Tha Sports Junkies 101

Green Bay Packers Week 9 Preview: Indianapolis Colts

Colts vs Packers - NFL gsxrkid600 via flickr


Packers, Colts Set For High-Scoring Battle at Lambeau

The last time the Indianapolis Colts (3-5) beat the Green Bay Packers (4-3) at Lambeau Field, it was 1988 and the quarterback match-up was between Don Majkowski and Chris Chandler. If you had to Google those somewhat obscure names, don’t feel bad, it has been almost 30 years.

The current quarterback match-up should be far more compelling.

Sunday will mark the second time Aaron Rodgers and Andrew Luck have gone head-to-head in their careers. In 2012, Luck got the best of Rodgers in a 30-27 comeback win at Lucas Oil Stadium. It was an emotional win for Indianapolis in the team’s first game without head coach Chuck Pagano after his cancer diagnosis.

Rodgers and Luck have drawn comparisons to each other over the years, mostly due to the ability of both to make plays out of the pocket and create something out of nothing. The two have faced off just the once, but many have dreamed of the two one day squaring off in a Super Bowl. This hasn’t materialized.

In 2016, Luck and the Colts have faced another season of struggles brought on by injuries, poor defense, a severe lack of talent, and the ability to protect their franchise quarterback.

It Takes More Then “Luck” To Win in This League

Luck has put together a successful season despite having little help around him. He has completed 198 of 311 passes (63.7%) for 2,284 yards (260.9) and 16 touchdowns to only five interceptions.

He’s also been more accurate this year then he has been since his first two years in the league. According to PFF, his adjusted completion rate of 75.6 percent (removes drops, throwaways and passes on which he was hit as he threw) ranks 10th, and in all PFF quarterback rankings, Luck finishes 3rd overall.

Even though he is having possibly one the best years of his career, his team remains unable to win. In fact, the Colts Front-Office seems to be determined to shorten or derail Luck’s career anyway they can, based on what has been placed around him.

Colts‘ management should be especially concerned about Luck’s health after last year, a season in which he missed more than half the team’s games due to injuries in both his shoulder and kidney.

Not surprisingly, Luck has never had a season in which he didn’t rank among the 10 most pressured QB’s in the league, and this year has set a new low. He has been pressured on a league-high 43.8 percent of his dropbacks. In total, he has already been sacked 34 times in eight games.

Offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski, who runs primarily a vertical-style passing attack, doesn’t do much to aid his often over-matched offensive line.

The scheme he employs makes it necessary for a quarterback to hold the ball longer, and in PFF’s pass-blocking grades, which take into account the amount of time an offensive lineman has to hold his block in pass protection, the Colts rank third-worst in the league.

When Luck does have enough time or a proper target to get the ball out to, he has had to try to make up for the NFL’s 11th-highest drop rate, along with a NFL leading seven drops when under pressure, by his receivers.

Luck’s partner in the backfield, Frank Gore, has been a steady presence, just not one capable of the big plays necessary to take pressure off. Gore has rushed for 532 yards on 126 carries (4.2 per rush), but has had only one run 20 yards or longer. He has never been confused for being much of a speedster.

All these factor should lead to the Packers pass rush flourishing against the Colts after being unable to effect Matt Ryan last week. Some of this will be due to the return of Clay Matthews at outside linebacker.

Matthews hasn’t put up numbers as he did in previous seasons, but his presence always requires extra help. Nick Perry, who has terrorized quarterbacks on the opposite side of the defense in 2016, had a weak performance against the Falcons on Sunday with Matthews sidelined and more blockers dedicated to him.

There is no certainty Matthews will be 100%, but if he is close, I expect the Packers defense to record at least five sacks Sunday afternoon. With more men focused on Matthews, it should leave Perry and Julius Peppers free reign to return back to form.

If Chicks Dig the Deep Ball, They Must Love T.Y. Hilton

Through all the poor play around him, wide receiver T.Y Hilton has again proven to be a lone bright spot for Luck and the Colts.

A Pro-Bowler in 2014, Hilton has dangerous speed and athleticism. He runs a 4.36 40, and uses every bit of it to make plays down the field.

Luck has targeted him 82 times already this year, only completing 46, meaning it is usually all or nothing for the duo. He has broken off 15 plays of 20+ yards, 2nd most among receivers, and is currently averaging over 15 yards per catch along side four touchdowns.

After he was held to just one catch last week against Kansas City due to injury, I expect a more typical Hilton performance this week. He has gone for more than 100 yards in three games this year, not so coincidentally they have been in the team’s three wins, so it’s obvious they seem to go as he goes.

