One Big Storyline
Coming off a disappointing loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday Night Football – the Colts' second consecutive defeat and fourth loss in five games – interim head coach Jeff Saturday and quarterback Matt Ryan emphasized personal accountability to players this week.
"I encouraged guys – this will be a defining moment in your life," Saturday said. "Do you love ball, because It will show up. Do you love the work? Do you love the process? Because the results haven't been what we wanted, but how we get ourselves to change the results portion, is through the process and making sure we stay steadfast to that.
"From a player perspective, them understanding the business of our game. It's not only for the Colts now, but the audition for 31 other teams is a very real thing in the NFL. What you put on tape is what people believe about you. So, if you want to be a legacy player or type of player people recognize, it doesn't matter what the record is. It's on you. Those numbers, you can't hide them on game film. So, make sure you're representing your name and that number well."
This hits at the core of why the notion of "tanking" doesn't hold weight in an NFL locker room. "Tanking" implies trying to lose; but if any player doesn't give their best effort, it'll show up on film for every team in the league to see, and could mean that player winds up out of a job sooner rather than later.
"From the guys in this room and myself included, I know my name's getting attached to wins and losses," Saturday said. "So, whatever happens, that ain't my business. I'm about W's and L's and I want to be the best head coach I can be. So, no. We haven't even addressed (tanking) but from my train of thought, it has never been about what it looks like, whether I was a player or even now as a coach what it looks like next year. It's about now. We've got plenty ahead to take care of."
The Colts, at 4-7-1, are not mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, too. There are still things for this team, collectively, to play for beyond individually putting good things on tape. And the impression you get from being around the Colts this week is there isn't anyone who's quit on this season, or themselves, heading into Week 13.
"Unfortunately, I've been in this spot before," Ryan said. "It's never fun. You obviously want to be driving the ship. You want to be the one where the division is running through it, you're playing for position and home field advantage. But I also told the guys, in these kinds of situations I've learned more about players that I've played with than in really any other situations. I've gained respect and lost respect for certain guys as you're going through these things.
"... Every time we step on that field it matters. We've got a young team. We've got a lot of guys who this might be their first time kind of going through that experience. Whether you're playing here or whether you're playing somewhere else, every time you put it out it's your resume. There's a lot to play for."
5 Things To Watch
Who makes their Pro Bowl case? Pro Bowl voting is open through Dec. 15, which now includes social media voting. And what better way for some of the Colts' most productive players who maybe aren't as nationally-known as they should be – like Zaire Franklin and Grover Stewart, among others – to stake their claim for Pro Bowl roster spots than on Sunday Night Football?
Micah Parsons vs. Bernhard Raimann. Parsons, who's second in the NFL with 12 sacks, lines up all over the field and won't be exclusively matched up against Raimann on Sunday night. So far this year, he's had close to an even split in lining up over opposing right tackles (211 snaps) and left tackles (240 snaps). But that does mean Raimann will see quite a bit of Parsons, who's among the top contenders for Defensive Player of the Year this season.
The Colts have seen steady progress from Raimann since re-inserting him in the starting lineup for Week 9. And the team is willing to live with the expected growing pains for a rookie left tackle so long as his arrow is pointing up; over the last month, that's been the case. But there may be no greater challenge Raimann will face as a rookie than when No. 11 on the Cowboys is lined up over him.
CeeDee Lamb vs. Stephon Gilmore. Here's a notable stat:
Gilmore has been targeted 63 times and has allowed just a 76.8 passer rating on those targets (for reference, only three regular starting quarterbacks – Kenny Pickett, Baker Mayfield and Zach Wilson – have a lower passer rating than 76.8 this season).
When Gilmore matches up against Lamb this weekend, he'll face a wide receiver who is:
- 5th in targets (104)
- 10th in receptions (64)
- 7th in yards (857)
- T-14th in touchdowns (5)
- 7th in first downs (44)
- 10th in yards/game (77.9)
"I can't say enough about Gilly," defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said. "We match him up. We play left and right. Some corners that you have only want to play on one side and not the other or travel. He's been open to that. Each week it may change up – it will be different where he's playing and which side. He's been very open to that.
"He gives us great flexibility in coverage. I know we are doing a little bit more in the secondary. Again, he's a guy like Rodney (McLeod Jr.) and Kenny (Moore II) – all three of those guys give us that great leadership in the back end. Gilly is a little bit more quiet, but he has a tremendous presence about him and I think guys understand that there are going to be times he's on an island and there's no one better for that in our group."
The Colts' run offense. The Cowboys' defense is allowing 17 points per game, the second-lowest average in the NFL, but has been vulnerable against the run at times. Dallas is allowing 4.7 yards per carry, 25th in the NFL, and has specifically struggled against the kind of zone running concepts that are the bread-and-butter of the Colts' ground game.
Entering Week 13, the Cowboys have allowed the fifth-most zone runs (inside/outside zone) of 10 or more yards in the NFL with 19; they've allowed 53 zone runs of five or more yards, seventh-most in the league. And for what it's worth, Dallas' run defense grade against zone concepts is the sixth-lowest in the NFL; the only other team in the bottom six the Colts have faced this year is the Houston Texans, against whom Jonathan Taylor rumbled for a season-high 161 yards in Week 1.
The Colts' run defense. The Cowboys' running back duo of Ezekiel Elliott (140 carries, 577 yards, 7 TDs) and Tony Pollard (136 carries, 761 yards, 6 TDs) has been fantastic in 2022, and will present a stiff challenge for the Colts – who enter Week 13 with one of the NFL's best run defenses. The Cowboys have 43 runs of 10 or more yards, ninth in the NFL, and only 5 percent of Dallas' rushing attempts have gone for zero or fewer yards – the lowest rate in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus.
The Colts, meanwhile, are allowing 3.9 yards per rush (5th) and 67 tackles for a loss/no gain (1st) in the NFL. This'll be a classic NFL good-versus-good matchup on Sunday night.