INDIANAPOLIS — Each week, Colts.com readers can submit their questions to have a chance of them being answered in our Mailbag series.
Let's jump right into this week's questions:
PowerfulGovernment on Colts Reddit: 'The offense likes to spread the ball around but aren't there advantages in targeting Hines and Pittman more often though? It would shift some attention to them and allow more guys to get involved easily, wouldn't it?_'
Walker: I would have to think by now that defenses are going to be paying much closer attention to Nyheim Hines than perhaps they have before. He's had two big performances in a three-game span, and isn't only making plays in the open field, but he's also been getting the football into the end zone at a ridiculous rate, too. Frank Reich had said in that Week 9 game against the Ravens, which was the week after Hines' two-touchdown performance against the Lions, that they were expecting the Ravens to account for Hines much more, and perhaps that's why he didn't touch the ball as much; but now, to me, I think you're at a point with this offense where even if a team is clearly keying in on Hines, he should still be touching the ball X-amount of times, just because he's that important. We'll see how that pans out today against the Packers.
As for Michael Pittman Jr., it's been so fun to see him become more and more involved these last couple weeks. You can just see that light bulb turning on, and the more plays he makes, the more Philip Rivers is going to want to get him the ball. Hopefully that trend can continue today against Green Bay and then moving forward.
sigma4488 on Colts Reddit: "How telling was it that Reich gave no respect to the Titans defense that they went for it on 4th down five different times?"
Walker: This is going to sound like coachspeak, but it's my true opinion on the matter: I don't think Frank Reich deciding to take all those chances on fourth down against the Titans was a sign of disrespect to the opponent's defense; I think he truly believes in his guys that much. Now, does that mean Reich is going to go for it on every single fourth-and-short he faces? No, not necessarily. But too often in the past teams have been too singularly focused on the risk and not the reward part of those attempts, so I've got to imagine Reich's confidence in his guys, matched with one of the best defenses in the league to help pick up the pieces if you're not able to move the chains or get into the end zone on fourth down, heavily factored into those decisions.
kobegriffeysanders on Colts Reddit: "The Packers have shown that they can be rather weak against the run. Would it be time to panic about our lackluster running game if we can't put together a strong showing on Sunday?"
Walker: It's not like the Packers are brutal against the run. I mean, they've allowed the 12th-fewest rushing yards in the league — although their 4.6 yards-per-carry-allowed average is the 11th-worst in the NFL. So I'm not quite sure today's game qualifies as one of those "boy, if you can't get the run going against this team, it's never going to happen!" type of matchups. But, to your point, the clock is ticking. I think we've all expected this Colts rushing attack, particularly that yards-per-attempt figure, to start slowly approach reaching level by now; while Indy has dug itself out of last place in the NFL in this category — the Colts currently rank 29th in yards-per-carry average (3.8) — Indy now has just seven games left to keep chipping away at this particular issue.
NinjaCoder88 on Colts Reddit: "What can the Colts do to shut down the Rodgers to Adams connection? Could we see double teams or do we trust our guys in single coverage?_"
Walker: Well, I could sit here and state the obvious — that Davante Adams should, and most likely will, see plenty of extra attention throughout today's game, either by doubling him or sliding a safety over the top to prevent those big plays. But that's easier said than done. The Packers are likely going to counter by moving Adams all around the formation; for example, according to Pro Football Focus, Adams has been targeted in the slot about 3.5 times per game this season, catching 27 of a possible 31 passes thrown his way (87.1 percent) for 279 yards and five touchdowns. More than a fourth of Adams' slot targets this season have been on out routes (26.7), but 23.3 percent have been on routes in the flat, while they've also utilized him on wide receiver screens out of the slot on 16.7 percent of those opportunities. So if you're Matt Eberflus, how do you try to slow that down? You can certainly try to disguise your pre-snap looks as much as possible, but ask the Vikings how well that worked against Adams back in Week 1, when he had 14 receptions for 156 yards and two touchdowns. To me, this just comes down to good old simple defense: get as much pressure on the quarterback as you can, do your job in coverage — whether it's zone or man — to the best of your ability, try to be strategic about when and where you give Adams extra attention, and then hope those three things lead to success against this elite receiver.
OGColtsFan on Colts Reddit: "What impact (if any) do you think Kemoko Turay will have on the game this week?"
Walker: I'll add the caveat from the start here that Kemoko Turay is officially questionable heading into today's game, so we'll have to wait until 90 minutes before kickoff to see if he's officially going to be making his 2020 debut or not. However, if we're working off the assumption that Turay is going to play today, then while I can certainly understand how exciting it will be inject add that kind of unique talent off the edge into a Colts defense that is already playing extremely well to this point, I think personally I am going to temper my expectations for No. 57 until he can get his proverbial legs under him a little bit more. If and when he does return to game action, we already know Turay is likely going to be on a little bit of a pitch count to start, so what is that going to look like? Does he exclusively play a role in the Colts' "green" defensive package, which is used on those obvious passing downs? Do they try to also incorporate Turay into a few other situations to try to crank up the pressure on Aaron Rodgers? This is totally a guess on my end, but if Turay gets about 10 defensive snaps today, then that would seem to make sense to me; if he's able to get a couple pressures and show that quick twitch and that pure speed off the edge in those opportunities, then certainly add more to his plate next week at home against the Titans. That's my best guess, anyway.
