Colts Mailbag

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Colts Mailbag: Darius Leonard's Return, Stopping Deshaun Watson, Running The Damn Ball, Playoff Scenarios

In this week’s Colts Mailbag, readers inquire about the effect of Darius Leonard’s return to the Colts’ defense, the plan to contain Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, whether running the ball is sustainable, midseason playoff scenarios and much more.


INDIANAPOLIS — Each week, readers can submit their questions to have a chance of them being answered in our Mailbag series.

Missed out on the party this week? Not a problem — you can submit your question(s) for next time by clicking here.

Let's jump right into this week's questions:

Payge S. (Orlando, Fla.): "Going into this division game, it's a must win in order to have those chances for playoffs. They have a strong defense and an amazing offense. How are we going to beat this team? We have Darius Leonard back for our defense but that offense will still be strong and coming full force. What is the idea going into the game? Run game like it was against Kansas City? Or is it more important to move the ball around? My nerves and anxiety are on high alert all week waiting for this game!"

Walker: Payge, you sound just as anxious for this AFC South tilt as I am. What's great about these midseason divisional games are they're the ones you typically look at towards the end of the year and think, "Man, glad they pulled that one out," or, "Man, they really could've used that win." The Colts, of course, still are well within striking distance of a playoff spot should they lose on Sunday, but let's not speak that scenario into existence. Offensively, while, as I mentioned above, I think running the ball will continue to be the focus this week, I think you also try to take advantage of a banged-up Texans secondary by going for a few more haymakers deep down the field than usual. My thought heading in: could this be the breakout game for Deon Cain? We all know the Texans will be focused on T.Y. Hilton, so while he's been able to continue getting his in this particular series, other receivers will need to step up. Perhaps even Nyheim Hines, who had two receiving touchdowns Week 4 against Houston last year, will play a larger role? Defensively, I think it's critical to keep getting pressure with four up front. This is key every week, but we saw the effect an effective pass rush, primarily with just your four guys up front, can have Week 5 against the Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes, so if the Colts can continue getting after Deshaun Watson — like they did last year, when they sacked him 15 times in their three matchups — then that should do wonders for the seven other defenders behind them.


Devon A. (Fairview, Tenn.): "With key defensive players returning, and some possibly returning after a big win against the chiefs, are the colts more favorable to take down the Texans ? Also how does the AFC division play out with either the Texans winning or the colts ?"

Walker: The Colts are stoked to get linebacker Darius Leonard and safety Clayton Geathers back into the fold Sunday against the Texans. The Indy defense certainly played inspired football back in Week 5 against the previously-undefeated Kansas City Chiefs, as a shorthanded Colts bunch was essentially able to shut down reigning league MVP Patrick Mahomes and his high-powered offensive attack, limiting them to 13 points. Credit certainly goes to defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus and his staff for implementing an extremely effective plan against Mahomes & Co. that, outside of the first couple drives, never really allowed him the chance to run around and make big plays with his arm, which has been his M.O. Also, credit goes to young guns like George Odum, Khari Willis and Bobby Okereke for coming in and executing that plan with the stakes raised in front of a nationally-televised audience on Sunday Night Football. Now, after their bye week, the Colts take on the Texans Sunday in an extremely important midseason divisional battle at Lucas Oil Stadium, and not only do they get their team captains back in Leonard and Geathers, but they get to add a couple more proven playmakers to the lineup, which will be critical against another MVP-caliber quarterback in Deshaun Watson and all his offensive weapons. Guys like Leonard and Geathers could also make a huge difference considering the fact the Colts will already be without starting cornerback Kenny Moore II (knee), while their other starting cornerback, Pierre Desir, is a gametime decision with a hamstring injury.

And ah, yes, playoff scenario questions. I guess it is fair since we're approaching midseason, so I'll give it a shot. As far as I can tell, here's how it plays out: New England, at 6-0, will be the AFC's No. 1 seed after Week 7 no matter what. Kansas City (5-2), which already beat the Denver Broncos on Thursday Night Football, can be the No. 2 seed, but if the Texans beat the Colts to improve to 5-2, then Houston enters Week 8 as the No. 2 seed (and KC is No. 3). If the Colts beat the Texans, meanwhile, KC is the No. 2 seed. Indy, at 4-2, would be the No. 3 seed if the Baltimore Ravens (4-2) fall on the road to the Seattle Seahawks; if Baltimore beats Seattle, however, the Ravens would be the No. 3 seed and the Colts would be No. 4. Get it? Got it? Good.


John P. (Muncie, Ind.): "I Just hope we can pull it together And Beat those Texans and send them packing back to Texas"

Walker: Well, barring any travel issues they're going to be sent packing back to Texas regardless of the outcome of Sunday's game, but heck yeah, John! Love the enthusiasm.


