INDIANAPOLIS – The Colts are back in the spotlight of Monday Night Football this week.
In traveling to Charlotte, the Colts will encounter a team that has won an NFL-best 10 straight regular season games.
Here are seven things to watch for in the Colts (3-4) and Panthers (6-0) meeting in Week Eight:
1. Offensive Rhythm
-At this point last season, the Colts offense was in the midst of 400-yard games after 400-yard games. Fast forward to 2015 and there are more questions than answers right now for the Indianapolis offense. Is Monday the game where we see the Colts avoid the frequent drive-killing penalties and turnovers to put together their most consistent 60 minutes of the season?
2. Alignment, Assignment, Execution
-That's what is being drilled into Colts defenders heads this week. It has to be when facing the dynamic read-option looks the Panthers employ. Cam Newton is an extreme nuisance from a game plan standpoint and is a major reason why the Panthers lead the NFL in rushing. Newton is completing a career-worse 55 percent of his passes so the Colts have to try and force the Carolina offense into being one-dimensional.
3. Mike Adams' Return
-After missing last week with a hamstring injury, the Colts will have their quarterback in the secondary back on Monday night. Mike Adams will be in the starting lineup against Carolina. Adams is the lead communicator for the back end of the Colts defense and his presence down the middle will be needed on Monday with Panthers tight end Greg Olsen leading the team in catches. Adams and Olsen both hail from Paterson, New Jersey and know each other well.
4. Win First Down
-A reason why the Panthers offense has had success with their ground game in 2015 is they've won the early downs to set up manageable third-down conversions. The threat of Cam Newton running in those situations makes them so difficult to defend. The Colts run defense struggled against the Saints last week, after the unit had been pretty sound for much of 2015.
5. Controlling The Trenches
-The Panthers pride themselves on being a team built up the middle, on each side of the ball. Their defense has arguably the best tandem of defensive tackles and inside linebackers in the NFL. On offense, Carolina has all Pro Center Ryan Kalil (who is doubtful for Monday night) and a bruising fullback in Mike Tolbert, who is a threat out of the backfield, too.
6. Tight End Involvement
-Without Phillip Dorsett, there are some extra reps to be divided up on the Colts offense. Could we see more two tight end groups? Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen have combined to catch just 13 passes in the past three weeks. When the offense was clicking last season, this duo had a tremendous impact in that success.
7. Stop The Bleeding
-The Colts have never lost three straight games under Chuck Pagano. The loss last week to the Saints was just the third time they have dropped consecutive games since 2012. At 3-4, the Colts still lead the AFC South by one game, but the schedule coming up is downright brutal. In the next four weeks, the Colts will travel to Carolina (6-0), host Denver (6-0), have their bye week and then hit the road to Atlanta (6-1).