For the third week in a row, corner Ladarious Gunter may get the match-up with an opposing teams number one wide-out, regardless of corner Quinten Rollins’ status.

It will be a different type of challenge for Gunter, as he has faced the slower more physical twosome of Alshon Jeffery and Julio Jones the previous two weeks.

Unlike Jeffery and Jones, Hilton is more likely to stick to the flats and try to make you miss after the catch, or go deep for a big gain rather than go over the middle. It’s important for Gunter to be smart and to be given help, because if Hilton sees the slightest of openings he’s gone.

Packers Offense Looks to Exploit Historically Bad Colts Defense

For all of the negatives surrounding the Colts offense, they almost seem insignificant compared to their defensive issues.

Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense are coming off a brilliant performance against a battered and bruised Atlanta secondary, and are undoubtedly salivating just thinking about how many points they may put up this week.

Based on PFF grades, Indianapolis currently ranks dead-last in the NFL in overall defense, including ranking last versus the run and last in coverage. Their pass rush is the only thing breaking the top 25, and even that just ranks 24th. Remarkably, not a single player among the Colts’ starters on defense have a PFF grade over 80.0.

In terms of overall stats, they rank 30th in pass yards given up per game (288), 30th in total passing yards given up (2,302), 29th in opposing team’s QB rating (103.1), and 29th in opposing team’s completion percentage (66.8%).

To make matters worse for Indianapolis, this week they may be without their top corner.

Vontae Davis, leader of the Colts secondary, is still questionable after being put through concussion protocol this week. Davis has the speed and ability to match-up with top receivers like Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams, and in his absence Indianapolis may lack solutions to the problems the Packers offense can cause.

If Davis is inactive, they will be forced to rely on back-ups Patrick Robinson and Darius Butler.

Robinson has good skill, but doesn’t always react and play with confidence like a number one guy needs to do. If someone like Jeff Janis or Nelson gets matched up with him, Rodgers could feed that guy all day.

Butler, a second-round pick in ’09 by New England, is currently forced to play with a club on his hand due to a broken finger. He’s a more physical corner, and probably will be utilized in covering Adams or patrolling the middle of the field spying on Ty Montgomery.

Montgomery, who missed last week with an illness, is poised to return this week to his “receiving back” hybrid role. He’s a tough cover for any defense, whether he’s out of the backfield or spread out, but especially for a beat up one like the Colts.

One man Indianapolis likely won’t have to worry about is Randall Cobb. The Packers will be slow playing his hamstring injury the rest of the year in hopes he won’t aggravate it when he comes back. It seems he will be a game-time decision, but I don’t count on him playing much even if cleared.

However, with Rodgers beginning to trust his young wide-outs, Cobb’s presence or lack of presence, shouldn’t effect the game-plan much.

If Green Bay does have one thing to watch out for it may be former Packers’ outside linebacker Erik Walden. Walden currently has six of his teams 14 sacks, the second-best percentage of team sacks (42.9%) in the league.

Despite playing on one of the worst pass rush teams in the league, Walden has stuck out.

He has recorded 10 QB hits, and is often a spark for the usually timid defense. Since his days in Green Bay, Walden has always been an aggressive player, even if that sometimes gets him in trouble, I know he will be looking to make a statement against the team that let him go.

Of course, you can’t talk about the Colts defense without mentioning Robert Mathis. He was drafted by Indianapolis all the way back in 2003, and has been a force ever since.

Mathis is the kind of player any team would love to have, and every other team hates to play. Even now, he gives outstanding effort and has glimpses of untouchable speed off the edge with his patented spin move. Like Peppers for Green Bay, he enters in situational moments but is more than capable of making game-changing plays.

If the Packers offensive line continues their dominate play, and Walden and Mathis are contained, Rodgers may be looking at a career day.

Final Thoughts

Well, I think this is finally the week. Incredibly, to this point in the season Aaron Rodgers is still the only Packers player with a rushing touchdown. Against the Colts that streak will end, fittingly with a fullback draw play to Aaron Ripkowski.

It should be one of many scores for Green Bay at Lambeau, as I see Rodgers putting on a repeat four touchdown performance and reminding people he’s not dead in the open MVP race. To me, the “baaaaad man” is back.

However, there is also a “baaaaad man” on the opposite sideline capable of doing just what Matt Ryan did last week. In all three of the Colts victories this year, Luck has conducted a 2nd half or 4th quarter comeback.

If Green Bay is going to walk out with a win, as they should, they will need to keep their foot on the gas and give no opportunity for Indianapolis to gain any hope.  There is no more room left to be conservative for this team.