Colts linebacker Darius Leonard got a text at 1:57 in the morning this week.
"About how important Week 1 is and winning the home opener," Leonard said.
Colts Owner and CEO Jim Irsay.
It's been eight years since the Colts last won Week 1. This is a team that's made the playoffs three times in that stretch — 2014, 2018, 2020 — but just hasn't been able win their season opener for whatever reason.
"It's a weird thing," tight end Jack Doyle said.
The last time the Colts won in Week 1, Terrelle Pryor was the opposing quarterback, Vick Ballard was their leading rusher, Greg Toler had an interception and Derrius Heyward-Bey had more receiving yards than T.Y. Hilton. That was a 21-17 win over the Oakland Raiders; Doyle would make his NFL debut one week later.
With Hilton on injured reserve, no Colts players who were a part of the team's last Week 1 win will be on the field on Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks.
The Colts saw in 2020 how important a Week 1 result can be — had they beat the Jacksonville Jaguars, they would've won the AFC South and hosted a playoff game at home instead of traveling on the road to face the No. 2 seeded Buffalo Bills.
"When we had that opening meeting basically coming into training camp," linebacker Bobby Okereke said, "that's when Jim Irsay told us, 'You've got to win the opener, you've got to win the opener.'"
So whether it's addressing the entire team at the start of training camp or sending a late-night reminder to a team captain, the emphasis from Irsay on down is clear.
"That's something that you want to win, you want to win every game but most importantly you've got to win Week 1," Leonard said. "… It's already a chip on your shoulder but when you got the owner hitting you up, you understand how important this game is."
It's Official: Carson Wentz Will Start
Carson Wentz practiced in full Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and will start for the Colts in Sunday's season opener.
"He's looked good and he's ready to go," coach Frank Reich said.
Wentz underwent a procedure to remove a bone fragment from his foot on Aug. 2 and was given a five-to-12-week timetable to return. Sunday will mark five weeks and six days since that procedure.
While Wentz won't enter the season with a ton of practice reps, coach Frank Reich didn't sound too concerned about how that'll affect his QB1.
"It's not how you would write the story, but it can be a great story nonetheless," Reich said. "Carson is an extremely bright guy, he's done a lot of work mentally even when he hasn't been able to work physically. And when you factor in his mental capacity and his ability to focus and to lock in and to be dialed in since the offseason, that's what gives us the confidence."
What's Ahead For Left Side Of O-Line
The Colts pushed left tackle Eric Fisher in practice in case he'd be ready to play on Sunday, but Week 1 turned out to a little too soon.
"It just comes down to practice time — just not enough," Reich said. "He has got better each of the couple days he's practiced, looks good, feels good."
With Fisher out, Julién Davenport will get the nod at left tackle, where he played well during the preseason.
"(I'm) definitely confident, I've played a lot of games in this league and I'm still working to improve my game and myself," Davenport, who started 28 games for the Texans and Dolphins from 2017-2020, said. "So I've been doing everything I can to be prepared and ready at any given moment whenever my number is called."
While Fisher won't suit up Week 1, Reich left open the possibility he could make his Colts debut next weekend against the Los Angeles Rams. That he could even be considered to play this early in the season is better than the best-case scenario the Colts thought when they signed him in May — which, Reich said, was having Fisher debut in Week 3 or Week 4.
"I don't think we'd rule (Week 2) out," Reich said. "I think we keep it in play and see if he can continue to get better every day."
At left guard, Quenton Nelson was a full participant in practice on Friday after not practicing Wednesday and being limited on Thursday. Nelson, who hasn't missed a game in the NFL, is officially questionable.
"Quenton's the kind of guy, if there's any way he's going to be ready, he'll go," Reich said. "We'll just see how he feels tomorrow."
One Matchup To Watch
Keep an eye on the slot when the Seahawks have the ball on Sunday.
Seahawks receiver Tyler Lockett ranked seventh in the NFL last season with 52 receptions from the slot, per Pro Football Focus; he was eighth in yards per catch (10.7) and ninth in passer rating when targeted (99.3) from the slot. Lockett played 60 percent of his snaps in the slot in 2020.
Meanwhile, Colts cornerback Kenny Moore II held opposing quarterbacks to a 79.0 passer rating when targeting him in the slot last year (second-lowest among regular slot corners); his three interceptions while defending the slot topped the NFL, too. Moore played 69 percent of his snaps in the slot in 2020.
(All numbers are via Pro Football Focus.)
Colts cornerbacks coach James Rowe said Moore is able to be such a good slot corner in part thanks to what Reich calls "accelerated vision."
"The tighter you get to the ball, the quicker you have to make decisions," Rowe said. "So anytime you can see things before they're happening, obviously that helps. When you're outside, the game's a little bit slower, it's more of a technique-type game. But him being able to play inside and win inside just shows his mental capacity and his intelligence."
And as for Lockett?
"He's dynamic," Rowe said. "He's as smart as it gets. It'll be a great test for us."
One Stat To Watch
Russell Wilson has been one of the most effective scrambling quarterbacks over the last 10 seasons, and that was no different in 2020. Wilson led the NFL last year with 460 rushing yards on scrambles, per Pro Football Focus, and averaged 8.5 yards per scramble.
"With a quarterback like that, you have to make sure you keep him in the pocket," Leonard said. "He makes a lot of plays like Patrick Mahomes or Deshaun Watson when they escape the pocket and throw the ball down the field. So you have to make sure we have a coordinated rush when we are going against him."
As for throwing the ball downfield: Wilson's 19 "big time throws" — as defined by PFF as "a pass with excellent ball location and timing, generally thrown further down the field and/or into a tighter window" — were tied with Patrick Mahomes for the most among QBs when under pressure in 2020. Wilson is one of those quarterbacks where merely getting pressure on him sometimes is not enough.
"You can't abandon your rush lane," defensive end Kwity Paye said. "... He's Houdini in the pocket. He can escape anything you throw at him so for us we really have to hone in on trying to really grab him and bring him down."