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Colts Mailbag

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Colts Mailbag: X-Factors Against Titans, 2019 Colts Draft Picks, Playoff Scenarios

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INDIANAPOLIS — Each week, Colts.com readers can submit their questions to have a chance of them being answered in our Mailbag series.

Missed out on the party this week? Not a problem — you can submit your question(s) for next time by clicking here.

Let’s jump right into this week’s questions:

» Aleks C. (Monterrey, Mexico):Hey Andrew. I appreciate all the excellent coverage that you give us, not only in the US but also abroad. I believe that we’re witnessing something incredible with our team and I couldn’t be more excited about our future. Considering the talented players we have, the needs of the roster and the next draft class, do you think the Colts would target a specific need, or are they gonna have the Best Player Available approach? Thanks again!

Walker: Thanks for the kind words, Aleks! I think Chris Ballard has provided a crystal-clear view into his draft philosophy through two years. In the first round, the Colts aren’t going to pass up on the best talent available, regardless of position. That’s how you end up with “blue chip” guys like a Malik Hooker or a Quenton Nelson. From there, Ballard and his crew truly follow what their board says, but usually with one caveat; if two players at the top of the board have the same grade, but one addresses a team need more than the other, then they’ll usually go for the positional need. With the ways rosters turn over so quickly, however, I think there’s really no other way to approach the draft these days; for the most part, ignore the numbers on your current roster, and just add as much talent as you can, regardless of position. Then let the position battles play out from there. That showed last year, for example, when Ballard picked two running backs and two wide receivers, all within two rounds of each other.

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» Amy K. (Plainfield, Ill.):Looking around the league after week 16, the AFC South has more wins than any other division. Do you think that is a benefit of the schedule this year (playing both East divisions) or a sign of strength, meaning this division will be harder to dominate in the near future?

Walker: I have some good news and some not-so-good news, Amy. The latter? I think the AFC South Division is loaded for the most part, and it seems like it’s in pretty good shape for the foreseeable future. It seems like all four teams have terrific personnel folks making decisions and filling out their rosters, and each year the division is loaded with tons of superstars and young studs. So, in that regard, I think the days of one team just dominating year after year might be done — at least for now. It seems like it’s going to take 10, 11, 12 hard wins to win this division each year. The good news for the Colts, however, is that by playing six games a year against this type of competition, it really prepares them well for the rest of their schedule, and any potential playoff matchups. All four teams seem to have tremendous defenses — and all of those units bring something different to the table. And all four teams’ offenses have the potential to be dangerous on any given day, with the Colts and the Texans, for now, leading the bunch. So while you’d love to cruise to AFC South titles every season for years on end, the fact that the division is so good, to me, is a positive if you’re a Colts fan.

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» Zach M. (Rochester, N.Y.):Who is your biggest X factor in this game one on each side of the ball?

Walker: The Colts’ season has come to this: a Week 17 matchup in which a win gets you in the playoffs, and a loss — well, doesn’t. So on offense, I’d say my biggest X-factor for the Colts against the Titans would be Evan Boehm, who will once again likely fill in at center for an injured Ryan Kelly (neck). Boehm has done an admirable job in his starting opportunities this season, but Kelly has simply been playing at an All-Pro type of level, which is hard to replicate. With Kelly in the lineup in 2018, the Colts have averaged almost 4.5 yards per carry, but that number has dropped to 3.4 yards per carry in the three games Boehm has started at center. So if the Colts can find a way to better replicate what Kelly has been able to bring in the run game on Sunday, then I think that can be huge. Defensively, I’d like to see if Margus Hunt can find some of his magic from the first few games of the season. Remember Weeks 1-4, when Hunt was absolutely on fire? He had 4.0 sacks, 9.0 (!) tackles for loss, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery during that stretch. Since then, Hunt, who has battled his fair share of nicks and bruises, has combined to collect 1.0 sack and 4.0 tackles for loss in his last 10 games. So if the Indy defense can get the Hunt from the first few weeks of the season making plays up front — especially against the likes of a Derrick Henry — then watch out.

