INDIANAPOLIS —The Indianapolis Colts hit the road for the second time in the young 2017 season on Sunday, when they travel to Seattle to take on the Seahawks on NBC's Sunday Night Football.
The Colts (1-2) are coming off their first victory of the season, a 31-28 decision against the Cleveland Browns at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Seahawks (1-2), meanwhile, fell to the Tennessee Titans, 33-27, last Sunday in Nashville.
So what should fans be looking for in this Colts/Seahawks matchup on Sunday at CenturyLink Field?**
1. Say What?
The Seahawks have one of the best homefield advantages in the entire National Football League, thanks to both a passionate fanbase as well as the construction of their home stadium, CenturyLink Field. With the fans' screams bouncing off the decks hanging above them and then reflecting back onto the field, it can be quite the challenge for opposing offenses. The Colts, who last played at the stadium 12 seasons ago, have tried their best to prepare for that environment this week in practice, pumping up the volume on their large outdoor speakers to force the offense to find nonverbal methods of communication to get the job done. Obviously, the fewer false starts — the Seahawks claim more opposing offenses commit the penalty in their stadium than any other across the league — the better for offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski's unit. "I think you have to play your game and do what you do. To what extent, different points in the game, how the game flows, you may make adjustments to that," Chudzinski said this week of playing in loud environments. "But I don't think you can go in with a completely different style and doing things differently than you would normally do."2. Run And Gun** A fast start on both sides of the ball would be one simple remedy to quiet the crowd early on Sunday night, and the Colts could certainly accomplish that feat by gaining yards in big chunks on the ground against a Seattle defense that hasn't exactly been stout against the run so far this season. Seattle allows 146 rushing yards per game, ranking 30th in the league, and it allows 5.3 yards per carry, which ranks dead last. Already this season, the Seahawks have allowed runs of 75, 61, 27 and 25 yards, so if running backs Frank Gore, Robert Turbin and Matt Jones get any sort of an opening up front, look out. Then, if Indianapolis can get the run game going — and get more Seattle defenders into the box — that's when it can have more success passing the ball. Easier said than done, of course, but that's how the Colts' offense can really get going on Sunday.3. Finish. Finish. Finish Two weeks ago, the Colts had a prime opportunity to put the Arizona Cardinals away in the second half, and they just couldn't get the job done; the Cardinals came back from a 13-3 fourth quarter deficit to tie the game by the end of regulation, and hit a game-winning field goal in overtime to defeat the host Colts, 16-13. Last week, Indianapolis had a tremendous first half — going into halftime leading 28-14 — but, by the end of the game, had to hold off a surging Browns team, which outscored the Colts 14-3 in the second half, on multiple occasions to escape with their 31-28 victory. Head coach Chuck Pagano this week said simple mistakes — ill-timed penalties, missed assignments, tackling ballcarriers in-bounds, etc. — have all led to these second-half breakdowns, while the staff has also utilized more of a conservative approach on offense with a brand new quarterback, Jacoby Brissett, running the unit. The Colts were sure to emphasize all of those issues this week leading up to the Seahawks game, so if they find themselves with a second-half lead for a third straight week, they'll be in better position to put the opposition away.4. Bury Houdini
"He's going to get out. Trust me." Pagano knows Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is perhaps the league's best when it comes to escaping trouble in the pocket and making things happen off schedule along the perimeter. Week in and week out, Wilson — referred to as "Houdini" by Pagano — makes multiple plays this way: with the defense closing in for a sure sack, he somehow knows the path to slip out of immediate trouble, use his speed to break to the side, and then either pick up big yards on the ground himself, or find an open receiver down field that was able to break free after several seconds of tight coverage. While the Colts concede this is just going to happen from time to time on Sunday, the key will be to "plaster" their defensive assignments in coverage at all times to minimize the damage downfield, and, as cornerback Vontae Davis said, "If (the receiver) goes to the concession stand to get popcorn, you better be right there with him. You better be pouring the popcorn for him."
5. Déjà Vu For Hilton?
The Seahawks' "Legion of Boom" secondary has been the league's best collective unit for years, and its key members — cornerbacks Richard Sherman and safeties Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas — have been harassing opposing passing attacks together now since earlier this decade, leading Seattle to a Super Bowl title in 2013. But even this talented group couldn't stop Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton in the two teams' last matchup, a 34-28 Indianapolis victory in that 2013 championship season. In that game, Hilton caught five passes for 140 yards and two touchdowns, and his speed, quickness and route running just proved too much for this talented group of defensive backs. With Hilton coming off his best game of the season — a seven-reception, 153-yard, one-touchdown performance against the Browns — look for Brissett and the Colts to continue trying to keep this momentum going on Sunday night.6. Welcome Back
The aforementioned Vontae Davis is expected to make his 2017 regular season debut on Sunday night against the Seahawks, which is great news for the Colts' defense, which has been without its top cornerback for the first three weeks of the season while he recovered from a groin injury. Fifth-year veteran Rashaan Melvin has been strong in Davis' place — his two interceptions last week against the Browns both were much-needed drive killers in the third quarter — but the team has seen three different starters at the other cornerback position so far this season. Davis' addition adds stability to the secondary, and he'll represent the latest on a slowly-growing list of key Colts players who have been able to fully recover from offseason injuries and get back onto the field so far this season.7. Gore The Great
It seems as if Frank Gore moves up an all-time rushing list every week now, and that wouldn't be any different with a few reachable goals on Sunday against the Seahawks. According to Colts PR, Gore:
• Needs 50 rushing yards to pass Eric Dickerson (13,259) for seventh on the NFL's all-time rushing list.
• Needs nine carries to pass Marcus Allen (3,022) for eighth on the NFL's all-time list.
• Needs 15 carries to pass Edgerrin James (3,028) for seventh on the NFL's all-time list.
• Needs one rushing touchdown to tie Tony Dorsett (77) for 21st on the NFL's all-time list.
• Needs two rushing touchdowns to tie Ricky Watters (78) for 20th on the NFL's all-time list.
• Needs a 100-yard rushing performance to tie O.J. Simpson (42) for the 16th most in NFL history.
Gore, of course, has been a major thorn in the side of the Seahawks in years past from his time with the San Francisco 49ers. He has played Seattle 18 previous times and has ran 277 times for 1,421 yards (5.13 yards per carry) with five touchdowns in those matchups.