Bucs at Colts: What to watch for Sunday

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INDIANAPOLIS – Areas of interest in the Indianapolis Colts’ Sunday meeting with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Lucas Oil Stadium:

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

Broadcast: FOX59

History lesson: The defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers are in town, which represents a serious challenge to the five-wins-in-six-games streak the Colts are on. After getting their head above the .500 mark (6-5) with last Sunday’s blowout win over Buffalo, this is no time to ease up in pursuit of an AFC playoff berth.

But back to the meeting with the Super Bowl champs. Over the past two decades, the Colts have faced the reigning world champions seven times. They’re 2-5 and haven’t whipped a Super Bowl champ since handling Tom Brady and the New England Patriots 40-21 in Foxboro in 2005.

Indy is 0-3 since: 20-16 to Philadelphia in Lucas Oil Stadium in 2018, 34-20 at Denver in ’16 and 34-27 to the Patriots in ’15. The latter, in case you had forgotten, was that ridiculous Fake Punt game.

History lesson, Chapter II: We’ve mentioned Tom Brady is 15-4 against the Colts, including the postseason, and has won the last eight meetings.

“I don’t think I’ve beaten him, yet,’’ said wideout T.Y. Hilton.

He’s right. Hilton is 0-6 against a Brady-led team, but he’s got plenty of company.

It took a deep dive into the bios of the 53-player active roster, but we found only three who’ve been involved with a win over Brady: tackle Eric Fisher, guard Mark Glowinski and backup tackle Julién Davenport.

Quarterback Carson Wentz is 0-1 versus Brady. In 2019, his Eagles dropped a 17-10 in Philly. Wentz was 20-of-40 for 214 yards and one TD while Brady finished 26-of-47 for 216 yards.

Diversify on offense: Wentz admitted the convincing win over the Bills was fun. For the most part, all he did was turn around and hand the football to Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines. The Colts ran 46 times for 264 yards, both season highs. The 264 yards, in fact, are the most in the NFL this season.

The run-heavy nature of the game resulted in Wentz attempting just 20 passes and finishing with 106 yards, his fewest in a game he’s finished.

“I came in Monday morning feeling pretty good, which was nice,’’ Wentz said.

More probably will be required from Wentz and the passing game on Sunday.

“This will likely be a week where we have to do both,’’ Frank Reich said. “We certainly are not planning on abandoning the run, but we also understand that at the end of the day, it will be a more balanced game than it was last week.’’

The Colts manhandled a Bills defense that ranked No. 1 overall and No. 3 against the run – Taylor rushed for 185 yards and set a franchise record with five total TDs – and now will be tested by a Bucs’ defense that’s No. 8 in yards per game allowed (322.1), No. 1 in rushing yards per game (78.4) and No. 3 in rushing yards per attempt (3.8).

Tampa Bay’s D also could receive a boost if 347-pound nose tackle Vita Vea returns. He missed Monday night’s win over the New York Giants with a sprained knee, but returned to practice on a limited basis this week.

Our only issue: how good is that Bucs’ run D? Its No. 1 ranking largely was built on the first five games when it limited opponents to 45.8 yards per game and 2.9 per attempt. And holding the New England Patriots to a minus-1 yard on eight attempts did wonders for the stats.

Over the past five games, Tampa Bay is yielding averages of 111 yards per game and 4.4 per attempt. During that stretch, it allowed 152 yards to New Orleans, 143 to the Chicago Bears and 100 to Philly.

And it’s worth reminding everyone Taylor is on a serious roll. He leads the league in rushing (1,122 yards), total yards from scrimmage (1,444), rushing TDs (13) and total TDs (15). Against the Bucs he can become the first player in NFL history with nine consecutive games with 100-plus yards from scrimmage and one rushing TD.

Taylor has rushed for at least 100 yards three straight games and six of his last eight.

Offense, Part II: Wentz should have opportunities in the pass game. The Bucs rank 25th in yards per game (243.7), have yielded 18 TD passes and their secondary is banged up. They’ve also allowed 37 20-plus completions, 11th-most in the league.

But for Wentz to regain his productivity – one TD pass in the past two games after 14 in the previous six – someone besides Michael Pittman Jr. (57 catches, 752 yards, five TDs) and the running backs must make an impact.

We’re looking at you, T.Y. Hilton. He’s been limited to three catches and 31 yards on seven targets in the past two games since returning from a concussion.

That Brady guy: This figures to be the stiffest test for coordinator Matt Eberflus’ defense. Yes, Brady is 44, but he’s playing at a high level. He leads the league with 27 TD passes and is 5th with 2,870 yards. He’s completing 67.4% of his passes and is the league’s toughest QB to sack (12). He’s decisive with his reads and more than willing to throw short until the opportunity to strike deep presents itself.

Weapons in the passing game? Antonio Brown has been ruled out, but Mike Evans and Chris Godwin form one of the league’s most prolific tandems (110 catches, 1,461 yards, 15 TDs), and tight end Rob Gronkowski remains a match-up nightmare (22 catches, 255 yards, four TDs).

The key is obvious. Pressure, pressure, pressure.

“You’ve got to get him off his spot, get around his feet,’’ defensive tackle DeForest Buckner said. “He doesn’t like to get hit, like any other quarterback.’’

Pressure from the edge must come from Kwity Paye and Al-Quadin Muhammad, but it might be just as important for Buckner, Grover Stewart and Taylor Stallworth to crash the interior.

“It’s applying pressure up the middle, collapsing the locket on him because he wants to climb the pocket and throw it downfield,’’ Buckner said.

“We have to do a good job inside and . . . getting the pocket in his face and kind of make him throw out of a coffin.’’

And the winner is: Colts 30, Bucs 24. The Colts have won five of six and the Bucs have dropped two of three. Last week, we wondered how good Buffalo was because of the schedule it had played. We’re wondering the same thing with Tampa Bay. The Bucs have quality wins over Dallas and the Patriots, but they’ve also feasted on Atlanta, Miami, the Bears and Giants.

Oh, and the Bucs are 2-3 on the road, including their last two to the Saints and Washington.

Listen to the Colts Blue Zone Podcast for weekly coverage and analysis of the Indianapolis Colts.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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