INDIANAPOLIS – Things get real on Sunday afternoon at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The Colts and Lions will meet at 4:25, with former head coach Jim Caldwell on the visiting sideline.
What are the key ingredients to victory, presented by Papa Johns, when the Colts and Lions get the 2016 season underway on Sunday?
1. Air Traffic Control
-Of the Colts four healthy cornerbacks going into Sunday, only one (Patrick Robinson) was on the team before Aug. 22. Antonio Cromartie has had three weeks of practice and he's the expected starter opposite Robinson, a fellow Florida State Seminole. Detroit has never shied away from airing it out and they are going to do that again on Sunday, even with Calvin Johnson sitting on his couch.
2. Luck's Limitations?
-We saw Andrew Luck appear on the first injury report of 2016 and that sent a brief scare across Colts Nation. A right shoulder injury isn't going to limit Luck at all on Sunday. We watched Luck take every first-team rep in camp and then play three quarters in the preseason (about the normal workload for a starting quarterback). Luck was an 80 percent passer in the preseason, a much higher percentage than he is usually at in the preseason, or regular season.
3. Protecting The Franchise
-If the Colts want to make sure Luck's appearance on the injury report is nothing too serious in 2016, the line play has to become more consistent. Joe Philbin's unit is getting healthy with left guard the only position in doubt going into Week One. Detroit can get after the quarterback with edge rusher Ziggy Ansah being one of the most disruptive defenders in the NFC.
4. Handling The Tempo
-The Colts defense should expect some no-huddle tempo from Detroit. Quarterback Matthew Stafford played arguably the best football of his NFL career last season once new coordinator Jim Bob Cooter took over after the bye week. Stafford had a plus 17 touchdown-to-interception ratio over the final eight weeks of the season. No coincidence that Detroit went 6-2 in those games.
5. Ready Rookies
-We know center Ryan Kelly and safety T.J. Green will be starting on Sunday. Fourth-round picks Hassan Ridgeway and Antonio Morrison could also play starting-type roles in the defensive front seven. The Colts have 11 rookies on their 53-man roster. Jim Irsay even mentioned earlier this week that the Colts would like to get undrafted skill guys Josh Ferguson and Chester Rogers some touches on offense.
6. Fast Starts
-Since Training Camp in Anderson, the Colts have made it clear how much they are stressing a fast start in 2016. The Colts have begun the past two seasons with 0-2 starts. In 2016, they have a rare home opener to start the season. A trip to Denver waits in Week Two, only adding to the importance of going to sleep Sunday night with a 1-0 mark.
7. Caldwell's Return
-Just five Colts remain on the roster from Jim Cadlwell's final season at the helm in Indianapolis. Caldwell coached the Colts from 2009-11 and was a key figure in the winningest decade in NFL history. There are some commonalities between each staff. Lions running backs coach David Walker held the same position in Indy from 2012-14.