One Big Storyline
For the third time this season, the Colts this week made a change at starting quarterback: Nick Foles will start on Monday night against the Los Angeles Chargers, interim head coach Jeff Saturday announced on Wednesday.
The reasoning behind the change is simple: Saturday believes Foles gives the Colts the best chance to win.
"I feel like Nick will give us a better chance to go win these last three games," Saturday said, "and that's why we're heading that way."
The Colts were eliminated from the playoffs with the Jacksonville Jaguars' win over the New York Jets on Thursday, but winning still very much matters to the coaches and players who've invested so much time and effort into the 2022 season.
Foles, at least in 2022, is somewhat of an unknown – even to his teammates. He hadn't spent any time practicing with the first-team offense until this week, which, by the way, is not abnormal for a guy signed to be a backup. The challenge that lack of on-field familiarity presents, though, is probably a little overblown – Foles has been a successful backup for years, and has extensive experience stepping in under center at a moment's notice.
"It's sort of a crash course because sometimes you're with a team for a couple years and then you go in and out, and then you play," Foles said. "Like, this is my first time to really be with the guys so first off, just how I am in the huddle, what I'm like conducting – for me, it's also trying to get that mindset of executing the offense, running this offense, saying these plays because really it was training camp and since then it's been scout-team cards. But I've watched Matt (Ryan) and Sam (Ehlinger) do a lot of reps, but there's always that learning curve. I've got to go out there, be in the moment and do what I can."
Saturday emphasized the Colts' offensive issues this season – they're averaging 17.5 points per game, fourth-lowest in the NFL – are not all on the quarterback. But going to Foles is another attempt to spark something in the Colts' offense with three games left in the season.
5 Things To Watch
Can Nick Foles push the ball downfield? Foles showed good arm strength during training camp – our last extended look at him on the field – and part of why Saturday made the quarterback switch was to try to get the Colts' offense to take more downfield shots. The Colts are last in the NFL in average depth of target – just 6.7 yards beyond the line of scrimmage per pass – and haven't threatened opposing defenses over the top much in 2022. That's allowed safeties to walk down into the box, adding an extra defender to stopping a run game the Colts hoped to build around this season. If the opportunities are there for Foles to push the ball downfield, will he take them? That'll be a big question to be answered Monday night.
How things shake out at running back. The Colts placed Jonathan Taylor on injured reserve this week, ending his 2022 season. So for the final three games of 2022, expect to see the trio of Zack Moss, Deon Jackson and Jordan Wilkins at running back. Moss had a career high 24 carries in Week 15, and the Colts were intrigued by his physical, downhill running style. The Colts have already been impressed by how Jackson has filled in for Taylor in 2022, and Wilkins will get another shot with the team that originally drafted him in 2018.
Bernhard Raimann vs. Khalil Mack. Raimann's Pro Football Focus pass protection grade has been 73 or higher in four of his last five games, and while he's been tagged with allowing four sacks in that span, on the whole he's graded out well. Those ups and downs are probably to be expected for a rookie left tackle going against guys like the Raiders' Chandler Jones, the Steelers' Alex Highsmith and the Cowboys' DeMarcus Lawrence over the last few weeks, but Raimann has done a solid job on a play-to-play basis. Mack, a 2023 Pro Bowler, has seven sacks and a full repertoire of pass rushing moves he'll work to set up throughout the game. The Chargers move Mack between rushing from the left and right, so he won't be on Raimann all night, but when he is it'll be another key opportunity for the third-round rookie to test himself against one of the NFL's best pass rushers.
The Colts' pass rush vs. the Chargers' offensive line. Justin Herbert has been sacked 21 times over his last five games, a major departure from the 12 sacks he took over his first nine starts this season. The Colts, meanwhile, are coming off their most sacks in a game (seven) since 2018 – and two of those sacks came from second-year lineman Dayo Odeyingbo, who's been disruptive and impactful over his last few games.
Can Dallis Flowers keep this up? Since tagging in for Isaiah Rodgers Sr. as the Colts' kick returner to begin the second half of Week 12's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Flowers is averaging a remarkable 34.1 yards per return – including returns of 48, 49 and 89 yards. For an offense that's struggled to generate explosive plays and sustain drives, the good field position Flowers has provided on those returns has been important. Flowers, an undrafted rookie, played on defense for the first time as a pro against the Vikings and held his own against the likes of Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson, too. We'll see if he gets more playing time again this week, though cornerback Brandon Facyson looks on track to return after missing Week 15 with an illness.