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Let's get after this week's questions:
Noah Morgan, Westfield, Ind.: _Is Jonathan Taylor a legit MVP candidate? And can he keep his outstanding performances up throughout a tough rest of the regular season? _
JJ Stankevitz: I don't think I need to convince anyone reading this what Jonathan Taylor means to the Colts, and that he's one of the best offensive weapons in the NFL. What he did against the Buffalo Bills – a defense that entered Week 11 No. 1 in the NFL in a bunch of categories and No. 3 in yards per rush allowed – was one of the most impressive single-game performances any player has had in 2021.
But nationally, Taylor faces an uphill climb against the narrative that only quarterbacks can and should win MVPs. Of the last 20 MVPs, 17 have been quarterbacks, and a non-QB hasn't won the award since Adrian Peterson in 2012. But as long as Taylor keeps doing what he's doing, he'll continue to be considered for MVP – and deservedly so.
And as for Taylor's ability to keep it up?
Kevin Davids, Evansville, Ind.: So we had a great game against the Bills. JT established himself as a superstar. How do we prevent a huge letdown against the Bucs? Tom Brady feasts against zone, do we have any other plans to defend Brady and the Bucs offense?
JJ Stankevitz: I'm not sure about the other plans – that's why I'm a writer and not a coach! – but I can tell you a big point of emphasis this week is getting interior pressure on Brady. The 44-year-old quarterback has such a good feel for when to climb the pocket and throw it deep, and the best way to combat that is by getting guys like DeForest Buckner, Grover Stewart and Taylor Stallworth in his face.
"It's applying pressure up the middle, collapsing the pocket on him because he wants to climb the pocket and throw it downfield," Buckner said. "So like I said before, we have to do a good job inside, making sure we're collapsing the pocket, getting the pocket in his face and kind of make him throw out of a coffin."
When Brady hasn't been pressured this season, he's averaging 7.8 yards per attempt with 23 touchdowns and only one play Pro Football Focus graded as a "turnover-worthy" play. When under pressure, Brady's yards per attempt drops to 6.3 and he has six touchdowns against four turnover-worthy plays.
Ben Bruhschwein, Fargo, N.D.: _With Tampa Bay having struggles in the secondary, do you expect Frank to try to attack this? Or does he stick with the running game even though the Bucs have one of the best run defenses in the league? _
JJ Stankevitz: The Buccaneers' secondary is banged up, and if defensive tackle Vita Vea and linebacker Devin White (both of whom are questionable) play, running the ball will be difficult.
Then again, that's what we thought going into Week 11's game against the Bills, and Taylor set a franchise record with five touchdowns.
The Colts' run offense against the Bucs' run defense is going to be a fascinating matchup to watch, but I wouldn't discount Reich's willingness to let Wentz go make some plays through the air. Again, Reich thought Wentz graded out well against the Bills, and he certainly has trust in his quarterback to make big plays – often, lately, to wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr.
Kelsey Cramer, Georgetown, Ill.: D*_o you think we'll win Sunday if Taylor plays like he did against the Bills?_*
JJ Stankevitz: Well, the Colts are 9-0 when Taylor rushes for over 100 yards — let alone if he scores five touchdowns. Of the 16 players who've scored five or more touchdowns in a game since 1950, none of them have lost.
So, yeah, if Taylor does what he did in Buffalo again against Tampa Bay, it's probably safe to say the Colts would win.
Dean Bachmeier, Minot, N.D.: Any concerns about the fact that Wentz only had 106 yards passing? Yes, I know, why pass when you can run the ball? Only a little over 50% completions, it sounded like only short stuff as well?
JJ Stankevitz: Another good question from the great state of North Dakota! Quarterbacks who attempt at least 20 passes and throw for fewer than 110 yards are 13-28 since the start of the 2018 season (Wentz was 11/20 for 106 yards), so it was a rarity in that sense. Frank Reich was asked about Carson Wentz's game against the Bills this week and said this:
"We talked about this as a staff, that even though we only had 106 yards passing, it was strange. I felt like Carson was in the zone. Early on, the one play he made to (Michael) Pittman Jr. early on, he just really looked good and it was a great throw with pressure in his face – very poised and worked through the progression the right way. I thought, 'Man it feels like he's in the zone.'
"Then when I watched the tape, like he graded out super high. I mean (he) really played good football, but that's all we needed."
Wentz didn't put the ball into harm's way, and in some nasty weather conditions, he did what he needed to do for the Colts to win with Taylor leading that charge.
Jakob Street, Shelbyville, Ind.: I think you guys have adapted to playing in the rain well after the 49ers game and the Bills game, what do you think?
JJ Stankevitz: Great observation. I asked Jack Doyle after the Bills game if playing in that bomb cyclone against the 49ers helped in Week 11, and he said it did – and then gave a ton of credit to the Colts' equipment staff for making things as dry and warm as possible last weekend. Of the seven dropped passes in Buffalo, the Bills had six of them.
And this is important, because if the Colts make the playoffs and have to go on the road and play in some less-than-deal conditions, they have good experience this year winning in those circumstances.