Colts vs. Cardinals: What to watch for Sunday

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LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 10: Marlon Mack #25 of the Indianapolis Colts scores a touchdown in the fourth quarter during the game against the Los Angeles Rams at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on September 10, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Let’s take a look at some areas of interest in the Indianapolis Colts’ Sunday home opener against the Arizona Cardinals at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Kickoff:  1 p.m.

Broadcast: FOX59

No surprise: Welcome to Indy, Jacoby Brissett. On his 15th day in town, the former New England Patriot must pull his head out of the playbook, step behind center Deyshawn Bond and breathe life not only into the Colts’ offense but the entire franchise.

That’s how potentially damaging the opening 37-point fiasco against the Rams could be. No matter the shortcomings at other positions – hey, Adam Vinatieri missed a 38-yard field goal and just the 14th PAT of his 323-game career – everybody looks inept when the quarterback can’t get out of his own way.

And Scott Tolzien couldn’t get out of his own way, leading to a quick hook from Chuck Pagano.

That leads to a situation dripping in irony: the Colts are hoping a former Patriot helps steady their season. Brissett was a third-round pick of New England in 2016 and was more than competent in two starts as a rookie. He split his starts – that gives him one more win than Tolzien (0-3-1) – by completing 34 of 55 passes for 400 yards and rushing 16 times for 83 yards.

Anyone expecting Briskest to be a savior probably will be disappointed. He didn’t earn the start as much as Tolzien lost it. Also, he’ll undoubtedly be following a condensed game plan. But he has a strong arm that should better utilize the vertical talents of T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief and the mobility to avoid pressure that probably awaits him while working behind yet another different starting offensive line combination.

And a reminder: the Colts are going with a different starting QB in games 1-2 for the first time since 1992. Mark Herrmann started game 1 followed by Jack Trudeau.

Difficult start: We’re certain Brissett and offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski have noticed, but we’ll offer a reminder. The Cardinals feature more than a few disruptors on defense.

Cornerback Patrick Peterson is one of four players in NFL history to be selected to six Pro Bowls before his 27th birthday. The other three: Jim Brown, Barry Sanders and Emmitt Smith. Peterson’s 20 interceptions since 2011 are tied for third-most in the league over that span.

Safety Tyrann Mathieu does a lot of everything while patrolling the middle of the field and creeping near the line of scrimmage: 230 tackles, three sacks, nine interceptions and 39 defended passes. The 2013 third-round pick has returned one interception for a touchdown. Mathieu and former Colt standout Antoine Bethea are a formidable last line of defense.

Don’t go away, there’s more. Linebackers Chandler Jones and Markus Golden are one of the NFL’s better pass-rush tandems. They combined for 23.5 sacks a year ago as the Cardinals joined Seattle as the only teams with two players with double-digit sack totals – Golden finished with 12.5 and Jones with 11.

“It is a heck of a defense we’re playing against,’’ Chudzinski said. “An attacking style defense . . . a lot of pressure. They have some great personnel that they really like to try to isolate you one-on-ones and utilize those people against you.’’

Shorthanded, still: Perhaps sabotaging Brissett’s Indy debut and certainly enhancing Arizona’s odds at leaving town 1-1 is the overall health of the Colts. In a word, it’s concerning.

Six players already have been ruled out for the game, five of them starters: quarterback Andrew Luck (shoulder), center Ryan Kelly (foot), cornerback Vontae Davis (groin), safety Darius Butler (hamstring) and inside linebackers Antonio Morrison (elbow) and Anthony Walker (hamstring). Safety Clayton Geathers (neck) remains on PUP while right tackle Denzelle Good (wrist) joined tight end Erik Swoope (knee) and linebacker Edwin Jackson on the injured reserve list this week.

That’s nine players who share 275 regular-season starts who will be watching today.

We’re not offering the Colts a crutch – no pun intended – because of the injuries, but let’s not kid ourselves. Any team would struggle with such an extensive list. This roster isn’t capable of compensating for the massive loss in personnel. And we’re only one game into the season.

The injuries will tax the offensive line and force Chudzinski to turn to a second starting combo in as many games. We’re expecting Jeremy Vujnovich, the starting left guard against the Rams, to replace Good at right tackle and Joe Haeg to replace Vujnovich.

Losing Butler means first-round pick Malik Hooker gets his first start, but it’s almost by default. He and Matthias Farley are the only healthy safeties. Remember, T.J. Green was a starting corner last week. He would take snaps at safety when coordinator Ted Monachino needs a third.

Being shorthanded in the secondary hardly bodes well with Bruce Arians in town. Carson Palmer isn’t what he once was, but still is more than capable of pushing the ball down field. Larry Fitzgerald remains a serious threat.

Yes, a mess.

0-2, again?: We’ve been down this road before. Three times, in fact. The Colts are on the verge of opening 0-2 for a fourth consecutive season. That figures to further amp up the angst among the fan base.

To give the current streak of futility some perspective, consider the last time the franchise endured four straight 0-2 starts was more than a quarter-century ago. The Colts started at least 0-2 from 1985-1991.

They’ve opened a season 0-2 13 times and regrouped to reach the playoffs only twice – in 2014 and the strike-impeded 1987 season.

And the winner is: Cardinals 27, Colts 13. Maybe they find their way next week against Cleveland. Maybe.

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