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5 Things To Watch

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5 Things To Watch: Colts vs. Cardinals, Week 16

Get inside Christmas night's Colts-Cardinals matchup with a look at Jonathan Taylor, the Colts' offensive line and Kyler Murray. 


1. How will Arizona respond after losing to Detroit last week?

The Cardinals' 30-12 loss to the Detroit Lions last weekend was one of the biggest upsets of the 2021 season – Arizona entered that game tied for the best record in the the NFL; the Lions had the worst record in the league.

"They played hard," quarterback Kyler Murray said after the game. "It was a physical game. I wish we knew it was going to be. Like I said, I don't know what happened today. We just didn't come ready to play."

So which Cardinals team will the Colts face – the team that thumped the Rams, 49ers and Browns in the first half of the season or the team that's lost by three scores to the Lions and Panthers in the last five weeks?

"Expect a lot of energy," head coach Frank Reich said. "T.Y. (Hilton) talked to the team about this yesterday at the end of the day when we broke down, just expect their best shot. They're a really good football team who just lost who lost a tough game and lost the game before that. 

"Players get that. We all know what it feels like to be in the position that they're in. So we know that we're going to get their best shot."

2. Jonathan Taylor against Arizona's run defense.

The Colts have gained over 200 rushing yards in in four of their last six games, with those totals coming against some of the defenses in the NFL like the Bills and Patriots. So this week, when Frank Reich checked in on offensive line coach Chris Strausser and tight ends coach Klayton Adams' run game preparations for the Cardinals game, he said: "200 yards is the new standard."

"I mean, I never thought I would say that," Reich said. "I mean usually to me, 150 yards is the gold standard. 125 in my book, 125 is nice. We like 125 yards rushing. 150 is a great day. You get 150 yards rushing, you're going to be – you average 150 yards, you're going to be in the top three or four teams rushing. But we've had a bunch of these 200-yard days. That definitely takes it to another level."

The Cardinals haven't allowed an opponent to rush for 200 yards on their defense this season, but Arizona does rank 27th in rushing yards per play allowed (4.6). They've allowed over 100 rushing yards in eight of their 14 games, including 126 in their loss to the Lions last week.

The Colts enter Week 16 leading the NFL in yards per rushing attempt (5.2) and are second in rushing yards per game (157.0). Taylor, of course, leads the league in rushing attempts (270), rushing yards (1,518), rushing touchdowns (17), rushing first downs (93), yards from scrimmage (1,854) and total touchdowns (19). Taylor also leads the NFL in rushes of 10+ yards (42), 20+ yards (11), 30+ yards (7), 40+ yards (4) and 50+ yards (3); his 83-yard run against the Houston Texans in Week 6 is the longest rushing play of the season to date; his 78-yard run against the New York Jets in Week 9 is the second-longest running play of the season, too.

And Taylor is showing no signs of slowing down, even with his heavy workload.

"Physically, he's such a specimen, he takes great care of himself," Reich said. "At this point, he's showing no wear and tear."

3. The Colts' O-line in pass protection against Arizona's edge rushers.

Even with JJ Watt out, the Cardinals' pass rush has been menacing this season – Chandler Jones has 9.5 sacks and Markus Golden leads the team with 11.5. And linebacker Jordan Hicks is one of two players with 100+ tackles and 5+ sacks this season.

But the Colts' offense has, collectively, been trending up in pass protection for months now. After Carson Wentz was pressured on a league-high 63 dropbacks in the first three weeks of the season, he's been pressured 123 times in Weeks 4-15 – 17th-most in the NFL.

And it's been even more encouraging over the last six weeks – Wentz has been under pressure on only 61 dropbacks, and has the third-highest PFF passing grade when pressured among regular starting quarterbacks in that span.

Reich pointed to Wentz's sack percentage – currently a career-low 5.1 percent – as one of the things the quarterback has excelled at this year. Add in Taylor having some fantastic blitz pickups in pass protection lately and the Colts have done a good job keeping Wentz's pockets clean and their quarterback upright.

4. Can the Colts contain Kyler Murray?

Kyler Murray was part of the early-season MVP conversation, with the Cardinals quarterback owning a 116.8 passer rating and 17/5 touchdown/interception ratio over his first seven games (all of which Arizona won). But over his next four games – a stretch which included a multi-week absence due to an ankle injury – Murray has a 78.7 passer rating and 3/5 touchdown/interception ratio. The Cardinals lost three of those four games.

But Murray remains a dangerous, dynamic threat because of his remarkable ability to evade pressure and make plays, either with his arm or his legs. Even over his last four games, Murray has 27 carries for 144 yards (5.3 yards/attempt) and two touchdowns.

"He'll escape anywhere," defensive tackle DeForest Buckner said. "He's just trying to get away from you. He doesn't really have a favorite side. Watching film, he escapes every which way possible. We have to do a really good job with like I've said, always say it, rushing four as one. Getting constant pressure up the middle, compressing the pocket and also with the d-ends, level rushing and making sure he doesn't escape the pocket.

"Even when guys do a really good job with compressing the pocket, he finds a way to get back. He'll back pedal and get up out of the contain and little things like that. Guys just have to have relentless effort."

5. The Cardinals' strange fumble issues that...aren't an issue?

Something else to track Saturday with Murray – and, really, the entire Cardinals' offense – will be fumbles. Check this out:

The Cardinals, somehow, have recovered 23 of their 26 fumbles. Murray has 11 fumbles but the Cardinals have recovered all of them. Going against a Colts defense with Darius Leonard – who leads the NFL with six forced fumbles – if the Cardinals do have some fumble issues, will their incredible streak of picking them up still continue?

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