One Big Storyline
The Colts have two games left that you may feel are meaningless – the Colts were eliminated from the 2022 playoffs before kicking off on Monday night against the Los Angeles Chargers, after all. But for the players and coaches who will take the field on Sunday at MetLife Stadium, these last two games mean a great deal in a league where little is guaranteed, and your place in it is constantly being evaluated.
"We're playing for one another, playing for pride, playing for our resumes at the end of the day," veteran safety Rodney McLeod Jr. said. "So, we have two more opportunities to go out there and showcase what we can do and what we're about as a group and as this 2022 Indianapolis Colts team. We don't take that for granted. We're going to continue to work, and we've obviously got an opportunity to go out there today at practice, practice hard, prepare well and go out there to get a W on Sunday."
There will be plenty on the line for the 2022 Colts, then, against the New York Giants on New Year's Day. For the Colts' impending free agents – a group that includes McLeod, wide receiver Parris Campbell, defensive end Yannick Ngakoue and linebacker Bobby Okereke – Sunday's game is one of two final opportunities to play well and show the Colts and 31 other teams they're deserving of a contract this spring.
For the Colts' rookie class, these last two games are critically important development opportunities to take advantage of heading into their first full offseasons as pros.
And for the Colts players who are under contract for 2023, playing well down the stretch is important since, again, few things are guaranteed in the NFL.
"Everyone wants to finish well and do it the right way," quarterback Nick Foles said. "Finish strong. Obviously, we're not playing for the postseason right now, but everyone here, this is their career. This is something they grew up wanting to do and we have an opportunity to be in the NFL as players and as coaches. I think finishing it the right way and finishing it strong by bringing it every single day is our responsibility and something we need to do."
While the Colts have lost five consecutive games and have a 4-10-1 record, players and coaches haven't seen the team's collective effort dip during this late-season skid – and that's because there's still plenty for this group to play for on Sunday, and then next weekend against the Houston Texans.
"I think every single guy knows the situation that we're in," center Ryan Kelly said. "You have two games left and you're not guaranteed anything in this league. This team has two games together left. After that, it will never look the same. We'll go out there and give it our best. If you're a professional and you want to stay in this league you go out there and no matter the circumstances, you play hard. If you're out of the playoff situation, you go out there and don't give effort and you don't try hard, everybody else in the league sees that. The mindset of the team right now is to go out there and leave everything on the field."
5 Things To Watch
The Colts' downfield passing attack. The Colts tried to push the ball downfield early against the Los Angeles Chargers on Monday night, with Nick Foles attempting four passes that traveled 20 or more yards beyond the line of scrimmage in the first half. That first half total was a season high; previously, the most passes of 20+ yards the Colts attempted in the first half of a game was two (with Sam Ehlinger at quarterback in Weeks 8 and 9).
But while the Colts tried to stretch the Chargers' defense, Foles didn't complete any of those four passes and was intercepted on one of them. For the season, the Colts are 11/35 on downfield throws, and those 11 completions are a league-low for passes of 20+ yards beyond the line of scrimmage.
The Giants' defense, though, could present some more opportunities for Foles to push the ball downfield. Only two teams have been targeted more on deep throws than the Giants (81 times), although New York is allowing a completion percentage of just 27.5 percent, fifth-lowest in the NFL.
What Zack Moss can do with another opportunity. Moss carried 12 times for 65 yards (5.4 yards/carry) against the Chargers, flashing impressive toughness after contact on those runs. The Colts would've liked to get him involved more but weren't able to find an offensive rhythm on Monday with Foles taking seven sacks and throwing three interceptions.
"Every time I looked up, Zack was breaking tackles and moving the pile," interim head coach Jeff Saturday said.
The Giants, though, are last in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per play (5.4) and 28th in rushing yards allowed per game (146). Moss, along with Deon Jackson and Jordan Wilkins, is auditioning to be the Colts' No. 2 running back in 2023 behind Jonathan Taylor, and Sunday afternoon will be another big opportunity for him to put some good things on tape.
A challenge for Will Fries. We already touched on Bernhard Raimann's growth at left tackle, but how about the other young guy who's stepped in to a starting role on the Colts' offensive line in Fries? The 2021 seventh-round pick earned the highest Pro Football Focus pass blocking grade (79.8) and overall grade (84.7) of his career against the Chargers in Week 16, and will be tested by the Giants' outstanding interior defensive line duo of veteran Leonard Williams and Pro Bowler Dexter Lawrence.
"He's getting better every week, but I love his heart and his drive," Saturday said. "Every time he does make a mistake and you get after him, he's one of those guys — he looks down and you can clearly see it because he's one of those guys that flushes pretty well. So when you get on him, he's red, he's hot, he's angry, but then he corrects himself pretty well. He's one of those guys, you don't have to correct him twice on the same thing. It's coming at him fast, not a lot of expectation he was going to play a lot this year but I love that you're not having to correct and re-train over and over. And he takes it, uses those experiences and grows from it."
More game-wrecking from Dayo Odeyingbo. Another second-year player who's coming on strong is Odeyingbo, the 2021 second-round pick, who has 3 1/2 sacks, four quarterback hits and two tackles for a loss over his last two games. The Colts value Odeyingbo's versatility to play both outside and inside on their defensive line – he's mostly lined up on the left outside, but kicked inside on about a third of his snaps last week against the Chargers. Only Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert – who Odeyingbo got to twice on Monday – has been under pressure on more dropbacks than Giants quarterback Daniel Jones (257) this season.
"Each week he's improved," defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said. "He's gotten better and better not only in the run game but in the pass game. He's plays bigger than his weight. He's a load out there and we are just taking a look at him for the different things he can do and looking at our combinations that can be on the field at the same time."
What's next for Rodney Thomas II? Thomas, the 2022 seventh-round pick from Yale, enters Week 17 with a team-high three interceptions – including a pick in each of his last two games. Since stepping in for an injured Julian Blackmon in Week 3, Thomas has played at least 25 percent of the Colts' defensive snaps in every game; he's started eight games and has 43 tackles and two pass break-ups to go with those three interceptions.
"I've liked his progress," Bradley said. "He continues to help us try and make plays and for a young guy doing that, you have to be impressed."
Not bad for the No. 239 overall pick in last year's draft.