What to watch for: Colts must brace for quick-starting Packers
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Areas of interest in the Indianapolis Colts’ Sunday meeting with the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.
Kickoff: 4:25 p.m.
Early indications: It might not take long for us to get an idea how this one’s going. The Colts are notoriously slow starters. They’ve scored only two TDs and 29 points in the first quarter this season, and trailed at the half by at least 10 points three times. The Packers? No problem getting out of the gate. They’ve outscored the opposition 48-27 in the first quarter, including 27-10 in four games at Lambeau. In its last 19 regular-season home games, Green Bay has forged a staggering 185-26 first-quarter edge.
Chuck Pagano has noticed the Packers’ quick-start tendencies.
“First five and last five has kind of been the point of emphasis,’’ he said. “First five minutes of that first quarter, first five minutes of the third quarter, last five minutes of the first half and last five minutes of the game. We have to play steady for 60 minutes, but there’s a huge emphasis on those 20 minutes.
“Got to play good, clean football; try to get out of the gate and put points on the board early.’’
Air Aaron: Aaron Rodgers will be without leading rusher Eddie Lacy and top backup James Starks. That should be good news for the Colts’ No. 25-ranked run defense, although it still must contend with whomever coach Mike McCarthy turns to: wideouts Ty Montgomery and Randall Cobb, or fullback Aaron Ripkowski.
We’re expecting Aaron Rodgers to use his running game as an occasional change-up. He’s averaged 45 passes over the last four games, and thrown a total of 94 in the last two. It would be ridiculous for Rodgers and McCarthy to get cute against a Colts’ pass defense that is among the NFL’s worst (No. 31 overall, a league-low two interceptions), and once again ailing.
Coordinator Ted Monachino will be without savvy safety Mike Adams (groin) and his best cornerback, Vontae Davis, was knocked out of last Sunday’s game with a concussion. Davis had to gain medical clearance from an independent neurologist Saturday, and if he plays he’ll be surrounded by too many question marks when facing someone of Rodgers’ ilk. If he doesn’t, cover your eyes.
Rodgers has spent much of the season dinking-and-dunking. He’s averaging a career-low 6.3 yards per attempt and his receivers are averaging 9.9 yards per catch. Those figures likely will increase, especially if the Colts’ modest pass rush isn’t able to pressure and keep Rodgers in the pocket, and Rodgers is able to exploit a safety group of Clayton Geathers (second year), T.J. Green (rookie) and Matthias Farley (rookie).
Point for point?: Oddsmakers anticipate tons of scoring. They’ve posted the over-under at 54. Only the San Diego/Tennessee game (57) is fatter. The Packers are 11th in the league in scoring (24.6 points per game) while the Colts are 9th (26.0). But Green Bay has what the Colts are missing: a defense that on occasion has stepped up and done the job.
Andrew Luck should have his full complement of offensive options with the return of tight end Dwayne Allen even though wideout T.Y. Hilton is fighting through a nagging hamstring injury. We’re not concerned about Luck’s options. We’re concerned with whether he’ll have time to use them.
When Pagano discussed the Packers’ front seven, he used the phrase “virtually unblockable.’’ They have 19 sacks and rank No. 5 in sacks per pass attempt. They have Nick Perry, Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews.
The Colts, meanwhile, have allowed a league-high 31 sacks and are using a sixth different starting offensive line combo in nine games. Jon Harrison replaces Jack Mewhort (tricep) at left guard and rookie Joe Haeg steps in for Joe Reitz (concussion) at right tackle.
Once again, it’s a bad match-up for the Colts. And Luck.
On the plus side, if Hilton’s peaks-and-valleys season continues, he’s due for a monster game. His game-by-game yardage output: 79, 41, 174, 42, 171, 49, 133, 20.
It’s not over until . . . : A sixth loss in nine games heading into the bye week won’t officially eliminate the Colts from anything, but obviously would eliminate any remaining margin for error in their pursuit for a playoff berth. Where’s Jim Mora’s Playoffs?!?!? mini-rant when you need it? Since the current playoff format was installed in 1990, only four teams that opened a season 3-6 recovered to reach the postseason. It’s happened just once in the last 19 seasons.
And the winner is: Packers 34, Colts 17. In the previous eight games, we could mount a reasonable argument in favor of the Colts, even for the week 2 trip to Denver. But as we’ve pointed out ad nauseam, they are who they are. They haven’t shown the wherewithal to play a relatively clean, disciplined 60-minute game, and that’s the only way you have a chance of upsetting the Packers in Lambeau. Hello, 3-6.