INDIANAPOLIS —The Indianapolis Colts return home on Sunday, when they look to get back on track against the San Francisco 49ers.
The Colts (1-3) are coming off their 46-18 road loss to the Seattle Seahawks last Sunday night at CenturyLink Field. The 49ers (0-4), meanwhile, fell to the Arizona Cardinals, 18-15, in overtime last week in Glendale, Ariz.
So what should fans be looking for in this Colts/49ers matchup on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium?
1. 60 Minutes
The first two quarters have been no problem for the Indianapolis Colts this season, particularly the last three weeks, when they have taken leads of 10-3, 28-14 and 15-10 into halftime against the Cardinals, the Cleveland Browns and the Seahawks, respectively. The last two quarters have been a completely different story, however. The Colts saw the Cardinals outscore them 10-3 in the fourth quarter to force overtime, and then Arizona kicked a game-winning field goal; against the Browns, the Colts were outscored 14-3 in the second half, but hung on for their first win of the season, 31-28; and then, against the Seahawks, the Colts were outscored 22-3 in the third quarter alone in their 46-18 loss on Sunday Night Football. After each game, head coach Chuck Pagano has emphasized the importance of playing all 60 minutes each week, and it's something his young Colts team is in the midst of trying to figure out.**
49ers running back Carlos Hyde has been one of the best playmakers in the NFL so far through four weeks in the season. The challenge for the Colts' defense against Hyde isn't just his ability to run the ball, but he can also catch it out of the backfield, as he currently ranks sixth in the league in yards from scrimmage with 409 (321 rushing, 88 receiving). Hyde looks poised to thrive under Kyle Shanahan and running backs coach Bobby Turner, who has utilized the zone-running scheme to propel backs since Terrell Davis with the Broncos in the 1990s, and, more recently, Alfred Morris with the Washington Redskins and Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman with the Atlanta Falcons. Against the Seahawks, the Colts struggled at times with their tackling, which will be key against Hyde. Indianapolis defensive coordinator Ted Monachino said Thursday, "We're showing signs of being physically dominant at times, especially in the run game," but consistency will be key on Sunday.3. The Hilton Effect
Last season, T.Y. Hilton turned in monster performances in Weeks 3, 5 and 7, the first two of which were home games. And while Hilton and the Colts would love to see 100-yard, touchdown-scoring outings each and every week, the sixth-year Florida International product has an opportunity to see if he can match last year's pattern on Sunday against the 49ers. In 2016, Hilton — who would end up leading the league in receiving yards — had eight receptions for 174 yards and a touchdown in a home win over the San Diego Chargers, and then bested it with 10 receptions for 171 yards and a score two weeks later in a home win over the Chicago Bears. This year, Hilton had seven catches for 153 yards and a touchdown in Week 3 in a home win over the Browns — and finds himself playing at the friendly confines of Lucas Oil Stadium once again on Sunday.4. Another One
Malik Hooker has given more than a glimpse of his potential in the Colts' secondary, as this year's first-round (15th overall) selection is currently tied for the league lead with three interceptions, having hauled in a pick in each of his last three games. If Hooker were to get another interception on Sunday — 49ers quarterback Brian Hoyer has thrown four of them this season, to just two touchdowns, while his receivers have dropped 12 passes so far, the most in the league according to Pro Football Focus — he will break the team's rookie record for consecutive games with an interception, and be one away from Ray Buchanan's franchise record of five straight games with a pick, which he set from Weeks 10-14 in the 1994 season. The 49ers film this season shows opportunities will be there for Hooker and his teammates to earn some takeaways on Sunday — it's just up to them to make the plays.5. Looks Can Be Deceiving
The 49ers enter Sunday's game with an 0-4 record. Advantage: Colts, right? Well, as we all know in the NFL, you can oftentimes throw the records out the door, and that's no different in this matchup. San Francisco is young and has proven to be extremely scrappy, despite its winless record. In their last three games, the 49ers have lost by a combined eight points, including a 12-9 loss to the Seahawks, a 41-39 shootout decision to the Rams and an 18-15 loss to the Cardinals in overtime last week; the Colts have also lost to all three of those teams this season. Sunday's game could all come down to the first theme mentioned here: the second half. If the final result is still in question down the stretch, one of these teams will want to show just how much they've improved in closing things out to open the second quarter of the season on a positive note.6. Milestone Watch
Here are several milestones to look for this week, courtesy of Colts PR:
• With five passes defensed, cornerback Vontae Davis would reach 100 for his career.
• Running back Frank Gore needs a 100-yard rushing performance to tie O.J. Simpson (42) for the 16th most in NFL history; four rushing yards to pass Eric Dickerson (13,259) for seventh on the NFL's all-time rushing list; three carries for pass Edgerrin James (3,028) for seventh on the NFL's all-time list; one rushing touchdown to tie Tony Dorsett (77) for 21st and two touchdowns to tie Ricky Watters (78) for 20th on the NFL's all-time list.
• Wide receiver T.Y. Hilton needs nine receptions to reach 400 for his career.
• With four field goal attempts, kicker Adam Vinatieri will tie George Blanda (639) for the third most in NFL history; he needs to convert three field goals to tie Gary Anderson (538) for the second most on the NFL's all-time list; and he needs to play in Sunday's game to tie Jason Hanson (327) for the fifth most regular season games in NFL history.7. #ThankYouPeyton
While we usually like to highlight on-the-field themes for the upcoming game, it's hard to ignore the festivities going on this weekend at Lucas Oil Stadium, where Peyton Manning will be honored with the unveiling of own statue outside of the stadium on Saturday, and then will be inducted into the team's Ring of Honor, as well as have his No. 18 formally retired by the Colts, in a halftime ceremony on Sunday. Manning, of course, spent the first 14 years of his career in Indianapolis, where he was the No. 1-overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft, and retired following the 2015 season as the NFL's all-time leader in just about every key statistical category for a quarterback (as well as a two-time Super Bowl champion — including in Super Bowl XLI with the Colts in 2006). And while the ceremonies don't actually have any bearing on the game itself, one might imagine the crowd will be a little more amped up than usual heading into that second half on Sunday, so perhaps the current Colts team can feed off that energy and get back in the win column heading into their AFC South matchup next week against the Tennessee Titans on Monday Night Football.