Here is everything you need to know about the Week 16 opponent of the Oakland Raiders, the Indianapolis Colts.
If you’re like me and left your Christmas shopping until the last minute this year, take heart that with the Oakland Raiders clinching a playoffs birth last week, we can breathe a bit easier this Christmas eve.
After an emphatic 19-16 win over the Chargers in Qualcomm last week, the Raiders will return to the Coliseum hoping to solidify home-field advantage and a coveted first round bye. Last week’s performance was by no means perfect, but building a stronger position heading into January is the first thing on the Raiders minds when they lock horns with the Colts this week.
Let’s examine the Coaching staff:
Head Coach: Chuck Pagano
Offensive Coordinator: Rob Chudzinski
Defensive Coordinator: Ted Monachino
The Colts travel to Oakland this week, sitting at 7-7 and third place (albeit only a game behind the Texans and Titans) in the AFC South. Their division is a tight one, with the Colts holding the tiebreaker over the Titans, but not over the Texans. If any of these three stumble in the last two games, chances are they’ll be watching the Wild Card round from home.
With the playoffs already clinched by Del Rio’s men, it’s fair to say that the Colts are playing for a lot more than Oakland. Their season could well hang in the balance this night before Christmas.
The Colts have been a fascinating, confusing, excellent and mediocre football team this year. Allow me to explain. Their 7-7 record is considered a disappointment by any Colts fan considering their preseason expectations. Some of the more painful losses for Luck’s crew this season have come against the likes of the Jaguars (seriously) in week 4, as well as an overtime loss to Houston in Week 6 that they may rue if a tiebreaker scenario ensues. Conversely, the Colts have had some phenomenal performances in which they have absolutely dissected seemingly superior football teams.
Just last week they embarrassed the Vikings in Minnesota, crushing them 34-6 with Luck throwing 250 yards for two touchdowns and a completion rate of over 70%. In Week 9 they took it to the Packers in Green Bay, edging out a gutsy win in Lambeau. NFL.com‘s Daniel Jeremiah hits the nail on the head when he says that “The Colts are a weird team…they can lose to anybody but they can beat anybody.”
Here’s a look at the Colts offense:
QB: Andrew Luck
RB: Frank Gore
WR: T.Y. Hilton
WR: Donte Moncrief
TE: Dwayne Allen
LT: Anthony Castonzo
LG: Jonotthan Harrison
C: Ryan Kelly
RG: Denzelle Good
RT: Joe Haeg
The Colts offense is undoubtedly centered around Andrew Luck, with Indy favoring a pass heavy attack as they have for numerous seasons. So far this year, Luck has posted admirable numbers despite his team’s spotty performance overall. Luck has thrown for 27 touchdowns and 10 interceptions on the season so far and for over 3,600 yards. With a QBR of 97.1, Luck is actually enjoying his best rated season to date.
Luck’s athletic ability is well documented, and this has been highlighted in recent weeks due to the revolving doors the Colts seem to have on their offensive line. Last week, Luck played with his 35th different O-line combination. Yup — 35th. The Colts have surrendered the third most sacks in the League this year with 40. Guard Jack Mewhort, their best lineman, was placed on injured reserve in Week 14 making them even thinner.
Against the Raiders, the Colts will likely field several rookies up front, notably Ryan Kelly and Denzelle Good. Last week, Le’Raven Clark also made an appearance against the Vikings last week. With Khalil Mack likely disappointed his sack streak is over, and Bruce Irvin coming off a monster 2 sack, 6 tackle game, the Raiders defense should be poised to make Luck meet the Coliseum turf repeatedly.
The Raiders secondary should be incredibly wary of Luck’s escapability however. Not just scrambling to make the first down, but in getting away from pressure and making tough throws, thereby demanding defensive backs cover for longer than they would like. Last week, Luck escaped pressure in the pocket, rolled right and threw and absolute bomb on the run from one side of the field to the other. It was a ridiculous highlight reel type of throw. The ones coaches tell their QBs never to attempt because Luck is in the one percent that can pull it off. Luck’s rare arm talent is always a threat to make you pay.
Indy is ranked 7th in the league in passing, just behind Oakland, and 5th in red zone offense. T.Y. Hilton is easily Luck’s go to target. Hilton has amassed over 1,200 yards receiving this year with 81 receptions and 6 touchdowns to boot. Opposite him, Donte Moncrief has put up a paltry 277 yards, but with an equal 6 TDs.
Coming into Oakland, look for the Colts to exploit matchups against the Raiders defense with their tight ends. Last week against the Vikings, the Colts utilized several three tight end sets, with Luck executing on a beautiful 20-yard streak for Eric Swope’s first career touchdown.
Whilst the Colts will be a threat in the air all game long, Frank Gore is possibly having the quietest 1,00 yard season of any back. Assuming he continues his form, (he sits 110 yards of the 1K mark) the veteran will rumble his way further into the annals of NFL history. With only 4 touchdowns on the year however, the veteran has embraced his role as the Colts chain mover and game closer.
Now let’s examine the defense:
DE: Hassan Ridgeway
DT: David Parry
DE: Arthur Jones
OLB: Erik Walden
ILB: Antonio Morrison
ILB: Edwin Jackson
OLB: Robert Mathis
CB: Darius Butler
SS: Mike Adams
FS: T.J. Green
CB: Vontae Davis
The Colts defense is undoubtedly the team’s weakness. Despite Luck’s admirable play this year, the defense has had difficulty stopping opponents all year long. Indy’s offense has had to carry the burden for many of the team’s wins, with a notable exception being last week’s effort in Minnesota. Indianapolis ranks 6th last in Passing defense, and in the bottom half of the league for rushing defense.
Despite these totals, the Colts have shown improvement of late defensively. Last week, they held the Vikings (with a surprise appearance by Adrian Peterson) to a measly 6 points in Minnesota, frustrating Sam Bradford all day long. The Colts sacked Bradford 5 times, forced two fumbles and garnered a pick. While they did lose track of Pittsburgh’s receivers last month (it’s Antonio Brown, c’mon!) they bounced back against the Jets, holding New York to 10 points. Whilst some may sneer, the way the Colts defense had been playing until that point it looked an even matchup.
Indy’s defense has sipped from the fountain of youth of late, turning to young talent to bolster up the weaker side of the ball. With D’Qwell Jackson suspended for four games, rookie linebacker Antonio Morrison has been playing well, delivering a big hit to AP last week. Fellow rookie, safety T.J. Green recorded a big sack as did second year linebacker Edwin Jackson. As a result of their young talent stepping up, the Colts defense shut out an opponent for the first time since 2003.
Christmas eve’s showdown will be a fascinating examination of whether these young, talented, yet raw defenders can step up to the test of the bright lights. While Indy’s offense will be it’s biggest threat, the Raiders could be in for a surprise if they take Indy’s D lightly.
If it’s a close game, there may not be another kicker (aside from Justin Tucker) you’d want to slot one home for Christmas over either Vinatieri or Janikowski. Vinatieri has hit 25 field goals this season to the tune of 89%, boasting a long of 54 yards. Not to mention, the punting matchup between Pat McAfee and Marquette King could easily be the most swagilicious this century, with two of the most exciting and entertaining players in the league.
Wishing you a merry Silver and Black Christmas.
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