Raiders at Colts: What to watch for Sunday

Indianapolis Colts

FILE IMAGE (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

INDIANAPOLIS – Areas of interest in the Indianapolis Colts’ meeting with the Las Vegas Raiders Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium:

  • Kickoff: 1 p.m.
  • Broadcast: FOX59.

History lesson, Part I: Edgerrin James set the standard by which all Colts’ running backs are measured while earning a bronze bust in Canton, Ohio. In his seven-year career in Indy, he set club rushing records for yards in a career (9,226), a season (1,709) and a game (219).

Initially, Jonathan Taylor is measuring up quite nicely. He obliterated the single-game mark by torching Jacksonville for 253 years in his final regular-season game as a rookie, and is on the verge of eclipsing James’ single-season record. With a league-leading 1,626 yards, Taylor needs 84 against the Raiders’ 19th-ranked run defense to eclipse James.

For those keeping track at home, he’s averaging 108.4 yards per game. More impressive, Taylor has rushed for at least 100 yards in nine of his last 12 games and averaged 121.3 yards per game during that stretch.

Worth noting: some league and team records undoubtedly will fall now that the NFL has gone to a 17-game season. If Taylor gets at least 84 against the Raiders, he’ll have chased down Edge in 16 games.

He also is on track to become the first Colt since James in 2000 to lead the league in rushing. He has a massive 467-yard lead over Cincinnati’s Joe Mixon. Taylor also leads the NFL with 1,962 yards from scrimmage.

History lesson, Part II: While the majority of the focus on individual accomplishments have been on Taylor’s incredible second season, let’s not dismiss year 2 for Michael Pittman Jr. He needs just 29 yards to become the 10th player in Colts’ history with 1,000 receiving yards, and the first since T.Y. Hilton in 2018.

Pittman’s pursuit of 1,000 is all the more impressive because he’s lacked consistent support at the position. Consider the team’s second-most productive wideout. Zach Pascal has 36 receptions (40 fewer than Pittman) and 369 yards (602 fewer).

The No. 3 wideout in terms of production: T.Y. Hilton with 20 catches and 247 yards.

Playoff picture, Part I: The memory of the 0-3 and 1-4 starts hasn’t completely faded, but we’re getting there. Same with blowing double-digit leads against Tennessee, Baltimore and Tampa Bay.

Despite those hurdles and more – injuries, the recent COVID-19 outbreak – the Colts have worked themselves into an enviable position. Win for the ninth time in 11 games and they clinch a second straight playoff berth and third in four seasons with Frank Reich at the controls.

It’s that simple.

“Yeah, we wanted to control our own destiny in a sense and we got that opportunity come this Sunday,’’ defensive end DeForest Buckner said. “We put ourselves in this position early on, starting off 0-3, then going to 1-4. Then, fighting our way back to this moment.

“We got a perfect opportunity to punch our ticket.’’

Playoff picture, Part II: The odds are against the 8-7 Raiders. FiveThirtyEight.com calculates their chances at reaching the playoffs at 17%. But the path only requires a win over the Colts and a closing win over the Los Angeles Chargers.

The last dance at Lucas Oil?: They’re long-time cornerstones and undeniable fan favorites, but is their time coming to an end? Barring a postseason home game, T.Y. Hilton and Jack Doyle might be playing their final game at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Each has at least considered retirement: Doyle last offseason and Hilton after undergoing neck surgery in late August. Doyle is in his 9th season after being claimed off waivers from Tennessee in September 2013 while Hilton is in his 10th year after being selected in the third round of the 2012 draft.

Doyle, the Cathedral H.S. product, is under contract for 2022 and due a base salary of $4.7 million. Hilton will be a free agent after re-upping with Indy last offseason with a one-year, $8 million contract.

Hilton considers Doyle one of his best friends on the team and repeatedly has said he’ll consult with Doyle before making any decision.

“He’s absolutely my favorite teammate,’’ Hilton said. “I’ll make my decision off his.’’

Hilton insisted he hasn’t thought about Sunday being his final home game as a Colt.

Wentz or Ehlinger?: This won’t be decided until Sunday, but a significant step was taken for Carson Wentz to remain under center when he was activated off the COVID-19 list Saturday. The final step is gaining medical clearance Sunday.

It’s not inevitable Wentz starts, but the Colts activating him clearly tips their hand and expectations.

Until that time, it’s impossible to overstate how that decision will impact the game. Reich said both quarterbacks have had a good week of preparation and either will be ready to start. He also admitted the offense will be roughly 20-25% different if rookie Sam Ehlinger, not Wentz is under center.

Wentz spent the week in quarantine after being placed on the COVID-19 list Tuesday. He participated in all meetings virtually. Ehlinger exclusively ran the No. 1 unit for the first time this season.

Raiders threats: Tight end Darren Waller (COVID-19 list) is out, but no one should minimize the threat presented by the Raiders offense.

And it all starts with quarterback Derek Carr. He is averaging a career-best 291 yards per game and is among league leaders in yards (3rd with 4,363), completion percentage (5th at 68.7), completions (3rd with 384) and attempts (5th with 559). He has 20 touchdowns against 12 interceptions, and is mired in something of a slump. Over his last six games, he’s had five TDs and four interceptions.

Legitimate weapons include running back Josh Jacobs (677 yards, seven TDs; 48 receptions, 319 yards) and wideout Hunter Renfrow (92 receptions, 949 yards, six TDs).

This should be an interesting matchup. Carr is accurate and aggressive. He has 62 completions of at least 20 yards, tops in the league. The Colts’ defense has allowed 39 completions of at least 20 yards, tied for 7th-fewest.

Also, the Raiders have suffered 22 turnovers with Carr accounting for 17 (12 interceptions, five lost fumbles) while the Colts’ D ranks 2nd in the league with 31 total takeaways and 5th with 17 interceptions.

And the winner is: Colts 27, Raiders 20. We’re basing this on Wentz being under center. We still might stick with Indy if it’s Ehlinger, but our confidence wouldn’t be as firm. The quarterback situation aside, the Colts are expecting key players back from the COVID-19 list (Darius Leonard, Quenton Nelson, Rock Ya-Sin, safety Khari Willis, wideout Zach Pascal, defensive end Kemoko Turay). That list might include right tackle Braden Smith and corner T.J. Carrie. Pro Bowl center Ryan Kelly is back.

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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