Steven W. (Omaha, Neb.): "Is this JB's team now and when Will he start to realize that if you don't spend money 2 get the best we Will all ways be mediocer"

Walker: Steven, I guess I'm a little lost here: what does Jacoby Brissett have to do with spending money? If you want to clarify I'll try to provide an answer next week.


Scott O. (Elizabethtown, Ky.): "Do you think the defense will stay with the 4 man rush and have the rest drop back for more of a man to man coverage maybe have Leonard spy Watson to keep him in check I know Leonard has the speed to keep him from going outside"

Walker: That's a very good question, Scott, and I think it's a thought prevalent on the minds of many Colts fans heading into this Texans matchup. I think most of us know that defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus typically leans on zone coverage, but against the Chiefs, we saw man-to-man utilized on 73.3 percent of all defensive snaps, according to NFL Research, the highest single-game man-to-man rate utilized by Eberflus in Indianapolis — by far. I'm inclined to believe the Colts might end up using a little more man-to-man against Deshaun Watson and the Texans on Sunday because of the success against Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, but perhaps it won't be this dramatic of a shift. And, really, a lot of this depends upon how good the Indy defensive coaches feel about their matchups up front; the better pass rush push you can get, the better your secondary tends to hold up, and the Colts at times were all over Mahomes. The Texans also have so many quality deep threats that weren't available to the Chiefs (who were without Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins), so that's another reason why I think a zone approach, for the most part, could be back in play on Sunday.


Robert W. (Jeffersonville, Ind.): "Are we going to be a run the damn ball first option this weekend or passing option?"

Walker: The Texans are a prime example of the on-the-surface numbers being a little deceiving. Houston, of course, has a good amount of talent on the defensive side of the ball, and enters Sunday's game against the Colts ranked eighth in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game (88); they rank 24th in the league in passing yards allowed per game (268). So, from this perspective, the Texans have a top-tier run defense and a bottom-tier pass defense? Not so fast, my friend. I tend to favor yards-per-carry and yards-per-passing-attempt over total yards allowed when it comes to defensive metrics, and Houston is allowing 4.4 yards per carry, ranking 18th, and 7.3 yards per passing attempt, ranking 13th. So, in other words, a little better than average against the pass, and a little worse than average against the run. I think "Run The Damn Ball" will continue to be the Colts' M.O. in this one, especially coming off that dominant 200-yard rushing performance in Indy's 2018 Wild Card Round win in Houston.


Michael M. (LaGrange, Ind.): "Is the way Jacoby Brissett passes why ebron is missing more often "

Walker: Nah, Michael, not in my mind. Eric Ebron would tell you himself: he just needs to catch the ball with better consistency. His catch percentage right now is at 45 percent, and that figure last year, when he earned his first Pro Bowl selection, was around 60 percent. The good news: there is plenty of time left for Ebron to make plays, which will naturally result in this number creeping back up. And I believe No. 85 will get the job done in that regard.


Shawn T. (Terre Haute, Ind.): "Whats the advantages or disadvantages of having an early bye week? As always cant wait to read the mailbag!"

Walker: Thanks for reading, Shawn — and for the question. Frank Reich said recently the bye week always seems to come at the perfect time each season, no matter when it is. That was certainly the case for the Colts, who were able to get a huge road win over the Chiefs heading into their Week 6 bye; the timing of the bye week was especially appreciated due to the fact the team had so many key defensive players — like Darius Leonard and Clayton Geathers — who benefitted from the few days off to come back on the other side ready to go. To me, though, last year's bye week for the Colts was absolutely perfect: it fell in Week 9, right smack dab in the middle of the regular season schedule. This year's Week 6 bye week means the final 11 games on the other end will be an absolute grind, but if the Colts take care of business and can get some momentum going their way, then they won't want to take a break, anyway.


Ryan L. (Noblesville, Ind.): "With how well the team is doing wouldn't you be upset if we don't go to the AFC Championship."

Walker: From an outsider's perspective, I can see how one would consider the fact the Colts lost their franchise quarterback just before the start of the regular season translating into it being OK if the team doesn't get that far this time around. But I think you could ask any player in the Colts' locker room this question, and 100 percent of them would say they'd be disappointed if they didn't at least advance to the AFC Championship game this season. First off, that would mean they wouldn't have improved upon last year's result; secondly, it would mean they didn't win the Super Bowl, which, of course, is the ultimate goal each and every year. One thing's for sure: the internal expectations haven't wavered one bit when it comes to the Colts. They'll continue focusing on getting one percent better and being 1-0 at the end of each week, but the mountain they're climbing, and the expected result of that climb, hasn't changed.


