Areas of interest: Falcons at Colts
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Areas of interest in the Indianapolis Colts’ Sunday meeting with the Atlanta Falcons Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium:
Kickoff: 1 p.m.
More through the air: We complain when they don’t run enough and now we’re complaining because the Colts are running too much. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. We’re complaining – just a little bit – because the passing game has yet to really stretch its legs. It’s been quality over quantity for Jacoby Brissett. He’s tied for fourth in the league with 5 touchdowns and has suffered just one interception, but ranks near the bottom in down-the-field plays. He ranks 29th in yards per attempt (6.1) and 30th in yards per completion (8.8). The importance of “chunk’’ plays can’t be overstated – the NFL is all about difference-making plays – yet Brissett has just two completions that have gained at least 20 yards.
“(It’s) always an important step for us to create chunk plays and create explosive plays because we know that helps lead to victories, points and all that stuff,’’ coordinator Nick Sirianni said.
We’re not remotely close to reaching for the panic button, but it’s hard to imagine the small sample size being sustainable over 16 games. Brissett is directing the NFL’s least-productive passing game – 147 yards per game – as Sirianni and Frank Reich have leaned heavily on their stout offensive line and running game (2nd overall, 185 yards per game) the first two games. That could be the formula again Sunday. In their opening loss at Minnesota, the Falcons yielded 172 yards on 38 carries. That required Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins to attempt just 10 passes.
If his sore calf holds up, look for Marlon Mack to shoulder a busy day with occasional doses of Jordan Wilkins.
Game for the ages: Before we move on, let’s credit Brissett for his outing at Tennessee. It was one for the ages. Literally.
He finished with 146 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. It marked just the 31st time since 1950 – only the fifth in the past 25 seasons – a quarterback posted that stat line in a win: no more than 146 yards, three TDs, one interception. The last to do it was Ryan Tannehill last December.
While doing the trivia-level research, we wondered how many QBs have had three TDs, zero interceptions and no more than 146 yards in a win. There have been 52 of those games since 1950.
One of the 52? Buffalo Bills’ backup quarterback Frank Reich in 1989. He completed 13-of-20 passes for 145 yards and three TDs against the New York Jets.
Just some meaningless trivia. Carry on.
Defensive challenges: As if dealing with Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, Austin Hooper, Mohamed Sanu and Devonta Freeman wasn’t concerning enough for coordinator Matt Eberflus’ defense, it must do so without its catalyst. Linebacker Darius Leonard is out with a concussion. Anthony Walker is expected to fill Leonard’s void at WILL with rookie Bobby Okereke making his first career start at MIKE.
The Colts got a lift on the injury front when Pierre Desir, their top corner who suffered a bruised knee against the Titans, practiced Friday and announced he “felt fine” and would be ready for Sunday.
The Falcons are going to make plays; they’re that good. Jones is one of the NFL’s elite players at his position and has had a TD catch in six straight games, the league’s longest active streak. Ryan has such confidence in the 6-3, 220-pounder he’ll throw to him even when it appears Jones is tightly covered.
“He can do it all,’’ cornerback Quincy Wilson said. “He’s big, strong, fast (and) can run every route. He is what he is and we just have to prepare all week for it.’’
Ridley was the Falcons’ first-round pick in 2018 and is making an immediate splash. He set a team rookie record with 10 touchdowns last season while his 821 yards were the third-best by a Falcons’ rookie.
Defensive key: Pressure, pressure and more pressure on Ryan. Give him time, and he’ll add to career totals of 47,344 yards (11th in NFL history) and 300 TDs (tied for 11th with John Elway). But pressure him, and Ryan has a tendency to give it up. His five interceptions lead the league.
The Falcons have had issues protecting Ryan thus far, giving up 5 sacks and an additional seven hits. Now they face a Colts’ defensive front that has been among the NFL’s best over the first two games with 8 sacks and five more QB hits. Eberflus is committed to rotating his linemen, which keeps everyone fresh and better able to perform at a high level throughout the game.
“I think it’s a game-changer and it helps us as a whole,’’ Justin Houston said. “You’ve got a fresh guy rushing the passer at all times.’’
Seven different players have contributed at least a half sack and Denico Autry leads the way with 2.5. The defense should benefit from the return of end Kemoko Turay, who missed the Titans game after posting a sack and a forced fumble in the opener against the Chargers.
Rebound for Vinny?: There’s really no way to soften the importance of Sunday to Adam Vinartieri. If the veteran placekicker hasn’t reached a Do it or else moment in his 24-year career, he’s getting awfully close.
His travails are out there for everyone to see. In his last three games, including the playoff loss at Kansas City, Vinatieri is 1-of-4 on field goal attempts and 3-of-7 on PATs. Six of his seven misses have been from 33 yards or shorter: the four PATs along with 29- and 23-yard field goal attempts.
Reich remains 100 percent in Vinatieri’s corner, but GM Chris Ballard put six kickers through a workout early in the week. It’s imperative for the team to be prepared in case Vinny can’t get this figured out.
As hard as it is to imagine, we’ve gotten to the point we’re hoping he knocks down his next attempt, not expecting it.
Record streak: The Colts own a 14-2 series edge of the Falcons. That’s the best record by any active franchise against another opponent with a minimum of 15 games player.
That will have zero impact on Sunday’s game, but it’s still a nifty stat.
And the winner is: Colts 27, Falcons 23. If the Colts are who we think they are – and that’s a legitimate contender for the AFC South title – this is the type of game they absolutely must win. Home opener. Against an opponent that has struggled out of the gate. The last time the Colts opened a season 2-1 was in 2013. That’s a long dry spell and it needs to end Sunday. We realize Reich insists on a “1-0’’ mentality and rightly so, but the schedule is conducive to a 3-1 start heading into the Oct. 6 trip to Kansas City. Take advantage of it.
And be sure to catch the Colts Blue Zone Podcast: