One Big Storyline
While the 1-2-1 Colts are not pleased with how they've played over the first quarter of the season, they collectively have not lost confidence in themselves or what can still be accomplished in 2022.
If the Colts win their next three games – starting on Thursday Night Football against the Denver Broncos at Empower Field at Mile High – they'll be in first place in the AFC South near the halfway point of the season. That's because after the Broncos, the Colts face the 2-2 Jacksonville Jaguars at home in Week 6 and the 2-2 Tennessee Titans on the road in Week 7.
"We're not where we want to be after four games," head coach Frank Reich said, "but we're still in position to accomplish all the goals that we want to achieve."
The Colts aren't looking beyond the Broncos, though, not with such a quick mental and physical re-set required to prepare for the Sunday-to-Thursday turnaround. And the Colts will arrive in Colorado believing they're close to overcoming some of the things that've led to their sub-.500 record.
"I think we're close, I really do," quarterback Matt Ryan said. "I continue to go back – the good has been good. It needs to show up more consistently, but I do think we're close.
"When you watch the film it's little things here and there, and I've kind of said it, everybody has taken their turn in that. That's the one thing we all have to clean up. In this league, you don't know when it's going to be the play that's going to impact the game. Each play we've got to lock in one snap at a time, be focused and make sure we're taking care of our responsibilities. But I do think it's closer than it is far."
Thursday will be the Colts' first primetime game of 2022, and there is something to playing in front of a national audience. The Colts went 4-1 in primetime in 2021, including road wins a pair of playoff teams in the San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals.
The start to 2022 hasn't been what the Colts expected, but hey – what better place to show you've fixed some things than on primetime, right?
"We're continuing to, like every team in this league, try to work into the team we want to be, know we can be," Reich said. "You get time on primetime, (as) players, it's a great opportunity. This is such a great league and we want to show who we are first and foremost to our own fans and to ourselves, but really to all the sports fans out there. This is a good opportunity for us. Denver, everybody knows Denver is a fun place to play and it's a hard place to play. They have a good home crowd there, it's always a challenging place to play. Looking forward to it."
Who's In, Who's Out
The Colts' final practice report of the week, with game designations:
5 Things To Watch
All eyes on the Colts' backfield. With Jonathan Taylor (ankle) out for Thursday Night Football, the Colts will have to deploy the plan they put in place this week in case their All-Pro running back couldn't go. We'll see what that plan looks like on Thursday, but it could include Nyheim Hines, Deon Jackson and/or Phillip Lindsay, the latter of whom is on the practice squad but can be elevated to the active roster for gameday. If Lindsay does get the call-up, it'd be his first game back in Denver – his hometown – since he spent the first three years of his career with the Broncos.
Russell Wilson and the Broncos' offense. Denver is 30th in scoring (16.5 points per game) through four games, which is not where this team expected to be after trading three first-round picks to acquire Wilson from the Seattle Seahawks in March. Maybe the biggest factor why Denver is so low in scoring is they're last in the NFL in red zone touchdown percentage, scoring touchdowns on just 30 percent of their trips inside the 20. Wilson hasn't been bad this year – he's 16th in passer rating and 10th in yards per attempt – but the Colts are expecting his best in primetime on Thursday.
"He's good – he likes quick game, he's confident in his ability to throw down the field and his ability to make plays with his feet," linebacker Bobby Okereke said. "He's kind of that total package guy who can really affect you in a lot of ways. Unique, tough matchup but we're up for the challenge."
Limit explosive plays on defense. Of the Broncos' six touchdown drives in 2022, four have gained 75 or more yards on six or fewer plays. Those drives were aided by completions of 67, 55, 35, 35, 22 and 20 yards – the kind of explosive plays the Colts have, for the most part, avoided giving up through the air this year. Of Denver's 16 drives that've had seven or more plays, they've attempted 10 field goals (eight of which were made), punted four times, scored one touchdown and had one turnover.
Wilson is one of the most accomplished deep ball throwers in the NFL; keeping a lid on those downfield shots and limiting the Broncos' YAC opportunities will be important for the Colts' defense on Thursday. And the Colts know this: Last year, Wilson's longest pass of the season – a 69-yard touchdown to Tyler Lockett – helped propel the Seahawks to a Week 1 win at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The challenge against a stifling Broncos defense. Entering Thursday, the Broncos are:
- 7th in yards per play allowed (4.9)
- 5th in passing yards per play allowed (5.3)
- 8th in third down percentage allowed (33.3 percent)
- 1st in red zone touchdown percentage allowed (33.3 percent)
- 2nd in goal to goal touchdown percentage allowed (50 percent)
- 6th in sacks (11)
- 5th in points per game allowed (17.0)
Denver will be without defensive end Randy Gregory (18 1/2 career sacks) and safety Justin Simmons (21 career interceptions), both of whom are on injured reserve. But guys like defensive end Bradley Chubb and cornerback Patrick Surtain II – both former top-10 picks – spearhead a talented, deep Broncos defense.
"It's a very good defense," Ryan said. "Statistically, they've been right up in the top-five in most categories as a defense through the first basically quarter of the season, and they've played well. They've got good players at all three levels. Defensive line is physical, good against the run, good against the pass. They've got some talented players in the backend too – really good corners and solid safeties. It presents a good challenge for us."
Can the Colts cut down on turnovers? Ryan's interception rate (3.2 percent) is the highest of his career, and his nine fumbles are more than he's had in 10 of his previous 14 seasons. The Colts enter Week 5 with the second-worst turnover differential (minus-six) in the NFL, which is uncharacteristic not only of Ryan, but of this team under Reich. Reich, Ryan and the Colts are confident they can clean up these turnover issues, though the challenge will be to do it while not becoming overly conservative on offense.
"You definitely have to evaluate them and you take a look at (them), trying to find reasons why certain things have happened," Ryan said. "At the same time, you want to stay aggressive, you really do. So it's the double-edged sword. It's the – let's clean things up, let's be tighter with it. But we've also done a great job of extending plays and making things happen late in plays too. I've got to do a better job in the pocket making sure I'm securing it as best I can and just protecting it as I'm going to the ground at different times. I think I can do a better job of that."