interrupted ’87 season that saw Indy post a 9-7 record that was good enough to win the AFC East.

A few caveats on that ominous 0-2 history. We’re in the first 17-game regular season and last year the NFL expanded the playoffs to include a third wild-card team. Also, there’s every chance the Colts’ expected challenger in the AFC South – the Tennessee Titans – opens 0-2. They were routed in their opener at home Sunday by Arizona and are at Seattle Sunday.

Regardless the outcome on Sunday, the Colts’ early-season showdown with the Titans in Nashville in week 3 is huge.

Line dance

We’re two weeks into the season and one of the team’s unquestioned strengths – the offensive line – remains a major question mark.

We’re expecting Eric Fisher to make his Colts’ debut at left tackle, but his addition is nullified by the subtraction of right tackle Braden Smith, who exited the Seattle game with a foot injury. Also, All-Pro left guard Quenton Nelson is being bothered by a lingering back issue.

If Fisher goes, Julién Davenport or Matt Pryor fills in for Smith at right tackle. In a worst-case scenario of Fisher being held out, the tackle tandem is Davenport and Pryor.

Yikes.

It seems so long ago when the Colts started the same offensive line combination for 16 games. It wasn’t. It was 2019.

Offense impacted

We’re not going to see what this o-line can be until Fisher gets comfortable and Smith returns. But the patchwork unit must be better than average, and light years better than last Sunday. Pass protection allowed too much leakage against Seattle – three sacks of Carson Wentz along with 18 pressures and 10 hits – and that contributed to a passing game that lacked a down-field threat. Wentz averaged 6.6 yards per attempt – 22nd best in the league – and 10 yards per completion with a long of 24 to Parris Campbell.

The trickle-down effect was a spotty run game. Jonathan Taylor needed 17 carries for his 56 yards, and averaged an unacceptable 3.3 per attempt.

Here’s where we remind you the Rams bring last season’s No. 1-ranked defense to town and tackle Aaron Donald remains arguably the best defensive player on the planet. Jalen Ramsey might be the best cornerback in the league.

Defense needs bounce-back

Reich mentioned the entire team was hungry and humble in the aftermath of the lopsided loss to Seattle.

“We ate a little bit of humble pie,’’ he said.

The defense had several helpings. Russell Wilson compiled a 152.3 rating by averaging 11 yards per attempt and 14.1 yards per completion, and by finding Tyler Lockett for 23- and 69-yard touchdowns and Gerald Everett for a 9-yarder. The Seahawks averaged 5.2 yards per rush, which was boosted by Chris Carson’s 33-yarder on third-and-1 and way too many missed tackles.

Bouncing back won’t be an easy task against the aggressive Rams and Matthew Stafford. They averaged 7.7 yards per play and pretty much did whatever they wanted in their 34-14 stroll past the Chicago Bears. Excluding a kneel-down drive at the end of the half, and the Rams scored on six of their first seven drives – four TDs, two Matt Gay field goals.

Xavier Rhodes will miss a second straight game with a calf injury, which figures to stress the veracity of the secondary.

Stafford threat

Anyone else remember when the Colts had some level of interest in trading for Stafford before opting for Wentz? Stafford’s relocation from Detroit to Los Angeles is being viewed as the missing piece in the Rams’ pursuit of a trip to the Super Bowl . . . which will be held Feb. 13 in SoFi Stadium, the dual home of the Rams and Chargers in Inglewood.

Stafford is one of those quarterbacking enigmas. He’s 75-90-1 as a starter with three playoff appearances and zero postseason wins during his 13-year career, but has dazzling stats. He ranks 16th in league history with 45,430 yards and 285 touchdowns and 20th with a 90.2 passer rating. On a per-game basis, he ranks 2nd with 37.7 attempts per game and 4th with 273.7 yards per game.

Stafford brings a down-field mentality to Sean McVay’s offense. Against the Bears, he averaged 12.4 yards per attempt – second only to Jimmy Garoppolo’s 12.6 – and 16.1 yards on his 20 completions. He burned the Bears with a 67-yard TD to Van Jefferson and a 56-yarder to Cooper Kupp. Stafford also tossed in a 37-yard hookup to Tyler Higbee.

If the Colts encounter communication or execution issues, Stafford will make them pay.

On the positive side, the Colts are 2-1 against him. On the negative side of that, Stafford has passed for 313, 340 and 336 yards against Indy with eight TDs and two interceptions.

And the winner is:

Rams 31, Colts 23. It’s hard to come up with a scenario that has the Colts evening their record at 1-1. Even if the defense gets things straightened out, the issues with the offensive line figure to make it difficult for Wentz to stretch the field and Taylor to stretch his legs.

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

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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