INDIANAPOLIS – A big road trip down I-74 awaits the Colts this Sunday afternoon.
The Colts (7-5) and the Bengals (6-6) meet in Week 14, with major playoff implications on the line.
What did we learn from the Colts on Wednesday?
- Grover Stewart is back in the lineup this Sunday. The Colts have allowed at least 125 yards in 6 straight weeks, with that entire span coming as Stewart’s been out suspended. That’s the longest streak for the Colts franchise since the 2006 season (and 2nd longest since 1988). “I guess it’s kind of obvious, but he definitely helps our defensive line,” Steichen said of Stewart. “He’s a really good player and he’s a big-time player that’s going to help us.” Stewart would not say what he ingested to test positive for performance-enhancing drugs, although he said he decided not to appeal the 6-game suspension because he didn’t want to prolong his absence.
- Another aspect to the return of Stewart is keeping some offensive linemen off of the Colts linebackers, especially Zaire Franklin. In the last two weeks, Franklin has had his lowest tackle games of the season (6 and 7). Franklin had just 1 solo tackle in 85 defensive snaps against the Titans. Those are very small numbers for Franklin, compared to what he had been putting up earlier this season. In those two games, the Bucs and Titans ran it with great success at the Colts. So the return of Stewart should (and better) help out a struggling run defense, and get Freeman a little freer.
- Wednesday marked one week into thumb rehab for Jonathan Taylor. On Wednesday, Shane Steichen didn’t say if Taylor will play against the Bengals of if the timetable has changed at all for the fourth-year running back. NFL Network reported that Taylor’s return is in the 3-to-5 week range. If that holds up, Taylor will miss at least Sunday against the Bengals (1.5 weeks removed from surgery) and next Saturday against the Steelers (2.5 weeks removed from surgery).
- According to the New York Times NFL Playoff Predictor, the Colts’ playoff chances will fluctuate by 31 percent with a win or loss on Sunday against the Bengals. We will do this each week the rest of the year as the Colts are in playoff position. Head here for more on the current playoff chances for the Colts.
- It’s been an injury ridden season for Braden Smith in 2023, missing 4 games, and that doesn’t include exiting after just 3 snaps on Sunday. Smith’s availability for this week is up in the air after that knee injury he suffered on Sunday’s opening series. Smith also missed 6 games back in 2021. The veteran right tackle is under contract through 2025, but the Colts do have an out after this year with a minimal dead cap hit ($6 million). Now, that thought is probably a bit premature given Smith is only 27 years old. But I get this sort of a question, so I thought I’d point out where things stand with Smith. Rookie Blake Freeland has really been needed here in Year One, and the 4th round pick has done a nice job. We will see if the Colts need to rely on Freeland again moving forward.
- As expected at the start of the season, Sunday will offer the toughest wide receiver challenge of the year. You have high-end talent in the always-dangerous Jamar Chase, supported by quality depth in Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd. Depth at cornerback for the Colts will be tested, unlike it has all season, particularly in recent weeks. Could this be the return for JuJu Brents? Shane Steichen wouldn’t say on Wednesday, with the Colts holding just a walk-through. Brents (quad) has missed 5 straight games, across 6 weeks (with a bye week, too).
- While the Cincinnati has surprisingly been below average this season, it’s the Bengals defense that has lived at the bottom of the NFL. Cincinnati ranks 31st in yards allowed per game, 32nd in rushing yards allowed per play and 31st in passing yards per play. That’s awful.
- Both the Colts and Bengals are coming off of overtime games, although Indianapolis’ 60-plus minute affair ended some 36 hours before Cincinnati’s road game in Jacksonville. Is there a chance for the Colts to take advantage of the short week for the Bengals coming off such a taxing road game?
- On Wednesday afternoon, the NFL announced that Colts practice squad defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad has been suspended without pay for the next 6 games for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing substance policy. Muhammad has yet to play for the Colts this season. He’s been in the league for 7 years, and started 17 games for the Colts back in 2021.
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