INDIANAPOLIS — Each week, Colts.com readers can submit their questions to have a chance of them being answered in our Mailbag series.
Let's jump right into this week's questions:
sigma4488 on Colts Reddit: "Isn't it illegal for TY Hilton to play against the Texans if Jonathan Joseph is not on the Texans roster?"
Walker: Great question, and, no, it's not illegal for T.Y. Hilton to play against a Jonathan Joseph-less Texans team, but those sure were fun matchups to watch — mostly, of course, because of Hilton's dominance over those years. One has to imagine Hilton is licking his chops entering tomorrow's game against the Texans at his second home, NRG Stadium, where Houston will be without its top cornerback, Bradley Roby, who was suspended six games this week (so, essentially, the rest of the season plus Week 1 next year) for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances. Vernon Hargreaves III, who will likely be the Texans' top cornerback moving forward, has the third-worst Pro Football Focus coverage grade in the NFL among all qualifying players at the position (37.6). With Hilton coming off his best game of the year last week against the Titans, I have no doubt that trend can continue Sunday against the Texans.
enew123 on Colts Reddit: "Rock ya-sin is a target of frequent criticism among colts fans. In spite of this I feel like he has improved a good amount throughout his first two seasons and is not as bad as many of us colts fans would lead you to believe, even if his penalties are extremely frustrating. How have you seen him improve his game and how can he continue to do so?"
Walker: Here's my general take on Rock Ya-Sin and his performance of late: he plays a position where your mistakes are out on display more than maybe any other spot other than quarterback. Sometimes an offensive lineman might miss his assignment on a stunt play, or a defensive end might not do his job setting the edge, or a wide receiver might run the wrong route, or a running back might make the wrong read, or a linebacker might fill the wrong gap, but the average fan watching the game would be none the wiser. If a cornerback makes a mistake … you're more than likely going to notice it, particularly at this level. Now, Ya-Sin has certainly had more of those mistakes than usual of late, and opposing quarterbacks (and officials) have clearly taken notice. The good news with Ya-Sin is that he's still very young and he definitely has the mental makeup to get through this lull and play at a level that expected of him, much like he did the second half of his rookie season last year.
grapplerone on Colts Reddit: "How will the Colts handle the pressure WATTS brings with the absence of Castonzo? In the past, double teaming him worked well but would they be able to pull that off consistently in this case?"
Walker: Yeah, this one is going to be tough, because we all remember what happened back in Week 5 against the Browns, who repeatedly lined their top edge rusher, Myles Garrett, up against Le'Raven Clark, who was starting for injured left tackle Anthony Castonzo. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Texans utilize that same strategy on Sunday with J.J. Watt, who primarily lines up on the left side of the defensive line, against Clark (who is the presumed starter at left tackle once again with Castonzo out with a knee injury). Watt this season, according to ESPN, has a pass rush win rate of 22 percent, which is ninth-best in the NFL; for comparison's sake, Garrett, at 28 percent, ranks third in the league in this metric. The Colts are going to have to at times throw the kitchen sink at Watt to help block him, whether that's chipping with the tight end(s) or involving the running backs in pass protection even more. Now, that's easier said than done against Watt, who is dominant even when he doesn't necessarily have the stats; take his Week 7 matchup against the Colts last year for example, when Watt had just three tackles total, but he had six (!) quarterback hits. Even now in his 10th season, Watt remains a thorn in the Colts' backside.
Andy_and_Vic on Colts Reddit: "Who do we root for to win: Browns or Titans? Tennessee losing gives us a shot at the division, but maybe not a very big one. Cleveland losing gives us a better chance at getting ahead of them, which is especially important since they have the tiebreaker. I checked FiveThirtyEight, and they have that game as almost a wash for us in terms of playoff odds."
Walker: I'm always for rooting for whatever result improves the Colts' chances within the division. I understand there are other non-divisional elements at play, and at some point you have to be realistic about taking care of those scenarios, too, but as of now, the AFC South title — and the home playoff game that goes with it — is still in play if you're the Colts. So … go Browns? Sure. Go Browns.
worldwideset on Colts Reddit: "Currently how does the organization feel about our special teams unit? Specifically on specs and his current performance when kicking long field goals? Another question do we plan on getting a another punter who can hold as well?"
Walker: As a whole, I don't know how the Colts couldn't be anything but extremely pleased with just about every aspect of their special teams play so far this season. Indy has covered very well on kickoffs and punts, setting up opposing offenses with tough starting field position; they've had a couple major splash plays on special teams, with a kickoff returned for a touchdown by Isaiah Rodgers and E.J. Speed's blocked punt that was returned for a TD by T.J. Carrie; and rookie Rodrigo Blankenship is hitting almost 89 percent of his field goal attempts (23 of 26) and is seventh in the league in total points scored. Now, the Colts have had a punt blocked and they also had that weird onside kick returned for a touchdown last Sunday against the Titans, but overall, Indy has had some of the best overall special teams play in the league this season.
As for "Specs'" leg on longer field goals — I'm not worried about it. I watch this guy warm up before every game and he's constantly nailing kicks from 50-plus yards; in fact, before last Sunday's game against the Titans, I saw Blankenship hit field goals from 51, 56 and 60 yards, respectively. While he did miss that 50-yarder off the crossbar a couple weeks ago — Frank Reich said that was the result of a chunked kick — I'm not reading too much into the fact that Blankenship hasn't attempted any other field goals from 50-plus yards. I would have to imagine that's largely due to the fact that the Colts have been so aggressive on fourth down, and less about any possible lack of confidence in Blankenship's leg.
