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Pre-Game Recon: Five Questions With Stampede Blue

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Brett sat down with Chris Blystone from Stampede Bluet for five questions about the Colts before this weekend’s game.

Houston Texans v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

I didn’t do this. Brett did. This is what happened when he talked with Chris Blystone at Stampede Blue.

1. How does Andrew Luck look in his first few weeks back on the field? Has his arm strength or accuracy looked noticeably different?

Andrew Luck has looked much like he always has. His pocket movement and awareness are stellar. His accuracy is very good. Even his arm strength looks pretty good, though he has admitted that it is still progressing to reach where it was before. The biggest differences have come in terms of decision making and some rust that is somewhat to be expected.

Luck has always had a tendency to try to force the ball in some tight windows. That has had mixed results over his career, but a few factors are making that a bit more problematic this season. First, the weapons Luck is throwing to are less than ideal.

The injury to Anthony Castonzo has altered how the offense needs to play. Jack Doyle was used a lot in blocking situations and taken out of the equation on a lot of passing downs, which is a big blow to the passing game. Essentially, that makes T.Y. Hilton the only target with which Andrew has a proven track record and any real chemistry and trust. Then when Doyle sustained a hip injury, it diminished the passing game even further.

The lack of talent as well as players with whom Luck has trust has been evident, particularly in light of his long absence from football. GM Chris Ballard spent most of the draft capital on bolstering the offensive and defensive lines, and Deon Cain, the receiver who looked like a steal for the Colts after showing out all of camp and preseason, tore his ACL. That has left the cupboard somewhat bare in 2018 where receiving weapons are concerned.

The primary emphasis of Frank Reich’s offense is the short passing game. Those who don’t watch the film and rely on the stat sheet point to the results and claim that Luck’s arm isn’t where it was. This just isn’t really accurate. There are certainly many issues with the offense, but Andrew Luck’s arm isn’t really one of them.

2. Darius Leonard has absolutely balled out so far this season. Is he the defensive game changer that Colts fans have wanted the team to draft for seemingly forever?

Colts fans are used to watching defensive playmakers do incredible things, we just aren’t used to seeing them in Colts jerseys. Darius Leonard has been so much fun to watch for that very reason. He is a defensive playmaker who is all over the field, disrupting the game and creating issues for opposing offenses.

He isn’t a perfect player, he will need to continue to develop and grow, but all the indications, through an admittedly small sample size, are that he is a central piece to a very different Colts team than we have seen, maybe ever.

Leonard has 41 tackles on the season, the next closest player has 34. He has 3 sacks, putting him 1 behind Myles Garrett and tied with the Watt brothers. He also has a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, 2 passes defended, and 6 tackles for a loss. I know there are other players on the defense, but I’m not sure what they are doing while Leonard is hogging all the action.

Whether his dominant performances will continue is hard to say, but Texans fans know what it looks like to have a dominant defensive player who completely changes the game, and that is what Leonard has the makings of. Time will tell if he is able to keep it up.

3. Despite the Colts offensive line looking really good on paper before the season started, they seem to have been very inconsistent so far this season. Is Anthony Castonzo’s absence really THAT damaging to Indy’s integrity up front? Or is it something else?

There was a lot to like about the Colts offense, but injuries have been a major factor and have hampered it in a very real way. The loss of Anthony Castonzo has been huge. There aren’t a lot of high quality offensive tackles just hanging around, and Castonzo is one of them. He is the Colts’ best offensive lineman, and losing him has definitely changed what they are able to do.

On paper before the season, the thought was that running behind the tandem of Quenton Nelson and Castonzo would be a nightmare for opposing defenses, and that the left side would be locked down in pass protection as well. Instead, the Colts have been without Castonzo all season so far. They also lost right tackle J’Marcus Webb, who was the starter in week one, to a torn hamstring.

Denzelle Good, the original planned starting right tackle started the season injured and was able to make his return just last week as a backup to Joe Haeg, who, after playing left tackle for Castonzo, moved to right tackle. Of course, Haeg was then injured and will miss several weeks. Essentially, the offensive tackles as a whole have been a total mess.

Add the loss of Jack Doyle with a hip injury, Marlon Mack with a hamstring strain, and rookie wideout Deon Cain with an ACL tear, and we’ve had a very inconsistent and rocky start offensively. Given Luck’s injury, priority one was to keep him from getting hit. That has made the offense rely heavily on quick throws, which has been effective at cutting the sacks allowed down dramatically.

The Colts also haven’t been able to run the ball effectively, and without a lot of playmakers who can get yards after the catch, the offense has struggled against their slate of really tough defenses early in the schedule. I expect things will improve as the team gets healthier, but ultimately they’ll be limited until they can upgrade at receiver and possibly right tackle.

4. Who is one player on the Colts that people don’t talk about enough? Is there anyone under the radar that we should look out for this weekend?

Jordan Wilkins is a name worth keeping an eye on. The rookie running back has demonstrated great vision, balance, and patience in the running game. He doesn’t have the explosive ability that someone like Marlon Mack does, and he isn’t a threat to take it to the house on any given play, but he consistently gets positive yards and squeezes the most out of every play.

I don’t expect the Colts to run the ball to great effect against the Texans’ defense, but I do expect them to use Quenton Nelson to run traps to the right side and try to get positive yardage. Marlon Mack seems to be improving and might play this weekend, but if he doesn’t I expect Wilkins will get a lot of carries and will make the most of them.

5. What is your prediction for this Sunday? Who wins, by how much, and why?

This one is a tough game the call. J.J. Watt looked last week like he was back to being a dominant force that can take over a game again. Add in the pairing of Deshaun Watson with Hopkins and Fuller and the offense has the potential to make things happen.

Having said that, the Colts have hung in some pretty tough games as well, and have a young and fast defense that has been effective against some very solid offensive lines. I expect the story of this game to be told in the battle between the Colts’ defensive line and the Texans’ offensive line.

I think Watson will spend much of the game running for his life, and while he will be largely effective at making things happen, I think safety Malik Hooker and Darius Leonard will prove capable enough of making plays on the ball in the passing game.

On the offensive side, I expect that the Colts will try to do what they have done all season so far, and use guys like Eric Ebron, T.Y. Hilton, and Nyheim Hines over the middle in the short passing game to take advantage of their quickness and keep the ball moving. They have used lots of crossing routes and “pick” plays to get guys open, and I think we will see that continue.

I think they can get the running game involved more than it was last week, and use the play action to set up some deep plays that have been missing in the Colts losses. I don’t expect a huge offensive performance, but I think they will do enough to scrape out a tough win at home.

21-17 Colts