Colts at Miami: What to watch for Sunday

Sports

FILE IMAGE (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

INDIANAPOLIS – Areas of interest in the Indianapolis Colts’ Sunday meeting with the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens.

  • Kickoff: 1 p.m.
  • Broadcast: CBS4

History lesson

We’ll keep this brief. The Colts are looking to avoid their first 0-4 start since 2011 and just the sixth since their relocation in 1984.

Only one team has opened a season 0-4, recovered and reached the playoffs – the 1992 San Diego Chargers.

That’s the size of the mountain the Colts potentially face. And then there’s this: the five previous 0-4 starts disintegrated into 2-14 (2011), 3-13 (’98), 3-13 (’97), 1-15 (’91) and 3-13 (’86) messes.

OK, we’re done.

A better Wentz

Everything points toward a more mobile Carson Wentz than was the case last weekend in Nashville. Ok, that won’t take much. He made Philip Rivers look Steve Young-esque in the loss to the Titans.

But Wentz is another week removed from the sprained ankles, primarily the right one, and practiced on a limited basis three times this week. He insisted he was “way better’’ than the previous week, and needs to be.

The Colts made it abundantly clear a 50-60% Wentz was a better option than backup Brett Hundley, but needed more from him at Tennessee and will need more against the Dolphins. He still needs to limit his extend-the-play urges and work out of the pocket, and Frank Reich still needs to fashion a game plan that features short drops and quick throws to protect him.

Wentz, though, must push the ball down the field on occasion to generate some chunk plays in the passing game and not allow the Dolphins to crowd the line of scrimmage. The latter is a must for the run game to work.

Run the damn ball

And that brings us to that run game. All-Pro left guard Quenton Nelson won’t be involved – he’ll miss at least three games after being placed on the injured reserve list with a high sprain to his right ankle – but everyone should be wearing his patented Run the Damn Ball hat. For a variety of reasons the Colts have yet to establish what is supposed to be their strength. And that’s a physical offense that’s going to lean heavily on Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines. Injuries to the offensive line (Braden Smith and now Nelson) have played a major role, and last week the Titans crowded the line and dared an immobile Wentz to stretch the field.

It’s time for what will be a patchwork o-line to assert itself and give Wentz a reliable run game. Taylor seemed poised for a breakout game against the Titans; he averaged 6.4 yards per attempt but only took 10 handoffs. Miami has been vulnerable to the run. It faced the 2nd-most rush attempts during the first three weeks (95), and for good reason. The Dolphins’ run D ranks 27th in yards per game allowed (136.0) and 19th in yards per attempt (4.29).

Consider the rush totals yielded in the first three weeks: 125 yards on 30 attempts against the Patriots, 143 on 30 against the Bills and 140 on 35 against the Raiders.

Yes, Wentz is going to have to make some plays with his arm. But everything will come easier if Taylor and Hines are getting theirs as well.

Time for the defense

If not now, when? Players keep mentioning miscommunication and being out of position and not being on top of fundamentals. The defense ranks 28th in yards per play allowed (6.29), 28th in rushing yards allowed (140.3) and 28th in yards per pass attempt (8.74). It’s given up nine passing TDs, tied for the most in the NFL.

That defense will be without four frontline players – rookie end Kwity Paye (hamstring), safety Khari Willis (ankle/groin) and cornerbacks Rock Ya-Sin (ankle) and T.J. Carrie (IR) – but there’s every opportunity to get its act together against one of the NFL’s least threatening offenses and against someone it knows very well.

The Jacoby Brissett-led Dolphins offense is 29th in yards per game (268.3), 31st in yards per play (4.0), 29th in passing yards per game (175.7) and 31st in yards per attempt (5.0). It ranks 30th in scoring (15.0). Brissett was criticized during his four-year stint in Indy for his reluctance to push the football down the field, and that has continued to South Florida. He’s averaging 4.3 yards per attempt, 33rd in the league, and 6.9 yards per attempt.

Depleted or not, the Colts’ D must make major strides. They’re not facing Russell Wilson/Tyler Lockett, Matthew Stafford/Cooper Kupp or Ryan Tannehill/Derrick Henry.

And the winner in: Colts 20, Dolphins 13

This is more a reflection of how we view Brissett and the Dolphins than our trust in Indy. It’s also believing a truly desperate team – that would be the Colts – will find a way.

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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