INDIANAPOLIS – Areas of interest in the Indianapolis Colts’ meeting with the New Orleans Saints Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
*Kickoff: 1 p.m.
*History lesson, Part I: The Saints lead the overall series 9-5 and are working on a four-game series winning streak. And everyone remembers the flash point. Feb. 7, 2010. South Florida. Super Bowl XLIV. Saints 31-17. We’re not going to torture you further with the nasty details.
*History lesson, Part II: Josh Downs is off to a historic start. His 33 receptions are the most by a Colt in his first seven games in franchise history. His 401 yards trail only Bill Brooks’ 428 (1986). Among league rookies, Downs’ receptions rank No. 4 and his yards No. 3.
*Ball security: Football 101 – ball security is good. The last two weeks, the Gardner Minshew II-led offense has piled up 58 points and 810 yards. It’s produced the two longest receptions of the season – Michael Pittman Jr.’s 75-yard TD and Josh Downs’ 59-yard TD, both against the Browns – along with 10 other plays that have gained at least 20 yards.
And the Colts are 0-2. Turnovers have been and always will be absolute killers. Minshew has turned the ball over four teams in each of the past two games – four interceptions, four fumbles – and they’ve been turned into 34 points. Indy lost 37-20 at Jacksonville and exited Lucas Oil Stadium on the wrong end of a 39-38 score last Sunday.
After the loss to the Browns, Minshew insisted “that’s not something I want to be a part of us and something that can’t be a part of our game.’’
But right now it is, and it’s got to stop. At the very least, it’s got to be minimized.
The stat we’ve worn out is the Colts have won just 5 of 60 games with four-plus turnovers since 1984. Since 2020, teams in the NFL are 7-82 when they suffer at least four turnovers. They’re 0-12 this year, have lost 32 straight and 45 of the last 46.
The lack of ball security was one of the reasons last season went into a death spiral. The Colts had 14 in their first four games – Matt Ryan had 9 interceptions and three lost fumbles – and finished with 34, their sixth-most since 1984.
The Saints bring a defense to town that’s ranked No. 4 in fewest yards allowed (285.7) and fewest passing yards (187.0), and No.7 in scoring (18.1). They thrive on takeaways with 12. Only four teams have more. Carl Granderson leads the Saints with 4.5 sacks, 9 QB hits and 8 tackles for loss. New Orleans has eight interceptions, from eight different players.
Take care of the football. Indy is 3-0 when it hasn’t turned the ball over.
*Pass the baton: Owner Jim Irsay mentioned it likely would take three or four games for Jonathan Taylor to return to form after missing four games while his $42 million extension was being finalized.
Welcome to that fourth game.
Shane Steichen has gradually eased Taylor into his offense, and that peaked against the Browns when Taylor and Moss were equal partners: 50% of the snaps, each with 18 rushing attempts. Now’s the time for the NFL’s 2021 rushing champion to assume his feature role, and that shouldn’t be seen as any disrespect toward Moss. He’s the league’s No. 2 rusher (a career-high 523 yards) behind San Francisco’s Christian McCaffrey.
Steichen still is determining how best to maximize Taylor’s game-breaking skills – he’s only had him in a practice setting for about a month – and that will continue as the season unfolds. In the last two games, Taylor has 40- and 20-yard receptions and a 24-yard run. He’s coming off his best game: 75 yards on 18 rushes, 45 yards on three receptions against the Browns.
The Saints’ run defense ranks No. 12 in yards per game (98.7) and No. 17 in yards per attempt (3.95).
Tilt the scales more toward Taylor, while not ignoring Moss.
*Juggling corners: Coordinator Gus Bradley must find a workable combination at corner. JuJu Brents is out with a quad injury, which means someone must step up and work opposite rookie Jaylon Jones on the outside. Kenny Moore II will line up outside in the base but remain the nickel in sub packages.
“We have to be flexible,’’ Bradley said.
Darrell Baker Jr. might be given a shot – he was benched after two inconsistent weeks to open the season – even after his eventful outing against Cleveland after Brents went down. The Colts elevated Chris Lammons to the active roster Saturday, so maybe he gets a chance. The trouble with Lammons is he’s primarily been a special teams contributor the past four seasons. He’s been on the field for just 32 defensive snaps the last two years with Kansas City.
Saints QB Derek Carr will find the weak link and has weapons at his disposal in running back Alvin Kamara and wideouts Chris Olave (39 receptions, 471 yards, one TD), Michael Thomas (34 receptions, 371 yards) and Rashid Shaheed (20 receptions, 326 yards and 2 TDs).
*Deal with Hill: Taysom Hill is a unicorn on the NFL landscape. He’s a QB/RB/WR/TE.
“It’s challenging,’’ Bradley said. “They force you to spend a lot of time on maybe just one or two reps a game (for) something that might show up.’’
Hill is the Saints’ second-leading rusher with 140 yards and one TD on 29 attempts. He’s caught 15 passes for 115 yards. And he’s 3-for-3 passing for 25 yards.
*And the winner is: Colts 27, Saints 20. Our reasoning is the same as last week. This is the time for the Colts to determine the direction of the rest of the season. They fell short against the Browns for a lot of reasons but can’t afford another slip-up at home against the Saints. The Colts can’t afford to look ahead but we will. Next Sunday at winless Carolina. Nov. 12 versus 2-5 New England in Frankfurt, Germany.
There’s still time. But falling to 1-4 at Lucas Oil and 3-5 overall makes things so much more difficult.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.