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» Ashish S. (Roseville, Calif.):Hello, This will be only 2nd Prime Time/Night game of season and first for many Colts rookies. Being also in open stadium, have Colts got any chance to prepare in similar settings? So looking forward to watch Colts in Playoff and play in Jan-Feb. Go Colts.

Walker: That’s a very good question, Ashish. Thanks in large part to cooperating Indiana weather, the Colts were actually able to practice outside two of their three days this week — including Friday, when temperatures were in the 30s. So they should be as good to go in that regard. The team also gives its players plenty of tips about altering sleep schedules and diets to better prepare for a night game; the closer the game gets, the later the team suggests the players stay up at night (and the more they alter when they eat meals and snacks). In fact, Friday’s team schedule was moved back an hour from a typical Friday during the regular season. So, short answer, yes, the Colts are doing what they can to prepare for not only an outdoor game in late-December, but for a night game, as well.

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» Walter B. (New Philadelphia, Ohio):With the regular season coming to an end, and hopefully our season not being over this weekend. I wanted to look ahead to the draft. More specifically to our pick we received from the Jets. Where will we be picking with the Jets pick? As well as our other picks?

Walker: The best I can guess, right now, is the Colts will have nine picks for the 2019 NFL Draft heading into the offseason. They’ll have the eight they knew they were getting (one in each round, and then the additional second rounder they got from the New York Jets in the Quenton Nelson deal last year), and then they should get a compensatory pick to make up for the free agency loss of wide receiver Donte Moncrief. OverTheCap.com believes the Colts will get an extra fourth rounder when the league announces comp picks in February, and that the team will just miss out on getting an extra seventh rounder to make up for the loss of running back Frank Gore. So, going by that projection, the Colts will have one pick each in Rounds 1, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7, and two picks in Round 2. As of now, it seems like that Jets pick will be very fruitful for Indy; it looks like the Colts will be getting one of the first two or three picks in the second round out it. Also, don’t rule out Chris Ballard making some moves to add more picks, too.

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» Mike S. (Monroeville, Ind.):Is there a reason why we haven’t seen Turay as much lately?

Walker: There are a few factors at play here. First, Tyquan Lewis has been able to return from injured reserve and immediately be inserted as a starter at defensive end. Then, the team has liked what it has seen out of Al-Quadin Muhammad as a key piece of depth along the defensive line, so he's been getting added reps. Kemoko Turay has, in recent weeks, also been dealing with a nagging shoulder injury. So those are all ways to explain it somewhat. But defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus gave this answer when asked pretty much this exact same question about Turay a couple weeks back: “Guys will play in the games based on what they show in practice. If you hustle in practice and you hit the ball in practice and you rush the way you were supposed to rush, run the games the way we are supposed to run the games, execute and have production in practice – we are obviously going to play those guys in the game. If you don’t have that and you have situations where you are not executing the way we want to and at the standard we want to have then you might not play as much. He is aware of that and he is going to get in there and work his tail off this week to execute in practice and play to our standard.”

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» Dave T. (New Albany, Ind.):Thank you for such great answers in the mailbag. Do you think Reggie Wayne will coach/consult again this coming spring? If possible, can you post any comments from receivers that say how he helped them this year? I think Reggie would like to read those. Also, please include any comments from D linemen that tell how Robert Mathis has helped them?

Walker: Thanks for reading, Dave! And I haven’t personally asked Reggie whether he’ll want to be back to help out the receivers in a similar role next year or not, but I think it’s pretty clear that the door is always open for him here at the Colts’ practice facility, as well as at Grand Park Sports Campus in Westfield, Ind., where the team holds training camp.

T.Y. Hilton said this about Wayne’s help: “It means a lot. We talk probably every other day. I know it’s special. He means a lot to the city, to community and to this organization. The one thing he helped me with was breaking down film, what to look for in a defense, how to break down guys and just execute at the main point, catching and making sure I am spending time on the JUGS and knowing the playbook.”