Jeffrey P. (Highland, Ind.): "Colts have added some much need Beef at the DT position. I like this vs the run. Any idea if they are done adding run stopping help at either DT or LB? Also, any chance of Geathers playing Hybrid LB? "

Walker: When it comes to defensive tackle, I would think, for now, the team is done adding outside pieces. Remember, Tyquan Lewis has been out since suffering an ankle injury Week 3 against the Atlanta Falcons, so whenever he's able to return, he'll certainly be a welcomed addition. And at linebacker, I'd suggest giving guys like Bobby Okereke and E.J. Speed a chance to to continue developing over the next few weeks. The more reps these guys get, the better they're looking — Speed in particular as a thumper up front. And I do believe we'll see Clayton Geathers continue to be lining up more as a linebacker in the Colts' dime package. Rookie Khari Willis has actually excelled playing in the box so far, too, so I'm interested to see how that rotation is handled moving forward.


Jeanette S. (Manilla, Ind.): "I am 66 and love the colts!! My family knows it was on my bucket list to go to a game not just watch it on TV, well my husband got tickets for this Sunday. This country girl is headed to the city to see her favorite team play😍"

Walker: Jeanette, I can't even imagine how excited you are. Enjoy your first game experience at Lucas Oil Stadium, and if you get a minute I'd love to see you follow up with a full report. Giddy up!


Charles F. (Fort Wayne, Ind.): "With all the talk about our offensive line being called The Hogs! Wouldnt it be better for them to be called a horse name like "The Belgian? The hogs were for the Redskins front line! And the Clydesdales are for Budweiser! Belgians are work horses and one of the strongest horses! And a lot of Hoosiers own draft horses like the belgian!"

Walker: Charles, I personally tend to agree with you that we shouldn't be re-assigning nicknames. The Hogs were that great Washington Redskins offensive line of the 1980s and early 1990s; they earned the right to keep that moniker for themselves. As for your suggestions — hey, you're trying. I love the effort. These things tend to develop naturally, so definitely keep at it.


Blake E. (Lansing, Mich.): "How many Interceptions do you think Watson will throw Sunday? "

Walker: My crystal ball is telling me Denico Autry will burst up the middle to pressure Deshaun Watson into throwing a pass into the waiting hands of Rock Ya-Sin for the rookie's first-career interception on Sunday. If that ends up being right, you better believe I'll tell everybody all about it. Anyway, Watson sure has been impressive this season, with 12 touchdown passes to just three interceptions. But two of those picks came last week against the Chiefs, and Watson wasn't even sacked in that game; one of those was an ill-advised throw from clean pocket off his back foot into double coverage in the end zone, which was intercepted by Chiefs Charvarius Ward. So, long story short, Blake, I'm going with one interception by Watson Sunday against the Colts — but it's a biggie.


Brett M. (Bushnell, Fla.): "Don't know if this is the right place, but I want to recognize and celebrate the work of Colts Productions. The piece on Kenny Moore II was inspirational but I found the profiles on Colt's cheerleaders Grace and Lexie to be a great show of respect for the women who lead us through cheers and dance. Of course the video on Darius Leonard was awesome. Shout out to the guys behind the scenes who take us there too "

Walker: Brett, I can tell you the Colts Productions folks were tickled to hear you say such nice words about their hard work. They're a very talented bunch, and coupled with the tremendous access we've been entrusted with from ownership to the general manager and head coach on down, it's been fun seeing the kind of stories that have developed out of that.


Stephen C. (Eastern Passage, Kan.): "ok chris and frank. time to get serious. Brissett is the real deal as well as the rest of the team! Thats for sure. The texans will be beaten this weekend! They have to be. Go colts go! But, Brisett, hilton and mack need help. We can't wait til week 11 for Funchess to return. We need a stud slot or wide receiver to threaten right now!!. Gotta improve the offense ! And when I say improve, I mean one more option that presents a deep threat. Brissett is not getting, nor will he get sacked much. The O line is awesome, so that means he has lots of time. Go get a mirror of Hilton for the other side. Do it !!! spend some bucks and beat the Patriots. Their defense has to be pressured on every play with multiple threats, just as every other team should be. Will you make a big move before the trade deadline ??"

