18 Things to watch for during Sunday's Colts/Rams game
We're playing the Rams. Oooooh yeah.
It's been a couple of weeks since the last 18 Plays, but we've managed to stay busy. Ah, who am I kidding. We're bored out of our freaking minds. But take heart, the Colts are back in business this weekend against the St. Louis Rams. I imagine that no one outside of Missouri and Indiana will be watching this one, but you will, so keep your eyes peeled for:
1. Watch for a tough call. Peyton Manning has a real chance to tie Kurt Warner and Steve Young with his 6th consecutive 300 yard passing game on Sunday. Considering that the Rams are 27th in pass defense and allow a defensive passer rating of 95, perhaps the only thing that could keep 18 from tying the record is good sportsmanship.
2. Watch the secondary. The Colts' pass defense has been stellar all season, but it's about to get even better. With Kelvin Hayden and Bob Sanders expected to play and the nicked up Jerraud Powers fully healed, the Colts should play something that approximates their real secondary. Marlin Jackson is still out for a few more weeks, but considering the Rams have failed to pass for 210 yards in 5 of 6 games, I think the Horse will do all right without him.
3. Watch the good for nothings. The Rams have a terrible passing offense ranking just 22nd in the league by DVOA. That's the good news for Rams fans. Their running game has been worse, ranking 28th. On defense they are 29th against the pass and 27th against the rush. They can't run or throw, and they can't stop the run or the pass. They are 32nd in points scored and 2nd in points allowed. What is truly amazing is that despite sucking at everything, there are actually four teams worse overall in FO's rankings. Astounding.
4. Watch for empty yards. Don't fear the rush. Not Limbaugh, the Rams running game. Not long ago Steven Jackson was considered an elite NFL back. In some ways his numbers show he's still a force. He's on pace for more than 1300 yards rushing and 500 yards receiving, which would be the second most productive of his career yardage wise. Unfortunately for Rams fans, he has zero touchdowns. It's not like someone has vultured his scores either. The Rams have zero rushing TDs this season and only 5 passing in 6 games.
5. Watch for big knocks. While watching for big knockers might be more fun, you can still enjoy some hard hitting by the Colts safeties. With the return of Bob Sanders, the Colts may put Bethea and Bullitt on the field with him at the same time. Replacing a corner with a safety could lead to some hard hitting. Expect the fragile Steven Jackson to have a hard time getting up after meeting the Colts safeties.
6. Watch the conversions. The Rams best chance to beat Indy is to get off the field on third and short plays and to convert third and longs on offense. They aren't likely to consistently win first and second down, but if they can stymie the Colts run game on third down, and keep their own chains moving, they could make Indy sweat for awhile.
7. Watch the blitz. Rams Coach Steve Spagnuolo loves to bring extra pressure but to this point the Rams have only corralled 12 sacks. If they come after Manning, he'll be looking to burn the Rams with deep balls to Garcon and Wayne. Spagnuolo will have to disguise his blitzes or Manning will crush the Rams secondary.
8. Watch for the least funny city in America. It's freaking hard to come up with a joke about Saint Louis. What's to say? Sure you can hit on the sagging downtown economy, but other than that, what is there? They love baseball...um...Matt Holliday dropped that ball. I got nothing. I defy anyone to come up with a good joke about the city of Saint Louis. It's like a bigger version of Fort Wayne...hey! I got one!
9. Watch for progress. The run game has been effective (14th in DVOA), without generating the kind of yardage the Colts expect (29th in the league at 3.3 YPC). While the DVOA improvement (up from 27th last year) is important (it shows the Colts are getting first downs), the YPC shows that the run game isn't a serious threat. The Colts have been deadly with the play action fake this year, but as the season moves along, good teams will stop respecting it. The Colts offensive line simply must start blocking better on the edges (21st and 22nd on runs wide left and right) and can't allow the RBs to get hit for losses (30th in the league in runs for 0 or negative yardage).
10. Watch for the end of the cushion. The Colts have had nice long break from scary football teams that is about to come to an end. After the Rams game, 8 of Indy's next 9 are against teams with .500 records or better. Fortunately, most of the toughest ones are home games. As much fun as it's been pummeling the Seahawks, Titans and now Rams, eventually they'll have to get back to the business of beating good teams.
11.Watch another game? Rumor has it that Fox 59 will be showing the Vikes/Steelers opposite the Colts/Rams. This is a break from normal protocol because the local team usually gets the airways unencumbered by completing games. This is the first time I can remember anyone airing a game in Indy at the same time the Colts play. I confess that Demond went out and subscribed to the Red Zone Channel on Monday, just in case Sorgi time ends up being an entire half.
12. Hey! That reminds me. Watch for Sorgi time! If the Colts get a big lead, it's reasonable to assume that Jim Sorgi will get his earliest pass attempt in any season in his career. The earliest date in the season during which Sorgi threw a pass came on October 28th, 2007 against the Panthers. For his career, he has 5 pass attempts outside of the month of December. Given that Curtis Painter will be the emergency QB and surely won't play, Sorgi might get to make a toss or two this week.
13. Watch for what could be. With a stadium looking more and more like reality in Los Angeles and the Jaguars failing to sell out games in Jacksonville, realignment could be in the cards. The Jags could go to the NFC West, and the Rams could move to the AFC South. That would make a division of: Arizona, SF, LA, Seattle and my long dreamed of AFC 'Midwest': Indy, Nashville, Saint Louis and Houston. A yearly home and home with the Rams would provide some extra 'ticket insurance' for both franchises. The move makes too much sense. That's why it'll probably never happen.
14. Watch for the system QB. Remember how there was a time when people thought Marc Bulger was good? Kurt Warner once lost his job to this guy, but the further Bulger gets from the Mike Martz era, the worse he's been. Sure, he's been hurt (a lot), but he hasn't played very well when he was in the line up. He hasn't completed 60% of his passes since 2006, nor has he posted a passer rating better than the 80.8 he has right now. His handful of good seasons were closely related to Martz-ball and hasn't found the grove since he left.
15. Watch the chains. The Rams are allowing a opposing passers to complete 2/3rds of their passes on the season. Against Peyton Manning who is completing passes at better than 72% this season, that should mean lots of first downs. Manning can shred a zone and loves to pick on man coverage. The Rams can't stop Manning without getting serious pressure.
16. Watch for false starts. We are expecting the Dome in St. Louis to be a sea of blue and white on Sunday. Expect Colts' fans to make plenty of noise, especially if the game gets out of hand early. The idea would be for Indy crowd noise to aid in a least one false start by the Rams offense. There is nothing sweeter than jacking with the home team during a road game.
17. Watch for the goose egg. The Rams have scored the fewest points in football, and have been shut out twice. The Colts have allowed the second fewest points in football. St. Louis will have a hard time getting on the board Sunday.
18. Watch for a blowout. The Rams are last in the NFL in point differential at -115. Indy is 5th in the NFL with +66 (in 5 games). This one won't be close. DZ says Indy wins 38-0. Demond says Indy 37, Rams 20.