Ryan Grant said this about Wayne back in August: “It’s amazing. He gives his point of view on the offense, the routes and the concepts. Whenever we have questions he would tell us what he would do in the situation and that’s just something that we file in our memory bank moving forward to create separation and run better routes.”

And Deon Cain said this, also in August, about Wayne: “You can tell he’s into the game. You know that he’s played it, so he knows what’s supposed to be executed and what’s not supposed to be there. At the end of the day, it’s a good thing to have him on the field because he can always tell you right from wrong.”

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» Robert C. (Memphis, Tenn.):Dear sir I must protest your exclusion of the 2012 draft as a top 5 in Indianapolis Colts history! Not only did it garner our 2 best current players in Luck and Hilton we had several decent seasons from the tight ends Fleenor and Allen. Running back Ballard was off to a great start till injuries ended his career. Thanks for listening and I do enjoy your article every week. Take care”

Walker: Robert, you’re absolutely right to question that (you can go here to see what he’s referring to), and your points are very valid. I think my thought process was the players’ career impact from each class, and obviously guys like Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton from that ’12 draft class are still working on what are shaping up to be Ring of Honor-worthy contributions. So I said I was excluding the 1998 draft class because it was so top-heavy with Peyton Manning, but I also probably should’ve mentioned excluding the 2012 class because of its recency. I think it’ll for sure be fun to look back in 20, 25 years and see just what kind of impact the 2012 and 2018 Colts draft classes ended up making. And if I’m still here answering Colts.com Mailbag questions at that point …

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» Stacy G. (Indianapolis):Has any team ever started out with a 1-5 record and made it to the Super Bowl?”

Walker: Great question, Stacy, and short answer is: no. In fact, just two teams since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger have ever made the postseason after starting out 1-5: the 1970 Cincinnati Bengals and the 2015 Kansas City Chiefs. The Bengals, who started 1-6, ended up 8-6 on the year, but fell in the first round of the playoffs (to the Baltimore Colts). The Chiefs started out 1-5 and finished 11-5, and after defeating the Houston Texans in the Wild Card round of the playoffs, fell to the New England Patriots in the Divisional round.

Wait a minute, who was the Director of Football Operations for the Chiefs that season? Chris Ballard? Hmm.

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» Barbara C. (Crawfordsville, Ind.):Is Jordan Wilkins going to be used more often? Whenever he does get the ball out in space he is very quick Thank you for the awesome job you do for us fans Go Colts”

Walker: Thanks for writing, Barbara. I think the Colts have actually been in more of a two running back mode the last few weeks with Marlon Mack and Nyheim Hines, although Jordan Wilkins will get a few snaps here and there. Wilkins just happens to have one of the most detail-oriented position coaches in the league, Tom Rathman, who probably says “Squeeze it!” more times than one can even count during a given practice. So the rookie back Wilkins has been working hard to try to ensure he’s carrying the ball exactly the way he’s being coached. Offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni said this of Wilkins, who has two fumbles this season, back on Nov. 27: “(Ball security) will be stressed, it will be coached and we are not losing confidence in them. We don’t want that obviously ever to happen, but the confidence that we have in them as playmakers is still very high and they need to learn from those mistakes though because if you continue to do it, then obviously you put the ball on the ground then it’s tough to play.” Wilkins has certainly showed plenty of flashes of a really smart running back who has great vision and can get yards in large chunks, so we'll see if he's able to get a few more carries thrown his way Sunday and going into 2019.

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» Ryan P. (Mission, Texas):Long time fan of the Colts from DEEP in Texans/Cowboys territory. My question is: It's remarkable that T.Y. is able to play and play well in the past three games in which he's had little to no practice. Aren't you/the staff somewhat worried that he might play when he isn't truly physically ready?”

