1. A Motivated Colts Team, For A Few Reasons
Frank Reich's message to his team on Monday was to let the frustration from Week 1's 28-16 loss to the Seattle Seahawks be the fuel that motivates the Colts ahead of Week 2's date with the Los Angeles Rams.
The Colts haven't started a season 0-2 since 2017; wide receiver Zach Pascal said earlier this week "we know what we're up against this week."
But it's also not lost on the Colts that Edgerrin James and Peyton Manning will be in attendance on Sunday. Both recently-enshrined Pro Football Hall of Famers will be honored by the Colts during halftime.
"That doesn't go unnoticed by our players," Reich said. "They want Peyton and Edge to see a good product out there."
2. O-line shuffle
Right tackle Braden Smith (foot) will not play, while a decision on Eric Fisher (Achilles) will be made over the weekend, Reich said.
Fisher and left guard Quenton Nelson (foot/back) were both full participants in Friday's practice. Fisher was limited Wednesday and Thursday while Nelson did not participate in practice until Friday.
"I think Eric's had a solid week," Reich said. "It really, has been his first full week of practice. We'll evaluate it tomorrow, look at this tape today, evaluate the whole week. I'm not ready to really 100 percent commit. Want to sit through, talk it through with Chris, talk with the staff, look at all the options because there's a couple moving parts here so we'll let that play out in the next 48 hours and figure out what the best combination is and what we'll do."
We'll see how the Colts' offensive line personnel shakes out when Sunday rolls around, from who replaces Smith on the right side to if Fisher makes his Colts debut on the left. But the line will be closely watched because on the opposite sideline is…
3. Aaron Donald.
Donald has been named a first-team AP All-Pro in each of the last six seasons; he's a three-time AP Defensive Player of the year (2017, 2018, 2020). The Rams' defensive tackle is one of the best defensive players on the planet and requires quite a bit of gameplanning to account for on Sundays.
"You're always aware of him," quarterback Carson Wentz said. "Anytime you play a dominant d-lineman like he is – I mean everybody knows how good he is. So you have to be aware of him. We never say we fear anybody but we're aware and we know where he's at and that factors into the game plan a little bit and some things like that. He's a great player and we've got to take care of him."
As Reich explained, though, what the Rams do with him makes it much more difficult than simply saying the Colts will double team him on every snap.
"You can't scheme for him on every play because he's not at the same spot every play," Reich said. "You can switch things, but if you look at 2020, he was 50 percent on the left and 50 percent on the right. So it's not as easy as just saying he's going to be over Q or he's going to be over Glow (Mark Glowinski). He moves around.
"When they have a player like that, they are going to try and put him in different positions. We have to scheme it up, we have to be able to adapt. We have to be able to make some in-game adjustments, which we're prepared to do. Then at some point you're not going to be able to get him schemed up on every play. Then at that time, exactly what you said, you have to hold up."
Donald's matchup with Nelson will be highly anticipated on Sunday, with two of the best players at their respective positions going against each other.
"His move repertoire is unlimited," Nelson said. "He can beat you with so many different things. And his play strength and flexibility, like everything is what makes him him."
4. Donald Isn't The Only "Star" On LA's Defense.
Donald is hardly the only Rams player the Colts will have to be aware of on Sunday. Ramsey, the former Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback, is being used differently than the last time the Colts would've seen him. Ramsey plays the "star" in the Rams' defense, which means he'll line up all over the field — outside corner, slot corner, in the box, etc. — to create problems for an opposing offense.
Ramsey had nine tackles, one tackle for a loss and one pass break-up in the Rams' Week 1 win over the Chicago Bears.
"He's a bigger nickel and obviously one of the best DB's in the game so respect to him," Pascal said. "So we just gotta come out and play to the best of our abilities and locate him and be able to get him in the run game."
Rams coach Sean McVay described Ramsey's versatile role as making it "like playing 'Where's Waldo' for the offense on where Jalen will be." And while the Colts certainly have to be aware of Donald's presence, they will be a focus on Ramsey, too.
"(Ramsey's) another guy who is arguably the best at his position as well," Wentz said. "So you're aware of these guys and they fly around but at the same time, we're confident in our game plan that we're going to be able to run our stuff and do our thing and hopefully have success."
5. The Colts' Defense Will Be "Challenged At Every Position."
Defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus' mantra for his players is "assignment, alignment, key, technique." The Rams' offense is designed to throw off those principles for a defensive player with plenty of pre-snap motion and well-disguised concepts.
"They got good players at every position, they move guys around, they do a lot of motioning, a lot of shifting, going up tempo, take their shots, run the ball — they got good backs," safety Khari Willis said. "We'll be challenged at every position and I'm excited for it."
Defensive tackle DeForest Buckner has plenty of experience playing against McVay's offense from his time with the San Francisco 49ers. But it's a bit of a different beast in 2021 with Matthew Stafford under center, Buckner explained.
"(Stafford's) a great passer in this league, obviously we've known (that)," Buckner said. "We actually sat down as a defense, watched the first 15 of the Chicago game and they had a fair share of a couple empty plays where they just lined up and let them sling it back there. We have to prepare for it all. Their identity – they're a bounce, boot, play-action team and it starts off with stopping the run."
The Rams scored 34 points and averaged 7.7 yards per play in Week 1 against the Bears; Stafford threw for 321 yards and three touchdowns in his Rams debut.
"The biggest thing with the first performance is to get better," Eberflus said. "We have to get better as a group, we have to get better with our block protection, block destruction and getting off blocks. How we play with good length, we have to do a better job with hamstring tackling and tackling. We have to do a better job with our angles.
"We have to do a better job across the board. That happens all the time. It can happen in the middle of the season, it can happen later in the season. You have to just reset yourself and that's what you do when you have a performance that – we didn't play as well as we wanted to. You always go back to the fundamentals and that's with any sport and we're going to do the same thing."