Aleph_Alpha_001 on Colts Reddit: "Did you notice any difference in how the Colts attempted to play defense in the absence of Buckner, Autry, and Okereke versus normal base defense? Was there any difference in personnel packages or positioning that I didn't notice designed to try to contain Derrick Henry?"
Walker: For the entire season, according to Pro Football Focus, the Colts utilize their nickel defensive lineup 70.6 percent of the time — the fifth-highest rate in the league. But last Sunday against the Titans, the Colts were in nickel just 54.2 percent of the time, which was the 12th-lowest rate in Week 12. This was also the result of adjustments made throughout the game; Indy utilized its nickel personnel 73.3 percent of the time in the first quarter and then 53.6 percent of the time in the second quarter, 37.5 percent of the time in the third quarter and back to 53.8 percent of the time in the fourth quarter. So, basically, Zaire Franklin was utilized as the SAM linebacker during these snaps to try to stop the run vs. having another cornerback out there in the nickel formation.
mendezj85 on Colts Reddit: "Where's Kemoko Turay? I thought he came back for a few snaps against the Packers. Did he suffer a setback?_"
Walker: No, no setback. Kemoko Turay played 10 snaps in his 2020 debut two weeks ago against the Packers, and played four defensive snaps last Sunday against the Titans. Really, though, if you think about the flow of that game last week, there probably weren't many obvious passing situations that would've been ideal for Turay to be in the game — which, right now, as he works his way back from major surgery to his ankle, is really the role that he's going to be playing. I really wouldn't be surprised if we saw Turay's role increase significantly on Sunday against the Texans; Deshaun Watson has been on a tear, especially of late, and the Colts could really use a jolt up front with their pass rush. But do you have to be careful sending too much pressure at Watson; he has 10 "big-time throws" when blitzed this season, the second-most among all qualifying quarterbacks in the NFL, while he has just two "turnover-worthy plays" in those same scenarios, according to Pro Football Focus.
Four2itus on Colts.com Forums: "Why is it that fans have an unrealistic expectations when it comes to back up LT? It is dang near the hardest position on either side of the line. Clark may not be a consistent starter, but "getting rid of" a back up because they are not as good as the starter seems a bit silly to me."
Walker: I honestly think this is a testament to just how solid Anthony Castonzo has been at that left tackle position for the Colts for so long. When someone that good goes down for any amount of time, as a team you expect the "next man up" to do their job and to do it well, but you also have to be realistic and know there's a reason why Castonzo is the starter; there are simply things that he's able to do that nobody else can provide for you. What probably didn't help Le'Raven Clark last Sunday against the Titans was the fact that his struggles just happened to come in the first few snaps he was out there, when pretty much everybody is trying to look for a difference after Castonzo went down with his knee injury. Clark did settle down and played fine for the most part the rest of the way — in fact, I thought he played pretty darn good in the fourth quarter, specifically — so I think the experiences he's gained already this season alone, including in that tough matchup against Myles Garrett back in Week 5 against the Browns, should certainly help him if he's back at left tackle on Sunday against the Texans (and, presumably, up against J.J. Watt most of the afternoon).
life long on Colts.com Forums: "Can someone tell the Colts sideline (Frank Reich) to get into the ears of these referees? I have never seen him say anything to a ref about a call, even when our opponents are getting away with assault. If Frank won't someone should!"
Walker: Just because Frank Reich isn't the yelling, cussing type — I've never heard him say a single cuss word — it doesn't mean he isn't working the officials on the sideline when it's warranted. In fact, just last week the head referee accidentally kept his mic on during a review, and you could clearly hear Reich, let's say, expressing his opinion about the ruling on the field. "That isn't even close!" you could hear Reich saying. But knowing Reich, I think he also takes the approach that complaining to the refs time and time again can only get you so far; at some point, football is football, and the officials sometimes are part of that equation, whether the result is positive or negative for your team.
Zoltan on Colts.com Forums: "Haven't heard anything about Campbell in awhile, how's his rehab going?"
If this is a troll job, then kudos to you. But this is a question/topic I've specifically flagged as "OK, this gets asked every week; I don't have a new answer for you" territory.
Campbell is working hard in his recovery and rehab work; while it's probably not likely he gets back by the end of the year, he hasn't officially been ruled out for the rest of the season because there is a small chance he could get back at some point.
csmopar on Colts.com Forums: "Why the inconsistency with how the league is handling games when teams like the Ravens lose players to Covid, same as the Colts. Ravens got their pivotal game post poned, Colts didn't, nor did the Broncos who lost all their QBs. Do teams have any say in that as well?"
Walker: I'm not speaking for the NFL or the Colts here, but, to me, these situations have been pretty cut-and-dry. The Broncos and the Colts had isolated incidents of COVID-19 — with individual players or position groups with close contacts affected — while teams like the Ravens and Titans have been on the brink of all-out COVID-19 breakouts, which, if not properly controlled, could lead to all kinds of chaos for the entire NFL schedule moving forward. Everybody agreed to these protocols (and their potential effects) at the beginning of the season, so I don't quite understand the outcry. Yeah, if you're the Steelers, it stinks how it seems as if you've been on the short end of the stick time and time again throughout this process (and to no fault of your own), but that's just the way it's worked out as everybody tries to successfully complete an entire season being played during a pandemic.