Walker: Ryan, the only way I think I can do T.Y. Hilton justice is just by saying he’s an absolute freak of nature. There are a few guys spread out throughout the league who somehow have the ability to play through just about anything, and the Colts just happen to have one of them in their top wide receiver. Frank Reich said a couple weeks ago he couldn’t remember anybody from his career missing an entire week of practice and then playing in that week’s game — until Hilton did it two weeks ago against the Dallas Cowboys (oh, and he had eight catches for 85 yards in a shutout victory). Hilton was a limited participant at just one practice last week, and turned in seven catches for 138 yards in yet another win. And Hilton didn’t practice once again this week, but indications from Reich and Hilton himself are he’ll be back out there, despite his ankle injury, on Sunday against the Titans. The fact Hilton has such a great connection with Andrew Luck plays a huge part in all of this, of course, but kudos to No. 13 for gutting it out really for most of this season. “I will tell you what, it’s unbelievable what he’s doing without practice,” Reich said this week. “I just think very few players could do what he’s doing. He has no mental errors when he goes out there. It’s like he doesn’t miss a beat. I just attribute that to A, just his elite physical ability. How smart he is, you can’t underestimate how smart of a football player T.Y. (Hilton) is. He just understands the game and then just how tough he is. I think he’s a rare bird in that regard.”

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» Richard B. (New Orleans):How amazing have the Colts been this year in terms of the team's strength in tough scenarios? Save the game in Jacksonville this team has been spectacular in win or season-over spots since 1-5. Regardless of what happens on Sunday these Colts have gotten me excited for the near future”

Walker: There are clear differences between this year’s team and, say, last year’s team that finished 4-12, for example. But, to me, nothing is more clear than this current Colts team’s ability to simply finish ballgames. In 2017, the Colts had leads entering the fourth quarter in nine — yes, nine — games. Their record in those games? 4-5. This year, the Colts have entered the fourth quarter with leads in the fourth quarter in seven games. Their record in those games? 6-1. This is all via NFL analytics guru Warren Sharp, whose extremely thorough summation of a very odd 2017 Colts season can be found here.

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» Terrance S. (Texarkana. Ark.):What is the weather going to be like in Tennessee Sunday night?”

Walker: C’Mon, Terrance! Now I’m a weatherman? So as of right now, it looks like it’s going to rain most of the day Sunday in Nashville, but that could end by about 6 or 7 p.m. By the time they kick off at 7:20 p.m. CT (8:20 p.m. ET), we’re looking at cloudy skies and temperatures in the upper-50s, which will drop to the low-50s by the end of the game. The winds could also die down considerably throughout the day and night, so keep an eye on that. So, based off this forecast, the Colts and Titans could certainly have it worse for a late-December game with so much on the line.

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» Dequang G. (Baton Rouge, La.):If we win Sunday and Houston lose is it a chance that we win the division?”

Walker: A Houston loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars coupled with a Colts win over the Tennessee Titans is the only chance Indy has to win the division and to get a first-round home playoff game next Saturday or Sunday. And, just as a reminder, tickets to that potential home playoff game at Lucas Oil Stadium are on sale now by clicking here or by calling 1-800-745-3000. All tickets will be fully refunded if the game does not end up being played.

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» Suzan D. (Carmel, Ind.):The Colts are going to the playoffs if they beat the Titans. But Houston has to lose correct? Therefore since Houston is going to be on at 1 o’clock...If they win…does that mean the Colts Titans game won’t matter at 8:30? Of course it will matter to me, as a Colts fan, but won’t that take us out of the playoffs?”

Walker: Suzan, have you not been reading our weekly Colts Playoff Scenarios articles? Tsk tsk. Here’s the one heading into Week 17, in case you want to brush up. But I’ll sum it up quickly for you:

• Whoever wins between the Colts and the Titans will have earned a postseason berth. The Texans’ game earlier in the day has no bearing on that. If the Texans lose to the Jaguars, however, then whoever wins between the Colts and Titans are AFC South champs (the Texans have already clinched an overall playoff berth, however).

• IF the Colts and Titans tie, Indy will make the playoffs if EITHER the Pittsburgh Steelers lose at home to the Cincinnati Bengals OR the Baltimore Ravens lose at home to the Cleveland Browns.

Hope that clears it up.

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