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INDIANAPOLIS – One final trip to Oakland and the Black Hole?
That could be the case for the Colts (2-5) this Sunday when they travel to take on the Raiders (1-5) at 4:05 PM.
Here are 7 things to watch as the Colts take on the Raiders before their bye week:
1. Keep It Going
-The final two weeks of the 2015 season was the last time the Colts won games in consecutive weeks. Before any chatter truly ramps up about the Colts climbing back into the outskirts of the AFC South conversation, wins in a row have to occur. Like Buffalo last week, the Colts have another outstanding opportunity on Sunday. The Raiders are reeling big time and have a locker room full of guys questioning what the immediate future holds for them.
2. Control Trenches
-It’s been quite some time since we’ve seen the Colts play this well on the offensive line. The good news is that Oakland’s front has not been too productive at all this year. The Raiders have just 7 sacks this season, the fewest in the NFL. While the pass protection has been sound all year long for the Colts, we saw a revival of a run game against the Bills. Taking that on the road would be welcomed this weekend.
3. Rattle Carr
-Honestly, one might argue that Derek Carr is the best quarterback remaining on the Colts’ nine-game schedule. Carr is second in the NFL in completion percentage this season (71.7 percent). Unlike Buffalo, the Raiders actually have competency at the quarterback position. Now, Carr has lost two big weapons in the past week with Marshawn Lynch on injured reserve and Amari Cooper traded to Dallas. Can the Colts dial up some pressure to make things uneasy for Carr?
4. Make Raiders Questions Themselves
-There probably isn’t a more dysfunctional organization right now than the Raiders. Their all-in mindset this offseason, by assembling the oldest team in the NFL, has now been blown up. If the Colts can find any early lead on Sunday, the boo birds will be loud in Oakland. And on the sidelines, you know things will be tense. The Colts could break the Raiders pretty early in Sunday’s game if they can grab a first quarter lead.
5. Kicker Situation
-So it looks like Adam Vinatieri will give it a go this weekend, despite having a groin injury. If for some reason Vinatieri gets into the game and re-aggravates his groin, then the Colts could turn to Rigoberto Sanchez, who was 21-of-24 on field goals as a college placekicker. You wonder if Vinny’s health might lead to the ultra-aggressive Frank Reich to roll the dice even more on 4th down.
6. Safety Playing Time
-The return of Clayton Geathers this week has created an interesting/good dilemma for defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus. Veteran safety Mike Mitchell has been outstanding in filling in for Geathers the last two weeks. Mitchell has given you key playmaking and done nothing to all of a sudden be benched with Geathers returning. Eberflus said earlier this week that the Colts were working through plans to make sure both players would be involved and on the field together in certain packages. I’m curious to see how this plays out.
7. Bye Week Injuries
-Given the Colts’ dire injury situation in 2018, this upcoming bye week will be critical in terms of health. It’s very difficult to find the Colts’ starters who have spent no time on the injury report this season (Quenton Nelson and…). The Colts need a full week to rest up and prepare for the final eight-game stretch run. No matter what happens on Sunday, the Colts will need to start the second half of the season with a flurry of wins, if the month of December is to include games with heavy playoff implications.
Bowen’s Prediction: Colts, 27-23. Take away Derek Carr, and some might argue the Raiders are in worse shape than the Buffalo Bills. At least the Bills have a defense and aren’t in full-tank mode. The reason I see this game being close is because the Colts are travelling all the way to the west coast and Oakland has a quarterback capable of moving the football. Still, the Colts should win this game and that’s not something you say often about an NFL road game for a 2-5 football team. The Colts get this done as improved health on offense allows them to continuously move the ball and head into the bye week at 3-5.