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INDIANAPOLIS – After an offseason full of questions, it’s finally time to get some real answers in the regular season.
The Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals will meet in Week One at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Here are 7 things to watch as the Colts take on the Bengals at 1:00 PM:
1. Blocking The Bengals
-It will be quite the test for this new-look offensive line, dealing with a massive injury watch on the right hamstring of Anthony Castonzo. The strength of the Bengals is their defensive front. And they will be trying to beat the most scrutinized position group in Indianapolis, which just saw plenty of resources come its way during the offseason. Will the Colts need to help out a banged up Castonzo at left tackle (if he even plays, which is a major question) or Joe Haeg all of a sudden emerging at right tackle in the last week or so? How will Quenton Nelson and the interior guys handle one-on-one looks against the stout Geno Atkins? If Castonzo can’t go, this domino effect will greatly hinder how effective the Colts can be offensively.
2. Luck For 60
-It was a total of 11 series of preseason work for Andrew Luck, spread across 3 games. If things go well on Sunday, Luck could easily play 11 series in one game. Should there be any concerns about Luck’s conditioning (physically and mentally) making the jump to a 60-minute game, after missing so much time over the last year and a half? Frank Reich had a great quote earlier this week about Luck playing 60 minutes Sunday: “What I think is exciting for our team and for our fans is that we get him for 60 minutes. The longer a guy like that is out on the field, the better.”
3. Helping Hilton
-This was such a constant storyline for the 2017 Colts. It popped up last season in a game against the Bengals, too. Hilton had just 2 catches in 7 targets, with Donte Moncrief and Kamar Aiken combining for 2 catches on 6 targets. The Bengals were more than content with Jack Doyle going off (which he did with 12 catches for 121 yards), as long as Hilton wasn’t breaking the game open. Expect the same blueprint from the Bengals in 2018.
4. Open Field Tackling
-In the Colts starting 0-2 in each of the last 4 seasons, open field tackling has been an issue. Will a few more live tackling periods and extra full-padded sessions in Training Camp lead to a clean-up in the tackling department? The Colts will be tested in Week One with elusive running backs Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard coming their way.
5. Pitch Count For Hooker?
-After offseason questions on Malik Hooker being ready for Week One, the second-year safety will indeed start against the Bengals. But will he play a full game? Hooker’s preseason workload was just 20 snaps against the 49ers two weeks ago. Hooker hinted earlier in the week that he might not be fully cleared just yet to log 60-some snaps. This is something to watch on Sunday.
6. Rookie Growing Pains
-The Colts will start around 4-5 rookies on Sunday (RB-Jordan Wilkins, LG-Quenton Nelson, DE-Kemoko Turay, LB-Darius Leonard and LB-Skai Moore). That’s a lot. Yes, the long-term benefit from playing all these young guys will be nice, but are there any short-term hiccups for the serious youth movement coming to the 2018 Colts?
7. Frank Reich Handling New Duties
-Oh yeah, Sunday is Frank Reich’s head coaching debut. Let’s not overlook this. Reich is trying to juggle the play calling duties, along with keeping a close eye on the other phases of the game and of course managing things from a timeout, when to challenge and just overall in-game flow. The Colts also have first-time coordinators on defense and special teams. Do we see any growing pains for this inexperienced staff?
Bowen’s Prediction: Colts, 24-20. Is this dumb? A banged up offensive line going against the formidable front of the Bengals isn’t helping this stance. But Cincinnati still had plenty of issues in 2017, going 7-9 last season with an inept offense. I honestly think a healthy Anthony Castonzo can be the difference between a win and a loss in Week One. But even with Castonzo’s iffy status late in the week, I’ll go with the Colts. With minimal film to watch of the Colts offense, I see Frank Reich using some up-tempo to help out his offensive line and get that side of the ball into an early rhythm. This will be a game up in the air going into the 4th quarter, with the return of Andrew Luck allowing the Colts to get over the hump that was too big last season. Malik Hooker and Clayton Geathers will make a strong impact in their first regular season game together. Let’s go with the Colts for their first season opening win since 2013.