INDIANAPOLIS – Areas of interest in the Indianapolis Colts’ Sunday meeting with the Green Bay Packers in Lucas Oil Stadium:
- Kickoff: 4:25 p.m.
- Broadcast: FOX59.
Limit the explosive plays
Aaron Rodgers is going to get his. The two-time MVP is too good to be completely neutralized. He leads the NFL with a 116.5 rating – he’s topped 100 in eight of nine games – and has 26 touchdowns against just three interceptions.
In typical Rodgers’ fashion, the Packers thrive on explosive plays. They’re tied for 4th in the league with 36 receptions of at least 20 yards and have hit for an NFL-high 10 that have chewed up at least 40. One of the pillars of the Colts’ No. 2-ranked pass defense is limiting chunk plays. It has yielded just 25 receptions of at least 20 yards (tied-6th fewest) and only two of at least 40 (tied for fewest).
Don’t go away, there’s more. Rodgers’ strong arm and aggressive approach have him averaging 8.2 yards per attempt (5th in the league) and his receivers are getting 12.1 per catch (tied-3rd). Indy counters with its own set of strong numbers. It’s allowing just 10.9 yards per completion and has held opposing QBs to a league-low 78.9 passer rating.
Kenny Moore II, Rock Ya-Sin and Xavier Rhodes clearly have played at a high level, but they might face their stiffest top-to-bottom challenge Sunday. Davante Adams is averaging a league-best 105.9 yards per game. Marquez Valdes-Scantling is all about quality over quantity. The 2018 fifth-round pick has just 22 catches (tied for 120th), but ranks 1st with a 21.0 per-catch average.
One last tidbit. We mentioned the Colts D has allowed just two 40-plus yard catches. Valdes-Scantling has four, including TDs that have covered 45, 52 and 78 yards.
So, tighten up.
Track meet at LOS?
We hope not. Our game prediction (more on that later) reflects a ton of offense, but that’s probably not a good thing for the Colts. They’re in the middle of the pack in scoring (26.9), but let’s not forget that includes four defensive TDs, Isaiah Rodger’s kickoff return for a TD and a pair of safeties. The Philip Rivers-led offense has generated just 21 TDs (the Packers have 33). Only six teams have fewer, that that sorry lot includes the winless New York Jets (17), the New York Giants (17) and Chicago (18).
The ideal scenario is for a repeat of what worked in Nashville against the Tennessee Titans. That means an efficient and at times aggressive passing game from Rivers and a creative run game. The Colts are starting to get their act together on the ground – totals of 119, 112 and 133 yards the last three games – and some of that has to do with coach Frank Reich and coordinator Nick Sirianni digging deep in their playbook. Remember Michael Pittman Jr.’s 21-yard run on an end around against the Titans? The previous week against Baltimore, it was wideout DeMichael Harris adding 28 yards on two attempts.
The Packers’ D ranks 9th overall but is giving up 110.8 rushing yards per game (12th) and 4.6 per attempt (23rd). The inability to deal with the run was instrumental in Green Bay’s two losses. Against Tampa Bay (a 38-10 blowout loss) and Minnesota (28-22), the Packers gave up 331 yards on 69 attempts.
We’re interested to see whether Reich sticks with rookie Jonathan Taylor as his starter or makes the switch to Nyheim Hines. Hines was the focal point against the Titans with 12 carries for 70 yards – both season highs – while Taylor is in the midst of a three-game lull (24 carries, 61 yards).
More from the rookie
When Rivers limbers up his 38-year old right arm, he needs to direct more than a few passes at his 23-year old wideout. That would be Pittman. The team’s top draft pick – round 2, 34th overall – is coming off the best game of his young career with 101 yards on seven catches. That came after a four-catch, 56-yard outing against Baltimore in his second game back after that nasty compartment syndrome issue with his leg.
It appears Pittman is rounding into form, which would provide a much-needed boost to the passing game. He’s the first player to lead the Colts in targets and yards in consecutive games.
“We saw this in his college days,’’ Reich said. “I remember Chris (Ballard) and I talking a lot about this, but this guy is fearless now. He’s fearless in every way. But when the ball is in his hands, he wants to hurt somebody. He runs very aggressively.’’
Perhaps Pittman’s emergence will open things up for T.Y. Hilton. The team’s four-time Pro Bowl wideout has yet to assert himself: 26 receptions, 291 yards, zero TDs. He’s on pace for 52 catches and 582 yards. Hilton’s streak of no 100-yard games has reached 21 games.
In case you’ve forgotten, his last 100-yard game: Dec. 23, 2018 against the New York Giants (seven catches, 138 yards).
And the winner is
Colts 31, Packers 30. This is our latest “hunch’’ pick. We’re pretty certain how the Packers can get to 30, even against Indy’s stingy defense. We’re not as clear how Philip Rivers gets the necessary 31. Maybe we see the Colts laying claim to the NFC North title by completing the sweep of the Packers, Lions, Bears and Vikings.
By the way, Colts versus Packers is one of the day’s marquee matchups. The 6-3 Colts are the No. 4 seed in the AFC and atop the AFC South by virtue of their win over the Titans. The 7-2 Packers are the NFC’s No. 1 seed.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.