It's hard to imagine a more difficult three week stretch for the Indianapolis Colts. Over the last three weeks they squandered a late lead over division rival Jacksonville, had a bye and then began preparing for the Green Bay Packers. They will have faced and lost to one of the league's worst teams only to rebound to face one of the league's best teams. While a loss isn't a forgone conclusion the challenge against Green Bay will be the stiffest they've faced this year depite the rest afforded by the bye week.
The euphoria over getting healthy and perhaps a boost from returning players after the bye was immediately arrested by the sobering news that head coach Chuck Pagano is facing the most human of challenges: cancer. While it is certain the team will feel an immense need to fight for Pagano the news must be disheartening for the organization.
It is the uncertainty around Pagano's absence that trouble me the most. Since the announcement I've scribbled what could be 70 Questions this week. Don't fret: I won't torture you with that many questions.
1. Will Bruce Arians retain control of a floundering offense while serving as interim head coach or cede control to Clyde Christensen?
It is without question that Bruce Arians has frustrated Colts fans with his play-calling. The Colts remain largely ineffective running the ball and have placed too much burden on Andrew Luck to avoid sacks. The offensive line is simply a void of talent at this point, Anthony Castonzo being the exception. As a result of poor line play and the bewildering play selection the team has been much less effective offensively than many assumed given the array of weapons at their disposal.
Will that change now that Arians must focus on the head coaching assignment? Will former offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen restore balance and exert a little more control over the situation? Many Colts fans strongly believe Christensen can be the voice of reason.
2. Will Vontae Davis contribute?
While he was injured in the loss to Jacksonville, Vontae Davis hasn't exactly lived up to the hype that he brought in the trade. The secondary certainly needed a boost but has yet to see it from the talented but undisciplined Davis.
The Colts added Darrius Butler to fill the void in the event Davis doesnt return. At this point the team needs, regardless of the injury, to find more depth and talent at corner.
UPDATE: Davis is out for the game. Sad face.
3. Will Aaron Rodgers feast on a weak Colts secondary?
Yes. Let's move on. I can't see any scenario in which the Packers don't post huge numbers in the air. Greg Jennings is fighting an injury but they have enough weapons to decimate the Colts in the passing game. To prevent this the Colts will need to find some semblance of a pass rush although Rodgers handles that very well. Also, the Packers don't feature a spectacular running game--they're a pass-first offense. Perhaps they'll throw the Colts a curve by establishing the run behind Cedric Benson but that will only lead to bigger gains in the air attack for Rodgers as the Colts bite on play action.
4. Will the Colts insist on attempting to establish a run game?
Again, yes. Unfortunately they can't run behind anyone on the right side. Don't be surprised if they keep beating their head against that wall. The Packers are a top 10 defense but their opponents are averaging 4.4 yards per carry against them. Bruce Arians won't be able to resist the urge to take advantage of that perceived weakness.
5. Will returning starters boost the team?
That depends on who actually plays. Pat Angerer may return but there's been little dropoff with Kavell Conner's emergence. Joe Reitz would be a huge boost but his availability is still unknown. A bigger piece of the puzzle may be the use of Jeff Linkenbach in place of Seth Olsen. While Linkenbach hasn't been great Olsen has been horrible. The fact that the team is attempting to find some way to mitigate its risk is at least encouraging.
6. Will Reggie Wayne and Robert Mathis keep their career-best pace up?
Wayne will continue to be a favorite target for Andrew Luck. He'll get his share and continue his incredible pace. Mathis on the other hand faces a bigger task. Mathis is on target for not only the best year of his career but one that would approach NFL records. It's incredibly unlikely he'll finish the year with 21 sacks although his current pace makes that a possibility. The Packers should provide a much stiffer challenge for Mathis this week.
7. Can the Colts make it a game?
It comes down to turnovers. If the Colts can somehow get to Rodgers and force a turnover-riddled performance they've got a fighters chance. It's a slim one though and I don't expect a win. I'd love to be wrong here but I'd settle for a solid outing in which the team shows a few flashes of improvement. With any luck the Colts pull off the upset of the week.
I hope Christensen can take over play calling. At least last year the Colts made adjustments and played better in the second half (135 points, vs. 108 in the first half). So far this season, Colts are scoring 3x as many points in the first half. (45 vs 16 in the second half).