Friday brought about some welcome news for the Colts, with quarterback Anthony Richardson clearing concussion protocol – meaning he'll start Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams at Lucas Oil Stadium.
But it also brought about a challenge for the Colts' offensive line, which will be without left tackle Bernhard Raimann and center Ryan Kelly, both of whom were ruled out with concussions for Week 4. The Colts will be down two starting offensive linemen Sunday.
Head coach Shane Steichen said the Colts are still talking through what their offensive line could look like against the Rams. But someone who would seem likely to play is rookie Blake Freeland – a guy the Colts envisioned as their swing tackle when they selected him in the fourth round of the 2023 NFL Draft.
Freeland and the rest of the Colts offensive line will be tasked with keeping all-world defensive tackle Aaron Donald away from Richardson on Sunday. Donald is a defensive tackle in name only; he's actually played more snaps lined up over opposing tackles (92) than over opposing guards (58), per Pro Football Focus. Donald also frequently runs stunts and games with his fellow defensive linemen to attack different gaps.
"He's a great player," Richardson said. "We gotta watch for him, we gotta block him up the right way. Respect his game, respect him as a player and a person. Just be ready for certain things he's going to bring and try to play our game."
And, said Freeland: "He's a generational talent. He's a monster. Just stick to what I do and trust in myself, trust in my teammates."
The Rams' defense enters Week 4 with some solid numbers as a whole:
- 4.9 yards per play (11th)
- 5.4 passing yards per play (ninth)
- 25.7 percent third down conversion rate (second)
- 20.7 points per game (13th)
Only five of the 32 drives the Rams faced in Weeks 1-3 ended in touchdowns (15.6 percent, 10th-lowest NFL), while only nine of the 108 passes they've faced have resulted in gains of over 15 yards (8.3 percent, fourth); opposing quarterbacks have a 74.5 passer rating against the Rams, sixth-lowest.
So Richardson will return to the field for the first time since Week 2 against a challenging Rams defense. But the Colts see Richardson as ready for the challenge after a full week of practice.
"He came back good, like he was the first two weeks," Steichen said. "He had a great week of practice, great week of preparation. Excited to get him out there Sunday."
The Colts last faced the Rams in Week 2 of the 2021 season, about five months before Donald, head coach Sean McVay and quarterback Matthew Stafford lifted the Lombardi Trophy.
Plenty has changed with the Rams since that mid-September game, which the Rams won, 27-24. Los Angeles has had to overturn a wide swath of their roster after a historically all-in push; only a handful of Rams who played in that 2021 game are still on the team (and wide receiver Cooper Kupp, who had nine catches for 162 yards with two touchdowns, is on injured reserve). The Rams went 5-12 in 2022.
But McVay, Donald and Stafford remain. In other words: One of the most highly-regarded coaches in the NFL, one of the best players in football history and one of the most productive quarterbacks in the league are still in Los Angeles.
The Rams thumped the Seattle Seahawks in Week 1, then dropped competitive games to the San Francisco 49ers and Cincinnati Bengals in Weeks 2 and 3. Stafford is averaging over 300 passing yards per game while Donald's 14 pressures are tied for second-most among interior defensive linemen. And in Kupp's absence, fifth-round rookie Puka Nacua has 30 receptions (second in the NFL) and 338 yards (fourth) entering Week 4.
The stars of Los Angeles still shine bright two years removed from bringing a Lombardi Trophy to southern California.
"They're a top-tier team," defensive tackle DeForest Buckner said. "They know how to win. They've been there, they've been at the mountaintop. They've won a Super Bowl together. They got that camaraderie.
"We gotta be on our details. Guys like that will make you pay if you're not on the details."