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Eyes in the Backfield
18 things to watch for in the Packers/Colts game
It's not nearly as intimidating in October, is it?
Looking back on last week's Eyes, it's astounding how much Peyton Manning and Dwight Freeney can cover up. The Colts defense was essentially flawless, and Manning played one his best games ever. It helped us to shut our eyes to the fact that the Horse still couldn't run the ball, and the line was spotty at best. 18to88 and a sunny day at the Luke made us feel like all was right in the world. Indy has now won three of four, and is seriously threatening to make a run in the AFC. To do so though, they'll have to brave the snow and ice of Lambeau field. Or maybe not. This week, keep an eye on...
1. Watch for rhythm. Having a big week is one thing, but putting together impressive wins is something else. The Colts are entering a tough stretch filled with the biggest games on their schedule. A strong game on both sides of the ball tomorrow will mean the Colts head into Tennessee having won 4 of 5 games and playing good football. If the offense can't consistently move the ball or generate the big plays that marked last weeks win, all the good feeling from the Texans and Ravens game will be gone in the depression of a three game deficit in the South.
2. We say it every week, but watch the line. You'll know the Colts offense is back when you see the offensive line allow Peyton to stay in the pocket and when it opens holes for the run game. That didn't happen last week, as Peyton made up for a lot of mistakes by the guys blocking for him. The coaching staff apparently feels more comfortable with Charlie Johnson at left tackle than with Tony Ugoh. That's fine, but he'll have to prove he deserves to stay on the field for reasons other than having a big heart. The Packers line has trouble applying pressure to the quarterback, so if the Colts can't stop them, they'll be in big trouble come next week at Tennessee.
3. Watch out for looking ahead. Notice we've already mentioned the Titans twice. With the Titans and Patriots looming in nationally televised games, the Colts could come out flat. It would be easy to see how they might be tempted to look past this game. The advantage they have right now is that they don't have the luxury record-wise to over look an opponent. The excitement over playing at Lambeau Field should also help keep the team focused.
4. Watch Dom. It's difficult to know what would be a good game from him. The Colts running game has been stuck in neutral since last year due to terrible line play. If Dom can be marginally effective and get to 3.5 YPC, it will hopefully keep the Packers honest. With no experienced backup, Dom could end up with a goodly number of carries, making 100 yards rushing a possibility based on sheer volume.
5. Watch the tie breaker. #88 is currently tied with Randy Moss with 126 receiving TDs for fourth on the All Time list. Moss does have a rushing score as well. One more score could push him up the list of all time greats and further quiet those who still doubt he's effective. An interesting measure of that will be his catch rate (the number of catches divided by the number of times Peyton throws his way). If Marvin can catch 70% of the balls thrown to him, we'll know he's right.
6. Watch for a thief. Charles Woodson and Peyton Manning have been linked since their razor thin Heisman battle in 1997. Woodson robbed Manning of the trophy, and after a strong start to his career has become a key cog in the Packers defensive backfield. Both men would love to embarrass the other on the field tomorrow, and the one who comes up biggest will likely win the game.
7. Watch for a change of pace. The Colts have played run heavy teams four of the first five weeks, and now a chance to play a true pass first team for only second time this year. The Pack has struggled to run the ball all year, averaging less than 4 YPC and under 100 yards a game. This is exactly the type of team the Colts should match up well against. The Pack will be facing some third and longs, and it's imperative that Jackson and Jennings can give Freeney and Mathis time to bring down the QB.
8. Watch for Grandma's house. Our grandparents lived about 5 blocks from Lambeau and saw it every Thanksgiving...from the outside. November in Green Bay is freakishly cold, and we always had to book out of town on Sunday to beat the football traffic. We still have family in Green Bay and a win would make our lives dramatically easier.
9. Watch for pressure...from the fans. The Pack is still in ok shape at 3-3, but if the Colts jump out to an early lead, the natives might get restless. Aaron Rodgers has played ok this season (even brilliantly at some points), but he's a long way from proving he's the answer for the Packers, despite a fast start early. The Packers have lost their last two home games to the Cowboys and the Falcons, and desperately need to win at home tomorrow. If the Colts jump out early, it could get ugly.
10. Watch the inactive list. Both teams have been hammered by injuries. Just as the Colts get a few players back, they potentially lose Joseph Addai and Gijon Robinson, not to mention Lilja, Sanders, and Hayden who are all still hurt. The funny thing is that people have started to describe the Colts as 'healthy'. When a team is missing four starters and people call them healthy, it tells you how bad the injury bug has been. The Pack has also been wracked with injuries on defense. Especially in the secondary where they'll be probably be playing without Al Harris and Atari Bigby. The team that can field the best backups, might come out with the win.
11. Watch the RAC. Greg Jennings leads the league in yards after the catch, but he's playing a Colts defense that prides itself on allowing completions with zero RAC. Tim Jennings will sometimes allow completions, but he did show last week, that he can be as punishing as Jackson and Hayden. If the Colts can plant Jennings as soon as he catches the ball, the Packers are in trouble.
12. Watch for ghosts. The Packers and Colts are karmic opposites of sorts. Green Bay is all about tradition and history, while the Colts abandoned theirs when they came to Indianapolis. The Packers play in a classic old stadium, while the Colts play in the newest one around. The Colts are still lead by their Hall of Fame quarterback who threatens to make everyone forget about their other great QB, while the Packers had that guy and dealt him away for a fistful of magic beans.
13. Watch Ryan Grant. It's always a big deal to watch the opposing running back against Indy, and this week is no exception. The biggest difference in the Pack offense from this year to last is the lack of production from Grant. Opponents have taken away the run game from Green Bay, and Grant averages only 3.4 YPC and no TDs. The Packers must be feeling pressure to get him going against the Undersized Front Four (TM) of the Colts.
14. Watch for brains. A month ago, Bob Sanders confided that he was really looking forward to feasting on the massive craniums of Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy. Now he's hurt, but is consoled by the fact that they wouldn't really provide more than a light snack anyway.
15. Watch for the real deal. Aaron Rodgers (11 TDs, 4 Ints) is seven spots ahead of Peyton Manning (8 TDs, 5 Ints) with a 98.0 Passer Rating. Manning is hanging out just ahead of Kyle Orton and David Garrard in the rankings. We get the feeling the market is headed for a correction. A couple of picks by Rodgers and TD or two by Manning, and all will be right with the world
18. Watch for momentum. The Colts should march into Wisconsin and put lots of holes in the cheese. The Pack defense struggles to get pressure, and their run game is suspect. That's a bad combination against Indy. Look for the Horse to roll 35-17.
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