After a win against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Green Bay Packers are hoping for back-to-back victories against AFC South opponents. This week, they take on the Indianapolis Colts.
The Indianapolis Colts defeated the Tennessee Titans last week Thursday, improving to 6-3 and taking control of the AFC South. It was a convincing win, with 24 unanswered points. As they’ve done for most of the year, the Colts leaned on their defense.
It’s a unit that ranks 4th in points allowed per game and 1st in yards allowed. The offense hasn’t been as productive this year, ranking 15th in both yards (368.2) and points (26.9) per game. How are they getting it done?
Head Coach Frank Reich is on his third year behind the wheel with the Indianapolis Colts. He’s also on his third starting quarterback, Phillip Rivers. Last season, Reich implemented some Run-Pass Option with the more athletic Jacoby Brissett. That is no longer part of the playbook with the Old Man Rivers.
Reich likes to keep Rivers in the Shotgun and emphasize pre-snap reads and high-percentage throws. We see a lot of ‘dink and dunk’ down the field. Rivers has been checking down to his running backs and tight ends with consistency, and for good reason.
Jack Doyle, Mo Alie-Cox, and Trey Burton give the Colts a talented trio of tight ends and the Colts don’t employ a fullback, so we see a lot of ‘11’ and some ‘12’ personnel. All three tight ends have over 200 snaps on the season, due in part to injury – I don’t think all three have been healthy for a single game this season.
While the tight end trio has seen a pretty even snap % on the year, it’s Mo Allie-Cox that’s been the most productive. He’s converted 20 of his 24 targets for 293 yards and 2 touchdowns, leading to the second-best grade of any tight end in the NFL, via Pro Football Focus.
The Indianapolis Colts rotate their running backs almost as often as they do their tight ends. While Jonathan Taylor leads the way in snaps, he has only 30 touches over the last three games, while Jordan Wilkins has 42 and Nyheim Hines has 29.
Hines is the receiving back and actually leads the Colts in both receptions and receiving touchdowns. Taylor and Wilkins, meanwhile, split touches on running downs.
Matt Eberflus may not be a household name but he’s had success as the Indianapolis Colts’ Defensive Coordinator. Eberflus was one of Reich’s first hires during the 2018 offseason and immediately turned around this defense.
He switched the Colts over to a 4-3 and turned Darius Leonard into one of the top young linebackers in the NFL. Trading for defensive tackle DeForest Buckner prior to the 2020 NFL Draft has only helped Leonard’s development. Leonard is solid in every facet of the game.
Buckner, meanwhile, is one of the top defensive tackles in the league. He may be inefficient as a tackler but he’s solid at eating up blocks and generating pressure as an interior pass-rusher.
On the back-end, the Colts have a solid tandem of safeties, even with Malik Hooker on Injured Reserve – again. In his place, Julian Blackmon has quietly been one of the best rookie defenders in the NFL, while Khari Willis hasn’t missed a snap.
Eberflus has talent at every level of the defense, making it easy to transition from his base to his nickel defense. We don’t see much blitzing but this defense has been so great in coverage – utilizing a lot of press-man – that they haven’t had to blitz.
It’s impressive what Eberflus has been able to accomplish in Indianapolis. He took over a struggling 3-4 defense and has implemented one of the top 4-3 defenses in the league – quite the turnaround.
Three Factors for the Indianapolis Colts
Return on Investment along the Offensive Line
The Colts drafted four of their five starting offensive linemen – three of them in the first-round – and that investment has paid off. Their 77.1 pass-blocking grade is fourth in the NFL, while their 74.7 run-blocking grade is fifth, via PFF.
From left to right, the starters are Anthony Costanzo, Quenton Nelson, Ryan Kelly, Mark Glowinski, and Braden Smith. Costanzo has missed one game this year but other than that, this group has remained healthy. That’s what it takes to have success along the offensive line in the NFL – unless you’re the Packers.
This offensive line has allowed only 9 sacks on the season. That one per-game average leads the league. This is the only way to operate an offense with the most immobile quarterback in the NFL.
A familiar name for us Packer fans, Xavier Rhodes has found new life, after leaving Minnesota for the Colts during the 2020 offseason. He was up-and-down with Minnesota but seems to be on the up again. With his 6’ 1”, 218-pound frame, he’s a perfect fit in Eberflus’ press-man defense.
The 30-year-old, Rhodes, is on his third NFL contract but he hasn’t lost a step yet. He can hang with a lot of receivers in the long game and can bully almost all of them at the line of scrimmage. He’s allowed a QB rating of just 63.6 and has one penalty on the year.
Questions at Edge Rusher
Kemoko Turay had a productive start to the 2019 season before it was ended by an ankle injury. He’s just now recovered enough to be promoted to the active roster. It’s still reasonable to wonder what he’ll look like in his first game back – or if he’ll even play, but the third-year pro is just one in a group of five contributors at Edge for the Indianapolis Colts.
Justin Houston was brought in prior to the 2019 season but seems to have taken a step back, at almost 32 years old. Denico Autry is another aging veteran for the Colts’ edge group but he sees almost as many snaps at the interior. He leads the Colts with six sacks on the season.
Second-rounders, Ben Banogu and Tyquan Lewis, are still young but haven’t taken many steps in the right direction. Long story short… the Colts can’t rely on any of their edge rushers to apply consistent pressure right now. Although between the five of them, I trust that they can get the job done.
The Indianapolis Colts are an efficient team with a winning formula. They typically win the time of possession battle and have a turnover ratio of 13-9. With the help of one of the best defenses in the NFL, the Colts have a net point differential of 65 on the year.
This is the first big test for the Green Bay Packers’ offense. If the passing game can remain efficient against Eberflus’ defense, the Packers should be fine.
The Indianapolis Colts are the early favorite in this matchup but it’s very close. The Packers haven’t played well against good competition this year so it’s reasonable to question what we’ll see during this Sunday evening matchup in Indianapolis. This could be a bumpy one… buckle up.