Seven Things To Watch For: Colts/Cardinals Edition

Intro: The Colts (0-1) play host to the Cardinals (0-1) on Sunday in Indy’s 2017 home opener at Lucas Oil Stadium. Here are seven things to look for in this matchup.

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INDIANAPOLIS —The Indianapolis Colts on Sunday open up the home portion of their 2017 schedule when they play host to the Arizona Cardinals.

The Colts (0-1) are coming off a 46-9, season-opening loss to the Los Angeles Rams last Sunday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The Cardinals (0-1), meanwhile, also dropped their 2017 season opener, falling to the Detroit Lions, 35-23, at Detroit's Ford Field.

So what should fans be looking for when the Colts officially open up Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday?

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  1. Tolzien Or Brissett?** Colts head coach Chuck Pagano on Friday declined to announce who would be starting at quarterback for the Colts on Sunday between Scott Tolzien or Jacoby Brissett. Tolzien got the start Week 1 against the Rams and threw two interceptions, both of which were returned for touchdowns, while Brissett was just acquired a couple weeks back in a trade with the New England Patriots and is still learning the playbook. Whoever starts for Indy will hope to show the home crowd that last week's struggles by the offense were just an anomaly, however.2. No (David) Johnson The Colts on Sunday won't have to deal with perhaps the most versatile weapon in the NFL, Arizona running back David Johnson, who suffered a wrist injury last week against the Lions and has since been placed on Injured Reserve. Without Johnson, the Cardinals are expected to start former Colt Kerwynn Williams, a smaller, quicker back who has shown flashes in limited opportunities with the Cardinals the past three seasons. Another name to watch on Sunday: Chris Johnson. Yes, the former Tennessee Titans great, who had spent the past couple seasons with the Cardinals, was re-signed by Arizona this week and could get some carries against the Colts.3. Protect The Rock The Colts' offense has plenty it hopes to improve overall on Sunday, but nothing is more important than taking care of the football. Against the Rams, Indianapolis had three turnovers, and all three of them resulted in defensive scores: two pick-sixes and a lost fumble for a safety. Those mistakes simply can't repeat themselves, Pagano said this week. "When it comes down to the ball and taking care of the football, you have four takeaways, four turnovers; you're not going to beat anybody," he said. "You just can't do that. Sixteen points off of those turnovers is too hard to overcome versus anybody on the road in the National Football League, at home, it doesn't matter where you're playing. It isn't going to get it done."4. Pester Palmer The Colts' defense's focus every week is to get to the quarterback, but that should be of the utmost importance on Sunday against Carson Palmer. The veteran Cardinals quarterback last week was harassed the entire game by the Lions' defensive front, and threw a very un-Carson-Palmer-like three interceptions. Indianapolis generated just one sack — a play by Margus Hunt — last week against the Rams, though it did generate a decent amount of pressure at times throughout the game. The key this week will be turning those pressures into what defensive coordinator Ted Monachino likes to call "productive" rushes — plays that result in sacks, turnovers, lost downs, etc.5. 1st & Second Down One other huge area of emphasis for the Colts' offense coming off the Rams game is the need to improve drastically on third downs. Against Los Angeles, the Indy offense didn't convert a single third-down opportunity in 10 tries. While some of that credit can be given to the defense, offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski said this week that everything — from playcalling, to execution, to simple fundamentals — needs to improve in order to better move the chains. But Chudzinski also said getting better chunks on first and second down, and, thus, shortening the to-go distance on third down, is a huge factor.6. Hooker's First Start With Darius Butler officially ruled out of Sunday's game with a hamstring injury, that opens the door for first-round pick Malik Hooker to make his first-career start for the Colts at free safety on Sunday. Both Pagano and Monachino have raved about Hooker — who had three tackles in his NFL debut last week — and the way he looks like a natural out in center field for the Colts' defense. With Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians' love of the deep pass, look for Hooker to be a huge factor for Indianapolis on Sunday.7. Home Opener
    Sunday's game is not only a chance for the Colts to get back on the right track early in the season, but it's an opportunity to do it in front of their home crowd for the first time in the regular season. Indianapolis went 4-4 at Lucas Oil Stadium last season, and most of those games were of the down-to-the-wire, last-second variety. Protecting home field remains one of the Colts' primary goals this season, and outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard hopes the Indy faithful is especially loud when he's on the field. "It's always exciting when you get a chance to play at home in front of the fans, to have them at our back and get some crowd noise hopefully and we can get a good jump off the ball," he said.
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