Colts vs. 49ers: What to watch for Sunday

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 17: Jacoby Brissett #7 of the Indianapolis Colts looks to pass in the second quarter of a game against the Arizona Cardinals at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 17, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Areas of interest in the Indianapolis Colts’ Sunday meeting with the San Francisco 49ers at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Kickoff:  1 p.m.

Broadcast:  FOX59

  • Oh, yes, the game: Peyton got his statue Saturday afternoon. He’ll get his place in the Ring of Honor and have his No. 18 jersey retired at halftime of the game. Yes, the game.

After spending the week as something of an afterthought due to Manningpalooza, the Colts must recapture center stage against the 49ers. This is no time to shrink with so many eyes on them. This is no time to wilt and lose by 37 (Rams), by 28 (Seahawks) or by 3 (Cardinals). They’re 1-3, and 2-3 gives them a chance at remaining relevant until Andrew Luck returns, hopefully later in the month.

Falling to 1-4 would mean the NFL has one less winless team. The 49ers have been ultra-competitive in their last three games – losing by a combined 8 points to the Seahawks, Rams and Cardinals – but 0-4 is 0-4. Like Indy, they’ve been unable to finish the deal. That’s the mantra of virtually every losing team.

Optics would be unsightly if the current Colts play poorly with the former Colts on hand. Chuck Pagano praised the former players for paving the way so “these guys get an opportunity to play in this stadium.’’

The Manning-led Colts set a high bar. We’re not expecting the latest edition to approach it, at least not in the immediate future. But it will be inexcusable if Pagano’s Colts force Manning’s Colts to cover their eyes because of ineffective play in a critical game.

  • Reunion for Gore: Frank Gore is in his third season as the Colts’ feature back, but the bulk of his Hall of Fame-caliber resume was compiled in San Francisco. He was the tough-as-nails offensive cornerstone for a decade before relocating to Indy as a free agent in 2015. He’s the franchise’s career rushing leader in yards (11,073), attempts (2,442) and touchdowns (64). His 13,956 total yards from scrimmage rank 2nd to some guy named Jerry Rice (19,872).

But that’s in the past. Now, Gore is the centerpiece of a Colts’ ground game that can’t get out of its own way. It ranks 25th in yards per game (85.3) and 31st in yards per attempt (2.99). Gore’s 191 yards rank 21st in the league and represent the third-lowest four-game total of his career, excluding his rookie season. He’s averaging just 3.1 yards per attempt.

This isn’t a Gore problem. The Colts’ ever-shifting offensive line has allowed too much penetration, often sabotaging running plays before they have a chance to develop. The line is shifting again Sunday with center Ryan Kelly returning to the lineup after missing the first four games with a broken bone in his foot and replacing Deyshawn Bond, who’s done for the season with a quad injury.

Gore needs 4 yards to move past Eric Dickerson into 7th place on the NFL’s all-time rushing list. He needs to get tons more than that against a 49ers defense that has a stout front seven and can be stingy. Jacoby Brissett has given the Colts offense a boost, but the lack of a legitimate running game is placing too much weight on his shoulders.

  • 49ers threat: Here’s where paying too much attention to the stats will get you in trouble. The 49ers offense ranks 25th in total yards (297.8), 26th in scoring (16.5) and 30th in third-down conversions (30 percent). It erupted for 39 points in a loss to the Rams, but managed just 27 in the other three games.

As defensive coordinator Ted Monachino warned, the 49ers feature “a really dangerous tailback and a quarterback that can spin it and get hot.’’

The tailback is Carlos Hyde. He’s a load at 6-0, 235 pounds. He’s a one-cut-and-go back. He ranks 6th in the league in both rushing (321 yards) and total yards (404). He’s the type of running back general manager Chris Ballard had in mind when he reinforced Indy’s defensive front seven with Johnathan Hankins, Al Woods, Margus Hunt, Jabaal Sheard and John Simon.

The quarterback is Brian Hoyer. Yes, he’s a career journeyman – six teams in nine seasons; a 16-19 record as a starter – but he’s had his moments. Almost a year ago to the day – Oct. 9, 2016 – he led the Chicago Bears into Lucas Oil Stadium and torched the Colts D. The best game of Hoyer’s career included 397 yards, two touchdowns and a 120 passer rating in a 29-23 loss.

Colts fans should recognize Hoyer’s favorite receiver: Pierre Garcon, Indy’s 2008 sixth-round pick. He remains a bona fide threat with 20 receptions and 285 yards.

  • Play 60: A suggestion: Pagano should allow his players to stay on the field at halftime and enjoy the Manning festivities. Whatever the coaching staff and players have been doing during the break hasn’t worked.

The Colts have played reasonably well early and settled into halftime leads in three of their four games. Then, they’ve imploded. In the second half and overtime, they’ve been outscored 82-15. It’s 32-3 in the third quarter. The offense has averaged 176.5 yards and 5.5 yards per play in the first half, but 89.5 yards and 3.3 yards per play in the second. They’ve been plagued by penalties and overall sloppiness.

That’s got to stop.

  • And the winner is: Colts 24, 49ers 20. There should be an initial boost of adrenaline with Manning & Co. in the building. It would behoove the Colts to seize the moment and set the tone, because they’ve shown absolutely no ability to play well when the pressure mounts in the second half.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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