Walker: So, Stephen, do you want the Colts to "spend some bucks?" Or do you want them to be active at the trade deadline? Either way, I'm wondering which wide receiver(s) would fit the criteria of a "mirror of (T.Y.) Hilton for the other side" that would even be available? And of those possible options, how many of them can come in and immediately master the playbook? How many of them are cultural fits? How many of them are willing blockers in the run game? See, in my opinion, those kinds of midseason acquisitions 99 times out of 100 aren't very realistic. I realize lately there have been some major trades made across the league, but that's really not the norm. Perhaps this is your point, but I'd be surprised if, barring any injuries, the Colts made any major moves at the wide receiver position by the trade deadline at 4 p.m. ET Oct. 29. There's a chance Devin Funchess could return by Week 11, and Parris Campbell is still working his way back, as well. Once fully healthy, this WR group can certainly be really good down the stretch.


Hunter S. (Fishers, Ind.): "What's the plan for the defense to get better on 3rd down and in the red zone?"

Walker: These are definitely two major areas the Colts' defense talks about improving constantly, and Sunday's game against the Texans will represent their toughest task yet. The Indy defense was 18th in the league in third down conversion percentage allowed last season (39.2 percent), and is currently 27th at 45.5 percent. The Colts were even better at keeping teams out of the end zone in 2018, as indicated by their 55.1-percent red zone percentage figure, which ranked 11th in the NFL; this year, it's 66.7 percent, which is tied for 29th. The Texans' offense, meanwhile, ranks first (or tied for first) in the NFL in both of these categories; they convert on 51.4 percent of their third downs, and they score touchdowns in 71.4 percent of their trips to the red zone. There's no better challenge than the Texans to rise to the occasion and start turning the tide in both areas if you're the Colts.


M D. (Indianapolis): "For KC, I think we were trying to keep the QB in the pocket because he was more dangerous when he was outside the pocket. Watson seems to dangerous out of the pocket. Does he have similar challenges when he's kept in the pocket?"

Walker: Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson are both very comparable when it comes to the danger they pose when they're able to get out of the pocket and make plays. But while Mahomes features one of the better throwing arms in recent NFL memory, Watson is more inclined to use his legs to get yards in big chunks. Now, Watson isn't Lamar Jackson back there, so he isn't typically going to be running 10 times a game, but he will have about five occasions where he takes off out of the pocket, or where they'll let him utilize his speed with a couple option packages. He also leads all NFL quarterbacks with five rushing touchdowns. So while the overall goal of keeping Watson contained to the pocket remains the same, the Colts will be even more mindful of the quarterback's ability to tuck the football and run with it if nothing is available down the field in the passing game. That's exactly why I think the return of Darius Leonard is so huge for Indy; his closing speed can make all the difference against a quarterback who has the football along the perimeter; Bobby Okereke also showed this trait at Stanford.


Jacob S. (Greensboro, Ind.): "What do you think about putting Chad Kelly in later in the year? If we don't catch fire and have a legit shot at a post season run. . . Maybe build some draft capitol if nothing else. There are a few teams with "questionable" QB situations. I was impressed with his work in the pre-season. I bet I'm not the only one to notice. Thanks for your time"

Walker: Jacob, I agree with you that Chad Kelly was impressive with the work he put in this preseason. In fact, it was that performance that earned him a spot on Indy's practice squad. But I think it's pretty clear the Colts are completely invested into Jacoby Brissett as their starting quarterback. That's not a knock on Kelly at all, but consider how the team was able to weather the storm of Andrew Luck's sudden retirement just before the start of the regular season largely because of Brissett's talent and leadership. Signed to a contract extension once he was officially anointed the team's starting quarterback, Brissett has more than earned the right to ride this thing out and show what he can do for a full season, in my opinion.


Jim H. (Speedway, Ind.): "What happened to Hale Hentges after he was waived? Did he get picked up, and if so, who signed him."

Walker: Hale Hentges was claimed off waivers by the Washington Redskins, and he made his NFL debut last week in Washington's road victory over the Miami Dolphins. He didn't catch any passes, but he did play 22 total snaps, including 18 on offense and four on special teams.


David H. (Sebring, Fla.): "I was very impressed with turray! you could see he was hurt. and he still made the tackle with a broken foot. he never gave up on stopping the guy. he fought to the end and the colts fans are proud for him and we hope he can get healthy soon this team need fighter like him we love that never quit attituded ! I hope he come back stronger and healthy. go team! that was a great win at Kansas city!"

Walker: David, I agree with you 100 percent. It's always tough to see injuries like that, but the timing was especially cruel with this one, because I think Kemoko Turay was on the verge of a double-digit sack season in 2019. He has those freaky traits of speed and bend off the edge that only the elite of the elite pass rushers have, and his pressure percentage figure, according to Pro Football Focus, indicated he was No. 1 in the league at getting to the quarterback in his role as a situational rusher this year. Turay's injury does allow for the Colts to get a good look at rookie Ben Banogu moving forward, so perhaps by next season Indy will have Turay back in the fold and a much more experienced Banogu as their pass-rushing duo of the future.

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