What to watch for: Colts must clean up their act vs. Bears
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Areas of interest in the Indianapolis Colts’ meeting with the Chicago Bears Sunday in Lucas Oil Stadium:
Kickoff: 1 p.m.
On the brink. Again: Stop us if you’ve heard this before, but the Colts find themselves on the brink of something truly unsightly. They returned from their unsuccessful business trip to London lugging a 1-3 record and facing mounting criticism aimed at anyone and everyone associated with the organization: owner Jim Irsay, general manager Ryan Grigson, coach Chuck Pagano, a roster teeming with under-performing players.
Let’s not kid ourselves. Dispatching the Bears won’t cure what’s ailing this team. This isn’t the’85 version of Da Bears. It’s a group without its starting QB (Jay Cutler), anything resembling a pass rush (6 sacks) and lacking legitimate difference-making talent. Chicago snapped its three-game losing streak to open the season by outlasting equally lackluster Detroit 17-14 last week. Oh, and let’s not forget the Lions’ lone win was the season-opener against the Colts.
But a win would temporarily stop the bleeding and perhaps ease the angst.
Another loss? It might be more than Irsay can stomach.
Super Bowl XLI rematch: OK, not really, but it’s worth noting we’re in the 10th anniversary season of the Colts’ Super Bowl XLI victory over the Bears. The team will commemorate the achievement Nov. 20 against the Tennessee Titans, but the sight of the Bears nonetheless stirs memories of that rainy evening in South Florida Feb. 4, 2007.
Unfortunately, there will be few players in the building able to swap stories. In fact, there are two: Adam Vinatieri and Robert Mathis.
By the way, this is no way for former Super Bowl antagonists to meet. Each is 1-3 and wobbling badly. Since getting together in Dolphin Stadium, the Colts are 93-55 (.628) with seven playoff appearances and one return trip to the Super Bowl. Over the last 10 seasons, the Bears are 72-78 (.486) and have been back to the postseason once.
Clean it up: We understand the growing support for offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski to open the game with more aggression. Show more urgency, have Andrew Luck direct an up-tempo, hurry-up attack from the get-go.
What the Colts have been doing hasn’t worked. They’ve been outscored 64-35 in the first half this season, and the offense’s early troubles consistently have forced the team to ignore an effective Frank Gore and be in chase mode.
Here’s a better idea: be more efficient, period. Four dropped passes in the first quarter of Sunday’s loss to Jacksonville in London had nothing to do with the play calls or tempo of the game. They were careless mistakes.
“We have to make plays and execute early in the game,’’ said Chudzinski, who conceded he might consider a more up-tempo approach early against the Bears. “It’s not a big mystery. It’s not solving a puzzle. It’s about making plays and we have to do that and execute better early in the games.’’
That goes for every phase of the game. Remember, the Colts were penalized seven times for 78 yards against the Jaguars, and five produced first downs.
More O-line shuffling: It appears the Colts have regained their health along the offensive line. Starting right tackle Joe Reitz and starting right guard Denzelle Good are expected to play after dealing with back issues.
The question: what to do? Pagano declined to reveal the starting group against the Bears, but said “we are going to put the best five out there, the five that give us the best chance to win.’’
Reitz should return at right tackle. The issue is whether Good is back at guard, or it’s rookie Joe Haeg. We vote for Haeg.
However it shakes out, the line must amp up its game. Luck has been sacked a league-high 15 times – that’s on pace for a staggering 60 – and hit on another 33 times, according to the NFL.
If that continues against the Bears, shame on the O-line. Chicago has managed just six sacks, tied for sixth-fewest in the league, and 15 pressures.
Chicago threats: It’s been a month-long struggle for a Bears offense that ranks No. 24 in yards (335.0 per game) and is tied for 31st in scoring (15.5). It hasn’t scored more than 17 points thus far. Cutler will miss a third straight start with a sprained thumb. Wideout Kevin White, the seventh overall pick in the 2015 draft who missed his rookie season with an injury, was placed on the injured reserve list this week with a fractured left fibula. He had a team-high 19 receptions in four games.
A bright spot emerged in last Sunday’s win over the Lions when rookie running back Jordan Howard, a fifth-round draft pick out of Indiana, rushed 23 times for 111 yards. His 178 yards rank second among NFL rookies. Wideout Eddie Royal and tight end Zach Miller have combined for 36 catches, 397 yards and five TDs.
Look for coordinator Dowell Loggains to try to feature Jordan again against the Colts’ hit-and-miss run defense. And look for Brian Hoyer, making his third start, to be conservative and selective in the passing game. While he doesn’t strike fear into defenses, he’s been efficient this season: 67-of-97 (69.1 percent), 697 yards, four TDs, no interceptions, a 103.3 passer rating. In his eight-year career, Hoyer has posted a 16-12 record as a starter with 42 touchdowns and 26 interceptions.
“The quarterback,’’ offered Colts defensive coordinator Ted Monachino, “is operating at a very high level.
And the winner is: Colts 31, Bears 17. There’s little chance the Colts make this easy. But it’s hard for us to imagine Chicago having enough firepower to pull the road upset.