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Colts Mailbag: Mentality vs. Raiders, blitzes, next men up in AFC playoff race

The Colts mailbag is back for Week 17 with questions on how the Colts are approaching Sunday's game against the Raiders, why the team doesn't blitz more and what the AFC playoff picture is looking like with two games left. 


The Colts Mailbag is back! readers can submit their questions to have a chance of them being answered in our Mailbag series.

Missed out this week? Not a problem — you can submit your question(s) for the next Colts Mailbag by clicking here. I'll also be checking the comments on our Official Colts Podcast YouTube page and will answer some listener questions in here, too.

Let's get after this week's questions:

Robert Mills, Bremen, Ind.: What should we expect from the Raiders this Sunday? What changes are the Colts going to make for Sunday's game to hopefully keep them in for the playoff? Do you think Colts have a chance of making the playoffs on how they are playing?

JJ Stankevitz: Talking to players in the locker room this week, everyone's expecting a spirited, physical game with the Raiders, who've taken on that personality from interim head coach Antonio Pierce.

The Raiders were 3-5 when head coach Josh McDaniels was fired and replaced by Pierce. Since then, Las Vegas is 4-3 and still has a shot at making the playoffs. And in the Pierce era, the Raiders have had one of the NFL's top defenses: Since Week 9, only the Miami Dolphins and Cleveland Browns are allowing opponents to score on a lower percentage of their possessions (23.8 percent); the Raiders have four defensive touchdowns, most in the NFL in that span. 

Offensively, the Raiders have scuffled – they're 21st in yards per play (5.0) and 24th in scoring drive rate (31 percent), even with their 63-point explosion in Week 15 against the Los Angeles Chargers. 

As for changes this week, the Colts' emphasis is on generating more success on the ground while slowing down the Raiders' backfield – two areas that cost the Colts in Week 16's loss to the Atlanta Falcons. 

And as for the Colts' chances of making the playoffs? They're still holding on the AFC No. 7 seed and have a legitimate chance to win the AFC South.

Jimmy Featherson, Indianapolis: Seeing how well our defense plays when utilizing blitzes, why doesn't Gus Bradley call them more frequently?

JJ Stankevitz: I've got this question quite a bit, and you're not wrong about the Colts' success when blitzing: Only the Cleveland Browns and Kansas City Chiefs are allowing fewer yards per play when blitzing than the Colts (4.1), but only the San Francisco 49ers have blitzed on fewer plays than the Colts (172). 

But that does not mean more blitzes would equal more success for the Colts' defense. Bradley's defense has, for years, been predicated on rushing four and playing good coverage with seven defenders on the back end while using blitzes sparingly – but making those blitzes count. That strategy has worked for Bradley for over a decade. 

And specifically looking at last week's loss to the Falcons, or even back to the Week 14 loss to the Bengals, blitzing more wouldn't have made much of a difference. The Colts' issues in those losses were more about missed tackles and execution on plays to running backs in space. 

"I think we had a couple issues in the game (at Atlanta) – one is that we missed a tremendous amount of tackles," Bradley said. "Too many tackles, and it was from all position groups, really – D-line, linebackers, defensive backs.

"Now, we went in probably with more in our package, more checks in our package, than any week. They did some good things. They did some tempo on us, and at times we didn't execute some of the calls, based on the tempo. There were some check-with-me's our there based on what they were in. You can put that part on me. Sometimes – here it is, a tempo situation, let's just line up and play. We had a couple check-with-me's in tempo where we didn't play fast. I think as you look through the whole game, that was our issue.

"We didn't play fast and we didn't execute as well as we normally do. We didn't tackle as well as we normally do. That's what we looked at (this week) as a coaching staff, was why didn't we play fast? I think some of that tempo issue and some of the calls that we had in conflicted and kept us from playing fast."

Dylan Durnal, Lebanon, Ind.: I know the Colts are only taking it one game at a time. However do they have a desire to wanna be in the playoffs or is it more of just whatever happens happens sort of thing?

JJ Stankevitz: This team absolutely wants to be in the playoffs, but doubled down on a one-week-at-a-time mentality after last Sunday's loss to the Falcons. Part of that stems from the message quarterback Gardner Minshew II delivered to the team after losing to Atlanta, which was centered on keeping focus and not taking this opportunity to make the playoffs for granted. 

"It's the right message, it was the right time to say it," center Ryan Kelly said. "To think you're doing well, you roll it out there — it doesn't guarantee you a win. Anybody can beat anybody in this league if you don't come to play — certainly that's what happened to us."

Dean Schultz, Boone, Iowa: With injuries taking their toll on so many players. Who will need to step up for the team? We need to have receivers and DB's to step up this week especially after the Raiders humiliation of the Chiefs last week.

JJ Stankevitz: We'll keep an eye on the game status designations for wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. (shoulder/concussion) and right tackle Braden Smith (knee) on Friday. Pittman was listed as a limited participant in practice on Wednesday and full on Thursday, while Smith – who hasn't played since Week 13 – was full Wednesday and Thursday. 

A spot where the Colts know they'll need a next man up is strong safety, with Julian Blackmon (shoulder) placed on injured reserve this week. Nick Cross will step in for Blackmon in a young secondary down the stretch.

Mitch Pitney, Cedar City, Utah: With just two games left this season what is the mindset of the team on chances to get into the playoffs and possibly win the AFC South?

JJ Stankevitz: The math for the AFC South is pretty simple: If the Colts win out and the Jaguars lose at least one of their final two games, the Colts win the AFC South for the first time since 2014. 

It's not as simple for the Colts' wild card chances. The Colts would secure an AFC playoff spot if they and the Jaguars both win out and at least one of these things happens:

  • The Cincinnati Bengals lose at least one game
  • The Buffalo Bills lose at least one game
  • The Pittsburgh Steelers win their final two games
  • The Cleveland Browns lose two games AND the Bengals lose once OR the Bills lose once OR the Steelers win twice

The only circumstance in which the Colts win out and do not make the playoffs is if all these things happen:

  • The Jaguars win out
  • The Bengals win out
  • The Bills win out
  • The Steelers lose at least once
  • The Browns win at least once

Ultimately, the Colts aren't paying attention to these scenarios or odds or scoreboard watching just yet – the most important thing is beating the Raiders on Sunday and sorting out all these scenarios on New Year's Day.

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