INDIANAPOLIS – Areas of interest in the Indianapolis Colts’ Sunday meeting with the Los Angeles Rams in Lucas Oil Stadium:
*Kickoff: 1 p.m.
*Line: Colts by 1.
*History lesson, Part I: The Colts have won their first two on the road for the first time 2013. Good for them. Now, take care of business at home. Their last win at Lucas Oil Stadium was nearly a year ago: Oct. 16 against Jacksonville (34-27). They’ve lost six straight at home, which is tied for the third-longest home drought since they relocated in 1984.
For those wondering, the dubious record is eight. In 1991, the Colts finished 1-15 and were 0-8 at home.
Starting Sunday, they have four of the next five at Lucas Oil. In a word: capitalize.
*History lesson, Part II: The Colts lead the overall series with the Los Angeles/St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams, which began in 1953, 23-20-2. Since 1984, the Rams hold the upper hand 6-3.
*Richardson returns: Anthony Richardson is back after missing last Sunday’s overtime win at Baltimore with a concussion. While he remains a work in progress – that probably will be the case throughout his rookie season – he simply brings big-play potential that Gardner Minshew II lacks, especially in the run game. In just five quarters, Richardson has accounted for three of the team’s nine rushes of 10-plus yards. He had a 12-yarder in the opener, then got loose for 18- and 15-yard TDs in the first quarter at Houston.
Richardson and Zack Moss should present peril to the Rams’ perimeter defense. L.A. is giving up 103.7 yards per game (No. 13 in the league) and 4.5 yards per attempt (No. 24). Moss bounced two rushes to the outside at Baltimore for 24-yard gains, but his strength might be between the tackles. He’s decisive and relentless.
If the Colts can establish that phase of the run game, Richardson’s threat on the edge increases.
At some point, Richardson must become more accomplished at pushing the football down the field. He’s averaging just 5.9 yards per attempt and 9.3 yards per completion. His longest pass play – a 39-yard TD to Michael Pittman Jr. – was a catch-and-run on a bubble screen.
*Line dance: The outlook for Sunday changed dramatically Friday afternoon. That’s when center Ryan Kelly was ruled out of second straight game with a concussion and left tackle Bernhard Raimann was ruled out with brain trauma. Raimann complained of concussion symptoms after practicing Wednesday and Thursday.
What to do? Wesley French again steps in for Kelly and either rookie Blake Freeland or Arlington Hambright makes his first career start at left tackle. Freeland has yet to take an offensive snap (eight special teams snaps in two games). Hambright hasn’t played in the first three games. He appeared in nine games with Chicago in 2020 and made his only career start at guard.
This isn’t the optimum time for position coach Tony Sparano Jr. to be shuffling his starting combination.
*Deal with Donald: That brings us to Aaron Donald. He isn’t hard to find. Jersey 99. Right smack dab in the middle of the Rams’ defense. Three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Rams’ career sack leader with 104.5. League leader in tackles for loss – 162 in 141 games – since ) since being selected with the 13thoverall pick in 2014.
“Gosh, he never ever stops,’’ offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said. “He’s someone you want to know where he’s at every single play. Who’s he lining up over? How is getting there? What kind of stunts and games are they using up front to move him around after the snap?
“The guy is as good as they come. He’s as advertised if not better.’’
It’s always fun to watch left guard Quenton Nelson spar with Donald or other top-tier d-linemen, but the Rams do a great job of moving him around on their front. Expect coordinator Raheem Morris to probe and determine which area of the Colts’ patchwork o-line is most vulnerable.
*Get after Stafford: No one will confuse Matthew Stafford for Anthony Richardson. For the most part, the Colts’ pass rush will know where he’ll be. It ranks tied-No. 2 with 12 sacks. Stafford has been sacked 451 times in 194 games, 15th-most NFL history. He’s gone down 7 times in three games, including 6 times in Sunday night’s 19-16 loss at Cincinnati.
If Stafford has time, he’ll do damage despite being without go-to Cooper Kupp for a fourth game. Rookie Puka Nacua ranks No. 1 in the league with 43 targets, No. 2 with 30 receptions, No. 4 with 338 yards and tied-No. 4 with 17 receiving first downs. He’s quickly become Stafford’s security blanket. Tyler Higbee is one of the NFL’s top tight ends while wideout Tutu Atwell offers big-play pop, averaging 14.5 yards on 17 catches.
The run game rests in the hands of Kyren Williams (142 yards, 3.6 yards per attempt), and he’ll face one of the NFL’s better front sevens. The Colts rank No. 16 in yards per game (114.3) and No. 7 in yards per attempt (3.5), but those numbers were inflated as Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson hit them with 101 yards on 14 carries last weekend.
*And the winner is: Colts 20, Rams 17. The reshaped offensive line concerns us. We can envision Donald trying to determine which perceived weak link to attack, and making a handful of impactful plays. But we’re also encouraged by Richardson’s return. He has the potential to make such a difference to the offense. The last time these teams met in week 2 of 2021, Matt Gay delivered the game-winning 38-yard field goal with 2:23 remaining. This time, how about Gay knocking down a game-winner against his former team?
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.
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