INDIANAPOLIS – The Colts will play their first game in front of no fans this season on Sunday afternoon.
It’ll be the Colts taking on former head coach Chuck Pagano, as the Bears host the Colts in a 1:00 PM kick during Week Four.
Here are 7 things to watch for as the Colts (2-1) battle the Bears (3-0):
1. Better Barometer
The Colts have played the easiest schedule in the NFL through three weeks.
While a 2-1 record is just fine, it’s tough to gauge the September slate of games in terms of potential come January.
Sunday offers a better test looking ahead at a possible playoff team, even if many believe the Bears are very fortunate to be 3-0 (Bears opponents are 1-8 this season, as are the Colts). Chicago is the best team Indianapolis has faced in 2020.
2. Third-Down Issues
It’s really surprising to see the Colts rank last in the NFL in third-down conversions this season.
Situational football success is typically a staple of Frank Reich offenses.
The Colts have said they need to execute better on third down, which is obvious. Poor trench play in short-yardage has been a definite problem. When throwing on third down, the Colts have found success when targeting guys out of the slot, or Michael Pittman on the outside. With the rookie out, the Colts must find a different outside target on the money down.
3. Hello, Chuck
Chuck Pagano has been the defensive coordinator in Chicago for the last two seasons, after sitting out the 2018 year.
Pagano complied a 56-46 record as Colts head coach (2012-17) and was replaced by Frank Reich.
Now, Pagano’s unit has the task of trying to stop Reich’s on Sunday.
Any human would find some extra motivation from facing the team that fired you, so one can imagine Pagano has relayed that to his unit this week.
4. Plan For Alan Robinson
With Sunday bringing a stiffer challenge for the Colts, that includes facing talented wideout Alan Robinson.
Considering what Robinson did last week (10 catches for 123 yards and 1 touchdown) and during his career, he’s probably the best receiver the Colts have seen in 2020.
Do we see some double coverage assigned to Robinson in critical situations—like the Colts used against the Vikings and Adam Thielen?
5. Replacing Another Wideout
With rookie Michael Pittman now out for multiple games, the Colts are down their No. 2 and No. 3 wideouts.
That means more of an onus on T.Y. Hilton to get involved at a higher rate, and an uptick in targets for Zach Pascal.
Along with some younger wideouts (Reece Fountain? Ashton Dulin? Dezmon Patmon? Marcus Johnson?) needing to step up, the Colts could also be more reliant on their tight ends and Nyheim Hines to help offset another wideout injury. If you are looking for a bigger body to help replace Pittman, that leads to Fountain, Patmon and the tight ends.
6. Handling Bears Front
This is unquestionably the best defensive front the Colts have played against in 2020, and probably one of the better ones they’ll see all year.
Khalil Mack gets the headlines, and Robert Quinn has the history, but the Bears also have a stout defensive tackle presence in Akiem Hicks.
Staying out of obvious passing situations is always a goal, but that takes on even more of an importance when playing the Bears.
7. No Fans
Soldier Field will not have any fans in the stands this Sunday.
That will be the first game the Colts have played this season in front of an ‘empty’ stadium. Jacksonville had fans in Week 1, along with Lucas Oil Stadium in Week 2 and Week 3.
Will this impact the Colts at any level, as they try to break a 6-game road losing streak?
Bowen’s Prediction: Colts 24-23. The Colts are favored by anywhere from 2-to-3 points in Week Four, another indicator of how many view the undefeated Bears. Chicago has needed multiple double-digit comebacks to start the year 3-0, and has decided to bench their starting quarterback in the process, too. This is a bit of a ‘prove it’ game for both teams on Sunday. Both have played awful schedules so far, but are in solid positions through three weeks. I’m not a believer in the Bears, and think Nick Foles at QB is a good thing for the Colts given Frank Reich knowing his strengths and weaknesses. Chuck Pagano will give T.Y. Hilton heavy attention, which is going to open up more action for the tight ends. Foles can’t lead a final-minute drive, with the Colts squeaking out their first road win of 2020—winning their first game away from home since October 6th, 2019.