How we see it: Colts 27, Vikings 22

Sports

JACKSONVILLE, FL – SEPTEMBER 29: An Indianapolis Colts helmet sits on the sidelines during a game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field on September 29, 2013 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS – Areas of interest in the Indianapolis Colts’ Sunday meeting with the Minnesota Vikings in Lucas Oil Stadium:

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

Run with the rookie

There never was going to be an easing-in period for Jonathan Taylor. The Colts anticipated their second-round draft pick sharing the workload with veteran Marlon Mack. But with Mack done for the year with a ruptured Achilles, the feature role falls on the ultra-productive rookie out of Wisconsin.

The decision to invest the 41st overall pick in the draft on Taylor wasn’t for him to be an insurance policy for Mack, but there’s no question it’s worked out that way.

“It was the right thing to do to draft Jonathan,’’ Frank Reich said. “It was part of the plan that we had talked about. He was the right player for us. That’s been confirmed.

“This will be a great opportunity for him.’’

Taylor showed flashes at Jacksonville. While he was limited to 22 yards on nine carries – he was stuffed for no gain on consecutive second-and-1 and third-and-1 snaps – but his first NFL touch was a 35-yard gain on a screen pain to the Jaguars’ 2-yard line.

The issue is how Reich and coordinator Nick Sirianni divvy up the carries. Does Nyheim Hines slide in the No. 2 role and handle 10-12 carries along with his busy role in the pass game? Or does Jordan Wilkins get more work as the backup back? The latter has been the case the past two seasons.

Run more?

Reich was adamant he should have called more runs in the opening loss at Jacksonville. The 22 weren’t enough, especially considering Colts’ backs run behind one of the NFL’s top offensive lines and it always was a one-score game.

Asking a 38-year old Philip Rivers to throw 46 times isn’t the least bit ideal. Chew on this stat for a while: Rivers is 14-42 (.250) as a starter when attempting at least 40 passes. That winning percentage ranks 59th in NFL history. But there’s a silver lining. Minnesota’s Kirk Cousins has been worse when asked to deliver at least 40 passes in his career: 5-18-2, .240.

The challenge for Reich and Sirianni is finding a suitable run-pass balance when it might be more advantageous to once again have Rivers do more throwing than handing off. The Vikings feature a pair of top-end safeties with Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris, but their corners are young and vulnerable. With rookie starter Cameron Dantzler out with a rib injury, look for 2018 first-round pick Mike Hughes and third-year pro Holton Hill to start and rookie first-round pick Jeff Gladney to work as the third corner.

In the opening loss to Green Bay, the Vikings’ secondary was torched by Aaron Rodgers for 364 yards and four TDs. Wideout Davante Adams was his main target with 14 receptions, 156 yards and two TDs on 17 targets.

It’s imperative for the Colts to re-establish a physical run identity. But if the Vikings can’t stop the pass, don’t stop passing. And let’s not forget Rivers was 17-of-17-of-17 for 142 yards and one TD when targeting his running backs at Jacksonville.

 Cousins or Cook?

The defensive issues against the pass are well-documented. Gardner Minshew’s 19-for-20 performance was just the latest, and we’re interested to see what adjustments have been made with Kirk Cousins in town. It’ll be Cousins’ first career start against the Colts, and he’ll dice ‘em up if given the chance. He’s a career 67% passer, which ranks 2nd in NFL history behind Drew Brees (67.7%). In the Vikings’ opening loss, Cousins was on top of his game: 19-of-25 (76%) for 259 yards and two TDs.

Stefon Diggs was dealt to Buffalo, but Adam Thielen remains a legit No. 1 threat. He posted a pair of 1,000-yard seasons in 2017-18 before a hamstring limited his availability and effectiveness in ’19.

Perhaps the Colts finally have gotten their act together in the secondary. Perhaps the defensive front is able to get in Cousins’ face early and often and rattle him. He’s gettable: 111 sacks in his last 48 starts.

If they can limit Cousins’ damage, they’ll have to deal with Dalvin Cook and a Vikings’ run game that ranked 6th in the NFL a year ago. The 2017 second-round draft pick is the real deal. He’s coming off the best season of his young career – 1,135 rushing yards, 1,654 total yards from scrimmage – and managed 50 yards on just 12 carries last week.

This would represent a strength versus strength matchup.

Despite the on-going problems in the pass game, the Colts have been one of the NFL’s best against the run since coordinator Matt Eberflus’ arrival in 2018. They ranked in the top 10 against the run in consecutive seasons – 7th in ’19, 8th in ’18 – for the first time since 1976-77. In the last 33 regular season games, they’re allowing averages of 99.5 yards per game and 4.0 per attempt.

Find a way

Tony Dungy always was an advocate that more games are lost than won. Execute when the situation demands it, he insisted, and you tend to take care of business.

Recently, the Colts seem to be getting in their own way. After getting off to a 5-2 start last season, they’re 2-8. Five of those losses have been in one-possession games. That obviously includes last Sunday’s 27-20 clunker at Jacksonville that included two Rivers’ interceptions, T.Y. Hilton’s two dropped passes on the late drive that could have sent the game into overtime; Rodrigo Blankenship’s missed 30-yard field goal, five penalties, an unsuccessful fourth-and-1 at the Jaguars’ 3 and more than a few defensive lapses.

Clean up it. Find a way.

And the winner is

Colts 27, Vikings 22. We’re just two weeks into the season, but a hint of desperation is in the air. It would behoove the Colts to satisfy the 2,500 fans at LOS with their first win. Don’t take our word for it. Let’s turn to a history lesson. Since 1990, just 12% of the teams that opened 0-2 (30 of 247) reached the playoffs. It’s 11% since 2007 (12 of 104).

The Colts have recovered from a 0-2 start and reached the playoffs just once in a non-strike season in their Indy era (2014).

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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

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