When the Raiders host Indy on Sunday, they wil face a team with established veterans mixed with young playmakers. Overall, the Colts will serve as yet another litmus test for the Raiders. FPC Colts managing editor Ben Pfeifer sat down to detail the arrival of a new era in Colts football and what the Raiders will face.
What does the 2018 Luck have in store for Oakland?
The 2018 Luck has done a lot of damage with a little help. Playing in an offense marred by injuries, he has still managed to place second in the NFL in touchdowns (20). Finally, the Colts’ injury report is thinning and Luck is getting his weapons back. At this point in the season, the only major contributor left on the sidelines is Jack Doyle. With T.Y. Hilton back and Marlon Mack recovered, the Colts battered the respectable Buffalo defense. At 2-5 and still in the AFC South race, expect a desperate and fired up Andrew Luck to come into Oakland.
Where does he still need to improve?
Coming back from multiple injuries, Andrew Luck still has the occasional bad miss, either too high or too low. None of these have been costly this season but he needs to sharpen up his accuracy, which, to be fair, has been good so far. Luck has to trust his receivers to make plays and not try to be the hero, resulting in needless turnovers. Playing with a clean pocket against the Raiders, he needs to make diligent decisions, take what the defense gives him, but not shy away from the deep ball. Oakland does not have a defensive back on the roster who can handle T.Y. Hilton and Luck needs to exploit this.
Quietly, Frank Reich took command of an offensively challenged team, how did he change the culture?
Under Chuck Pagano, the Colt offense as uncreative, uninspired, and ineffectual. For the longest time, the Colts have won games almost exclusively on the battle-hardened back of Andrew Luck. Through the first six weeks of the season, this looked to continue. However, the Colts ran for more yards than they passed for against Buffalo and this is certainly an emphasis of Frank Reich. Reich wants this offense to be far more balanced than it has shown to be. This offense is going to be aggressive and Frank Reich will echo this with his playcalling. Expect the Colts to go for at least a few fourth downs in Oakland.
On the defensive end, Reich and his staff have preached a tough, hard-nosed, bend but don’t break approach to defense. The Colts were synonymous with weak football and missed tackles but the story has been different this season. The defense has been unspectacular in some games, part due to injuries and partly due to inexperience, but they are vastly improved as a unit. The Colt defense is fast, fierce, and will not back down from any challenge. They get after the passer and force turnovers.
Darius Leonard looks like a steal. Where has he surprised you and where can he improve?
Darius Leonard has been fantastic in run defense. He diagnoses plays quickly and uses his athleticism to routinely make plays on the ball. His discipline defending the run has been impressive and something I didn’t expect to see from him so early. Leonard knows when to stack and when to shed, keeps his eyes on the QB, and holds his gap. Leonard has been solid in pass coverage due to his athleticism and solid instincts but one place he needs to improve is his ability to read play action plays. He often bites hard on play action fakes, leaving himself out of position.
Considering the controversy surrounding Oakland, if the Colts were to win, what four aspects of the game do you see the succeeding in?
The Colts have to get pressure on Derek Carr. Oakland has the talent to put up points, especially against a mediocre Colt secondary. Not only does the front four have to dominate but Matt Eberflus will need to get creative in dialing up his pressures to fluster Carr.
Conversely, the Colts have to run block well. Playing against a weak pass rush, the Colts line should be able to pass protect, hopefully marking the third straight week without a sack allowed. If the Colts offense is going to thrive, they have to be balanced. The line did a commendable job blocking for Marlon Mack against Buffalo and the Colts dropped a 37 piece because of it.
Leading into our next point, keeping the offense balanced will be key. Andrew Luck cannot be the only one making plays for this offense. We saw how great the Colt offense can be when it is balanced. Even when the Colts can’t run. Andrew Luck can put up points. However, that’s not an ideal situation. Balance also insinuates the receivers doing their job. The Colts’ screen game has been abysmal recently. When screens are working, they add a new dimension to the offense. Andrew Luck can’t be asked to throw dimes on every play. The easy ones matter, too.
The fourth key to this game will be to force turnovers. Much of the Colts’ defensive success has predicated on forcing turnovers and scoring points off them. When teams can methodically move the ball down the field, the Colts struggle. We saw this against New York and New England. However, when the Colts’ defense gets aggressive and takes matters into their own hands, good things happen, as we saw against Washington and Philadelphia.