INDIANAPOLIS – The Colts are back from their bye week, gearing up to play the third of four NFC North games this season.
It’ll be a trip north to take on head coach Matt Patricia and the Detroit Lions for a 1:00 PM kickoff in Week Eight.
Here are 7 things to watch for as the Colts (4-2) take on the Lions (3-3) as 2.5-points favorites:
1. Plan For Kenny Golladay
At 6-4 and 214 pounds, Kenny Golladay is one of the NFL’s best receivers at high pointing the football and winning 50/50 opportunities.
Golladay has an impressive catch rate of 71.4 percent this year, while still producing 16.9 yards per reception.
He will be one of the best receivers the Colts face this season and can be extremely frustrating to cover, considering his ability to snare away contested balls.
2. Maniac’s Return
After missing the last 5 halves of Colts football, Darius Leonard (groin) has practiced this week and looks poised to return to action this Sunday.
Without Leonard, the Colts really struggled in the first halves defensively.
The return of Leonard is an obvious help as the Colts are looking for him to get back to his splash playmaking days we saw in 2018 and 2019.
3. Best QB Challenge (so far)
Matthew Stafford is the best opposing quarterback the Colts have faced in 2020.
Honestly, that says more about the QBs the Colts have faced in their first six games. Stafford’s numbers won’t ‘wow’ you here in 2020, but he still is more than talented enough to drop a 300-yard, multi-touchdown day on the Colts.
The Colts pass rush needs to ramp up and be more consistent against a QB that isn’t going to do much with his legs.
4. Self-Scout Corrections
The biggest attention that the Colts gave during the self-scout part of the bye week was on the team’s poor rushing performance to start the season.
Frank Reich pointed to an emphasis in examining the zone concepts, too.
Well, Sunday offers another run defense that has struggled in that area this season. Will we continue to see steps in the right direction from Jonathan Taylor, and a game where the Colts point to their run game as reason why they’ve won?
5. Wide Receivers Emerging
With Michael Pittman returning to practice this week, the Colts are hoping they’ll get a jolt at the wide receiver position.
Sunday’s challenge brings the Lions attacking style man coverage defense, often looking to jam at the snap. FWIW, in 6 games against Matt Patricia defenses, T.Y. Hilton has averaged 67.4 receiving yards on 5 catches per game, with 3 total touchdowns.
It’s a must for the Colts to start getting more consistent production from the wideout group.
6. More Road Confidence
The Colts are 1-2 on the road this season (losing in Jacksonville and Cleveland; winning in Chicago).
This is still a looming question for the Colts and more road tests await: at Tennessee, at Las Vegas, at Houston, at Pittsburgh.
With the Colts having won just one road game in the past year, it’s time to prove that you can win on the road on a somewhat routine basis if you are going to be a serious threat in the month of January.
7. Key Early Start
We’ve talked about the recent poor defensive starts for the Colts (20 points in the first half against Cleveland, 24 points in the first half against Cincinnati).
The Lions have outscored opponents by 25 total points in the first quarter, and then been outscored by the following amounts in the final three quarters: 21 points, 11 points, 2 points.
So, both sides play into the first quarter not being in the Colts favor on Sunday.
Bowen’s Prediction: Colts 24-23. When the NFL schedule came out in May, this was a game I circled as do not automatically put this in the ‘win’ category. And 7 weeks into the season, that still rings true. It’s weird though, while the Lions are 3-3, they are a below average team in virtually every meaningful statistical category, no matter the side of ball. So while they don’t really do anything well, they still pose a challenge with one of the better QB/WR duos the Colts will see this season. I think the Colts get the run game going a little bit more this week and hold onto it enough in the 4th quarter to get out of Detroit with their second road win of the season.