Aleph_Alpha_001 on Colts Reddit: "Twenty-two points against the Vikings has been the Packers lowest offensive output of the season, followed by the Jaguars holding them to 24 last week. Between time of possession and defensive strategy, what can the Colts do to hold down Aaron Rogers and the Packers offense?"
Walker: Yeah, to me, this is going to be the Colts defense's biggest test to date. The Ravens, of course, presented their own problems with the NFL's best rushing attack, but when Aaron Rodgers and this Packers offense is on in the passing game, I'm not sure it gets much better than that in the NFL. To this point of the season, Green Bay has loved the deep pass — their 62 pass attempts that have traveled 20-plus yards in the air are the most in the league — and they also consistently connect on those chunk plays, as their 62 pass plays of 15 or more yards ranks fifth. But those longer plays lead to more turnovers and sacks, right? Wrong, not with this Packers team, which has just six turnovers on offense, the fewest in the league, and has allowed 15 sacks, the eighth-fewest in the NFL. What's confounding about this offense, too, is the Packers love to throw it deep, but they also lead the league in percentage of screen passes attempted (15.8).
So what doesn't this Green Bay offense do well? It ranks tied for 22nd in explosive run plays (10-plus yards) with 25, 24th in first downs gained rushing (53), 27th in missed tackles forced (60) and tied for 25th in offensive penalties (20). That's about it.
Again, as I've said before, this, to me, comes down to defensive basics: stop the run, get pressure on the quarterback and cover well in the back end. If the Colts' offense can play a role by winning the time of possession battle and keeping the Packers' offense off the field, then, by all means, do that too.
bbethebeesknees on Colts Reddit: "Would you please give N.Hines more touches?!"
Walker: Is this you?
HBdrunkandstuff on Colts Reddit: "With the amount of free agents we have this year there is a good chance a number of them leave and sign somewhere else. Does that mean we will be getting comp picks? And if so how many we could get?"
Walker: I'll just say this now: the comp pick formula hurts my brain. But if we're looking at the Colts players who at this very moment are set to become unrestricted free agents this offseason, the biggest names in terms of current salary are Philip Rivers, Jacoby Brissett, T.Y. Hilton and Justin Houston; of those guys, how many are considered among the top 35-percent at their respective positions if they were to sign with another team in free agency to get at least a seventh-round comp pick in 2021? I really have no idea, to be completely honest.
chad72 on Colts.com Forums: "Will this be a game where the Colts decide to run heavily against the Packers' weaker run D to keep Rodgers on the sidelines more often like they did against Mahomes and the Chiefs in 2019? Do we plan to use more fullbacks to accomplish the same?"
Walker: See above. I don't think the Packers are necessarily good or bad against the run, so I don't see this being comparable to the Chiefs game last year (they were historically bad against the run) or the Vikings game this year (their defensive line was in shambles at the time). Now, could the Colts jump out to a second-half lead and get rolling in the run game and end up having some big numbers on the ground? Sure. Of course.
Jared Cisneros on Colts.com Forums: "I was wondering if Pittman is going to be in on every snap from now on since he has been red-hot coming off the injury, and how much will Nyheim Hines play after having his hot week last week? Thanks!"
Walker: Michael Pittman Jr. has played in 86.8 and 81.4 percent of the offensive snaps the last two games, respectively; he was one snap away from the team receiver lead against the Ravens in Week 9 and had 10 more snaps than Zach Pascal and T.Y. Hilton last Thursday night against the Titans. While I certainly don't think he's going to be in on every snap, I wouldn't be surprised to see him in the 80s or even the 90s in terms of snap percentage moving forward.
danlhart87 on Colts.com Forums: "The Colts finished last year 4.5 YPC rushing and are currently near the bottom at 3.8. What's the main reason for this and lack of faith in Taylor lately? He's averaged 6.5 carries only last 2 weeks."
Walker: If we're talking about the last two weeks, to me, the storyline at running back has been pretty clear. In Week 9 against the Ravens, Jonathan Taylor was off to a terrific start, but then lost the fumble that was returned for a touchdown; after that, the Colts really didn't have the ball on offense a whole lot, particularly in the third quarter (four offensive plays in all), so one has to imagine the costly fumble plus fewer overall opportunities (especially trailing in the game late) factored into Taylor's lack of opportunities in that game. And then last Thursday night against the Titans it was Nyheim Hines that caught fire, and I think Frank Reich has proven that he'll roll with the hot hand at running back, especially with Marlon Mack out for the year. I'm still very confident in Taylor and think he has some big performances ahead of him this season, but from game to game there are various factors that are taken into consideration when it comes to who's getting touches (and who's not getting touches, for that matter).
PrideOfAthens17 on Colts.com Forums: "Understanding that the results against the rest of the NFC North this year haven't been just wins, but dominations, what say they make it a perfect 4 for 4 and crush the Pack? So tell us, Andrew, what you got? Do they win this one? And do they do so in dominant fashion to completely own the NFC North this year? What's your score prediction?"
Walker: Rodrigo Blankenship knocks in a 37-yard field goal to give the Colts a 34-31 win over the Packers and completing Indy's sweep of the NFC North Division.