Colts vs. Dolphins: What to watch for Sunday
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Areas of interest in the Indianapolis Colts’ meeting with the Miami Dolphins Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Kickoff: 4:25 p.m.
- Keep it up: With all due respects to Sunday’s visitors, this one’s all about the Colts taking care of their business. Miami brings an offense that ranks 28th in yards per game (313.6) and 26th in scoring (19.9), and a defense that checks in 27th in yards allowed (392.3) and 22nd in scoring (25.6). Ryan Tannehill is back at quarterback after missing the last five games with a shoulder injury.
The Colts? They’re on a serious roll. They’re looking for a fifth consecutive win for the first time since 2014.
The Andrew Luck-led offense has scored at least 24 points in seven straight games for the first time since 2005 (10 straight), hasn’t suffered a sack in the last five games – that’s a club record and tied for the NFL’s third-longest streak since 1982 – and has just one turnover the last four games. And Luck? He’s never been better. He has posted a passer rating of at least 123.5 in each of the four games during the winning streak with 13 touchdowns and 1 interception.
The defense has done its job reasonably well, and was exceptional in holding the Buffalo Bills to a field goal and the Tennessee Titans to 10 points Matt Eberflus’ group has at least one takeaway in every game. The last time Indy’s defense opened the season with such a streak was in 2007.
It’s possible a youth-laden roster could get full of itself for having dug itself out of a 1-5 hole, but we’re betting on Frank Reich and his staff to keep everyone’s focus on the Dolphins and not the past four games.
- Protecting Luck: We’ve mentioned Luck’s impeccable protection over the past five games – he’s been hit just 13 times during that stretch – and that needs to continue. Miami ranks in the bottom third on the league with 17 sacks despite the presence of Cameron Wake (a team-high 3.5 sacks while missing two games) and Robert Quinn (2.5 sacks).
We’ll be paying attention to Evan Boehm, who’ll be making his first start at center since his senior year at Missouri. He’s ultra-confident, but also has big shoes to fill. Ryan Kelly will miss at least one game, probably more, after spraining the medial collateral ligament in his left knee against the Titans.
- Frank Gore’s return: Hopefully the Lucas Oil Stadium crowd will give Frank Gore a proper reception. He was a stabilizing force for the Colts the past three seasons before a mutual parting of the ways during the offseason.
All Gore has done in his hometown of Miami is carry on. He leads the Dolphins with 528 yards and is averaging a crisp 4.5 yards per attempt, his best since 2012. Gore, 35, has appeared in 122 consecutive games, the NFL’s longest active streak among offensive skills players. Not impressed? You should be. His relentless style has elevated him onto the No. 4 rung in career rushing (14,554 yards), and he’s “only’’ 716 yards behind Barry Sanders. Gore also needs 151 total yards from scrimmage to eclipse LaDainian Tomlinson, who’s fifth all-time (18,456).
Gore developed a close friendship with Colts GM Chris Ballard, and they’ll undoubtedly reminisce prior to the game.
“One thing I always respect about Chris is that he’s honest and he’s straight up,’’ Gore said. “As a man, that’s all you want, especially in this league. There’s a lot of BS. He said he was happy that he got a chance to be around me playing ball because he respects the way I play the game of football. We still talk. We still text. He still checks on me to see how I’m doing . . . him and (assistant GM) Ed Dodds.’’
The Dolphins have been committed to not overusing Gore. He’s carried at least 15 times only twice this season. They might be better served to showcase him more on his return to Indy.
- About that run game: Speaking of running, this might be a great opportunity for Marlon Mack and his backfield ‘mates to stretch their legs. Things have settled down a bit since the Colts ripped off 220- and 222-yard rushing outings against Buffalo and Oakland. They’ve averaged 3.6 yards per attempt and 91.5 yards per game the last two weeks. And now a Miami run defense that ranks 30th in yards per game (142) and 27th in yards per attempt (4.8).
Four running backs have burned the Dolphins for 100-yard games, including three dominant performances in the last four games: Detroit rookie Kerryon Johnson (19 carries, 158 yards), Houston’s Lamar Miller (18 for 133) and Green Bay’s Aaron Jones (15 for 145).
- And the winner is: Colts 30, Dolphins 16. Again, this seems to be one of those match-ups where it’s all up to the Colts. Handle your business, and you handle the Dolphins. And it’s imperative they do precisely that. The Colts and Dolphins are in that five-team logjam at 5-5 in pursuit of, at worst, a wild-card playoff spot. This is no time for a team with postseason aspirations to stumble.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.