INDIANAPOLIS – The stretch run of the 2015 season is here for the Colts.
A seven-game, back half of the schedule begins on Sunday with a trip to a team in the middle of the NFC playoff hunt.
Here are seven things to watch for in the Colts (4-5) and Falcons (6-3) meeting in Week 11:
1. Hasselbeck's Time To Save
-Three players remain in the NFL from the 1998 Draft (Peyton Manning, Charles Woodson, Matt Hasselbeck). On Sunday, Hasselbeck will once again be under center for a critical Colts stretch run. Hasselbeck was nearly flawless in his two previous starts this season, committing zero turnovers in 144 snaps.
2. Helping Out No. 8
-Chuck Pagano spoke earlier this week on the workload for Frank Gore, after the 32-year-old had a season-high 28 rushes versus Denver. The Colts will obviously lean heavily on Gore again in the coming weeks with Matt Hasselbeck back under center. When Hasselbeck does go to the air, the Colts pass catchers need to help the veteran out with yards after catch and consistently winning their one-on-one matchups.
3. Quieting Julio
-Vontae Davis is back in his shadow role this weekend against the best wide receiver in the NFC. Julio Jones is putting up rare, rare numbers at the receiver position this season. That warrants Davis' full attention this week in his first true shadow role since he held Buffalo's Sammy Watkins to zero catches in the season opener.
4. Disrupting Ryan
-This point goes hand-in-hand with the one above. The Colts and Falcons rank near the bottom of the NFL in sacks this season. With Jones averaging nine catches a game, the Colts front must disrupt his timing by making Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan uncomfortable. Robert Mathis heads back to his hometown of Atlanta this weekend to play in a game there for the first time since 2007.
5. Filling In For Anderson
-Billy Winn (No. 99) and Zach Kerr (No. 94) are the names and numbers to watch as the Colts try and replace the exceptional play they got from Henry Anderson this season. The Colts defensive line depth was tested before the start of the season with the loss of Arthur Jones. Anderson's injury ranks right up there with one of the most indispensable players on the roster.
6. Crowded AFC South
-With Houston's win on Monday night, the AFC South saw a crowd of two emerge at the top of the division. The Colts and Texans sit at 4-5 heading into the final seven weeks of the season. The Colts hold the early tiebreaker over the entire division, but a multiple-game losing steak before the division schedule starts again on Dec. 13 would lead to some extremely pressure-packed games in Weeks 14 and beyond. Don't forget about the Jaguars lurking just a half-game back after their Thursday night win over the Titans.7. Road Warriors
-The Colts are in the midst of having just one home game in 41 days. That means three of the Colts next four contests come on the road. If the Colts want to get on any run in January, they will almost assuredly have to win away from home a couple of times. We will see if they can capture their third road win of 2015 come Sunday.