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Eyes in the Backfield
18 things to watch for in the Bears/Colts game
Can you believe this guy is an NFL starter? Watch out.
It's been a long offseason, and everyone is more than ready for some football. We'll kick everything off this week by hosting the Bears and ushering in a new era in Indianapolis Colts football. The Bears aren't quite the same team we faced just 19 months ago in Miami; they threaten to be a doormat in the NFC North this year. Here are the 18 most important things to keep an eye on this week:
1. Watch Peyton’s left knee. All indications are that he’s on solid ground after recovering from offseason knee surgery, but until he comes out firing Sunday night, doubts will still linger.
2. Watch for pressure up the middle. The Colts are sporting three new starters on the O-line, but will have last year’s starters at tackle back. Last year, the line was beset by injuries, but there was only really trouble when the tackles were hurt. Howard Mudd mixes and matches better than anyone in the league along the line, so expect solid play up front. With last year’s whipping boy Charlie Johnson finally out of the tackle positions, he has the chance to prove that he is a legitimate NFL starter.
3. Watch Dwight Freeney spin. His health is the single most important issue for the 2008 Colts. If he is getting good pressure on the QB, the Colts will be set for a deep run again in 2008. The spin move is Freeney's signature, and if he can execute it at full speed without pain, it bodes well for the weeks to come.
4. Watch Devin Hester’s number. If you are reading it on the front of his jersey, it’s time celebrate because that means the special teams have improved. If you watch it on the back of his jersey, you can know we are in for another long year in the kicking game.
5. Watch AG on third down. The Colts run more 3 receiver sets than any team in the league, and it puts our 5 best weapons on the field at once. On most third down passing situations, you can expect defenses to struggle to cover Wayne, Harrison, Addai, and Clark. Gonzalez should be open for a lot of key conversions.
6. Watch the snaps. With rookie Jamey Richard (we think!) snapping to #18 for the first time in game action, exchanges could be an issue. The last time these two teams played, Manning's wet ball drill with Saturday became legendary. I'd guess we'd better close the roof.
7. Watch for falling rocks. The Bears have famously struggled with QB play for the past several years (re: since Sid Luckman), and this year roll into Indy sporting Kyle Orton at QB. The Colts will seek to pressure him early and often, and cause a lot of balls to hit the turf.
8. Watch out below. The concourses have been packed at the first two preseason games as patrons of the Luke have spent more time than normal milling around the stadium. Backups caused largely by people who don't yet know where they are supposed to go have caused minor safety concerns. Hopefully, everyone has it figured out by now, but don't bet on it. The crush of people at the bottom of the escalators has been particularly scary.
9. Watch for the Navy and Orange. But you'll have to look hard. In previous years, a home game against the Bears meant a flood of Superfans from the Windy City invading the Dome. But Sunday night, you'll be hard pressed to find one. Of course, the special nature of the game plays into it, but it also says a lot about the sea change that has taken place in Indiana. It's now easy to find Colts fans in every corner of the state, even in the Northern end where Bears fans used to roam free.
10. Watch for a Lovie-in. The friendship between Dungy and Bears coach Lovie Smith has been well established. If the game gets out of hand (and we expect it to), watch for Tony to call off the dogs. A three touch down lead in the fourth quarter will signal an early exit for a lot of starters.
11. Watch for Mike Hart on short yardage plays. We are all curious how the Colts plan on using Hart, but using him as short yardage back seems to make the most sense. The Colts have become brutally efficient on short yardage plays since Joe Addai came to down, but in an effort to save wear on him, the Colts may switch to the denser Hart (thanks Bob M) to ram the ball through for first downs.
12. Watch for rose colored glasses. In the pregame and first half, the NBC crew will try very hard to say good things about the Bears. They'll focus on Devin Hester or Brian Urlacher. They'll might mention the offense struggling, but only in the following way, "With a ferocious defense and a game breaker in Hester, the Bears know that if Kyle Orton can do the job, they just might become Monsters of the Midway again."
13. Watch deep downfield...and you'll miss the Bears offense completely. Without a legitimate deep threat on offense, and with a noodle armed QB, the Bears will struggle to hit passing plays much beyond 15 yards from scrimmage. They'll have to rely on short passes and third down conversions for success.
14. Watch the stars. It's hard to believe that this could be the first Indianapolis home game to be played under the open canopy of the heavens. Around the NFL people always ask, why does temperate Indianapolis need a dome? Here in Indy, most people are asking why we need a roof that opens. Sigh.
15. Listen (gotcha!) for the crowd. Aside from Freeney's healthy, the biggest unanswered question about the 2008 Colts is if Lucas Oil Stadium will be loud. None of us expect Hoosier Dome loud (the contract with RCA is up. It's the Hoosier Dome now and forever!), but we would kind of like some noise. The preseason was such a mess that it was impossible to judge, but we'll know within the first few minutes if the Luke will be as tough a place for opposing offenses to operate as the Dome was.
16. Watch for a backup RB who can catch the ball. Dom Rhodes is back in blue, which will give #18 even more options than he had last year. Kenton Keith struggled all year to catch the ball when he subbed in for Addai, which often led to trouble down by the goal line. Addai would need to come out for a breather after guiding the Colts down field, and then Keith would flub a screen inside the 10 and kill a drive. The return of Rhodes should signal the league that the Colts offense won't be taking plays off.
17. Watch for 18 to 88. We want a play action deep ball to Marvin on the first offensive play (we'll accept the first series). The Luke should be christened with a 75 yard touchdown pass between the two Hall of Famers. This would also quiet the rest of the NFL talking heads about the relative health of the two legends.
18. Watch for a change of opinion. Many pundits have begun to question the Colts' ability to continue dominating the AFC South. After a 30-10 on Sunday night, the media bandwagon will start to fill up again.
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