Nickel Package: 5 things to watch as Colts host Eagles
12:55 PM, Sep 14, 2014
3:20 PM, Sep 15, 2014
INDIANAPOLIS - Here are five topics of interest heading into the Indianapolis Colts’ meeting with the Philadelphia Eagles Monday night at Lucas Oil Stadium:
>Getting even: We're not talking about atoning for a prior misstep against the Eagles. We’re talking about evening the record at 1-1. It would be hyperbole to describe Monday night's meeting as a "must-win" situation for the Colts, but it's never a good idea to open a season 0-2. The Colts have done that once in the past 15 years -- remember 2011 when they lost their first 13? -- and 17 times in their previous 61 years. They've only reached the playoffs once, and that came during the strike-shortened 1987 season. Oh, and league-wide since 1990, only 12 percent of teams that have started 0-2 have recovered and reached the playoffs.
Recent history favors the Colts and Luck getting on track. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 draft has yet to suffer consecutive regular-season losses, and that 33-game span to start a career is tied with Dan Marino for the longest in the NFL since the 1970 merger.
>Balancing act: Coordinator Pep Hamilton's weekly objective isn't all that complicated. It's to convert third downs, move the chains, locate the end zone. How that's done changes from week to week, but ideally it involves some semblance of pass-run balance. That was missing in the opening loss at Denver when the lopsided nature of the game -- the Colts trailed 24-0 with 2 minutes remaining in the second quarter -- forced Hamilton's offense to operate on an 80-20 pass-run split, the most lopsided by any team on Week 1. No team had fewer rushing attempts (14). It's important for QB Andrew Luck to lean on RBs Trent Richardson and Ahmad Bradshaw. A reliable running game lessens the pressure on Luck in passing situations and lessens the number of times he's throwing the football. Ball control might not be a bad idea when facing the fast-paced, quick-strike attack of the Eagles.
>Deal with the speed: We wonder why Lucas Oil Stadium officials will even bother resetting the 40-second play clock when the Nick Foles-led Eagles offense has the football. It pushes the action, often running the next play a few seconds after the official spots the football from the previous one. The hurry-up approach installed by coach Chip Kelly tests the conditioning and soundness of a defense. If a player is slow to line up or botches an assignment, Foles has the skill players at his disposal -- RBs LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles, WR Jeremy Maclin, TEs Brent Celek and Zach Ertz -- to make 'em pay. The Colts also must determine on each possession how to counter the Eagles' personnel. Philly's rapid approach will make it difficult for defensive coordinator Greg Manusky to substitute. If he opts to open a series with his nickel personnel -- pulling a linebacker and going with nickel CB Darius Butler – he'll likely find himself in that package the entire possession.
>Get out of the blocks: The officials should have thrown a flag at the Colts offense for a collective false start at Denver. After a promising first possession, it did virtually nothing until Luck scored on a 9-yard scramble with 19 seconds remaining in the second quarter. The ineffective start contributed to the Colts playing catch-up against the Broncos. The Eagles can relate. They trailed Jacksonville 17-0 at the half before rattling off 34 unanswered points. The Colts should draw energy from a hyped, sold out Lucas Oil Stadium, and use that to set the tone against Philly. Third-down conversions and sustained drives are the best deterrents to the Eagles' potent offense.
>Don’t get run over: The perception of the Eagles offense is one of quick-striking plays in the passing game. The reality is Foles has the NFL’s most potent running game at his disposal. The Eagles led the league a year ago in rushing yards per game (160.4) and per attempt (5.1). They had 19 rushing TDs, tied for second-most in the NFL. McCoy led the league last season in rushing (1,607 yards) and total yards from scrimmage (2,146). Against Jacksonville, he and Sproles combined for 145 yards and one TD on 32 carries. The Colts’ defensive front seven must be sound and swarm to the ball. The linebackers must fend off blocks and finish plays, a task that became a little more difficult with leading tackler Jerrell Freeman out with a hamstring injury. Josh McNary makes his first career start. If one player is out of position or misses a tackle, the result likely will be a break-out play. The Colts did a reasonably good job of containing Denver’s ground game (an average of 3.2 yards on 32 carries). The Eagles represent a more serious threat.