The Colts will be playing this Sunday’s game with heavy hearts. Head Coach Chuck Pagano will miss the game after being diagnosed with leukemia earlier this week. The health and safety of the league’s players and coaches is more important than the outcome of any game, and all of PFF sends their best wishes to Coach Pagano, his family, and the Colts organization. It is a fate that no man should have to go through, and we’d all like to see the coach back and healthy on the sidelines as soon as possible.
This Week 5 matchup at Lucas Oil Stadium marks the return of center Jeff Saturday to Indianapolis where he played for 13 seasons. Saturday was a fan favorite in Indy for his attitude and elite play. The center may be starting to show his age this year with an overall grade of -2.2, but it is still early on in the season.
The Colts are fresh off of a bye week and have rebounded nicely after their Week 1 debacle against the Bears. The defense in particular has looked more adept in their new 3-4 hybrid, and has given up only 37 points in Weeks 2 and 3 combined, compared to 41 in week 1. It should be even better this week, as they get back their elite edge rusher Dwight Freeney who has missed all but nine plays this season. The Packer’s will counter with the return of running back James Starks, who is expected to play, although to what extent is still unknown.
Robert Mathis vs. Bryan Bulaga
This matchup features two players whose play hasn’t lived up to their past achievements. Robert Mathis, although he has four sacks, has not been able to get the consistent pressure he is known for. He has only four hurries and one hit on the season. His struggles will certainly be eased by the return of Freeney, but I think they could also be helped with more pass rushing opportunities. I noted after Week 1 that Mathis was dropping into coverage a lot more than he had in the past. In fact his 24 total coverage plays in Weeks 1 and 2 were more than his Past four years combined. The Colts seemed to realize that they needed Mathis’ pass rushing ability, and in Week 3 he dropped into coverage only three times. I look for this trend to continue against the Packers who are passing 69% of the time this year. This should mean a bevy of obvious pass rushing situations for Mathis and Freeney.
Clear passing situations haven’t been right tackle Brian Bulaga’s forte this season. The nightmare that was the Seattle game saw him give up two sacks, a hit, and eight hurries as he ended up with the worst grade of his career. Bulaga’s strength is run blocking, and it is one that the Packers will have to utilize in this game to win this matchup. Putting up pass after pass will be playing to the Colts’ strengths.
A Real Running Threat
To say the Packers’ running game has been lacking through four weeks would be an understatement. Not only have they been limited in yardage, ranking 25th in the league in yards per game, they have been limited in their big plays, as was pointed out in this week’s Breakaway Percentage piece. This isn’t an indictment of their offensive line, which has played on par with 2011’s performance (on pace for -18.8 cumulative run blocking compared to -18.3 last year). The ineffectiveness falls squarely on free-agent pickup Cedric Benson who just hasn’t been getting the job done. He hasn’t had a breakaway run all year, while Randall Cobb has produced two such runs on only two carries, and Benson’s Elusive Rating is a mediocre 23.8 compared to James Starks’ 61.0 in 2011.
This will certainly be a point of contention because of the Colts’ shortcomings against the run so far. Incredibly, no starter on the Colts’ defense has a positive grade against the run. Even though it was the big pass that burned the Colts in their last game, it was the Jaguars’ 5.8 yards per carry that cost them the game. The Colts just plain can’t afford to have the Packers beat them with the run in this game.
Andrew Luck vs. Packers Secondary
Green Bay’s corners and safeties have made a living off the turnover ever since Charles Woodson signed with them all the way back in 2006. Since then, the Packers have never been ranked lower than sixth in interceptions and have been ranked first, second, and first again since Dom Capers took over as defense coordinator in 2009. The Packers will jump routes and take chances gambling that they’ll make the right calls more than the opposing quarterback. Against young and inexperienced quarterbacks, the Packers usually win that gamble. Rookie quarterbacks have a combined grade of -1.5 with six interceptions in four games against the Packers since 2011.
Andrew Luck is not just any rookie quarterback though. The No. 1 pick has led go-ahead drives with under 2:00 left in the fourth quarter in back-to-back games. He has shown great intangibles and athleticism (+3.4 running), but his accuracy will be a concern in this game. Luck’s Accuracy Percentage is 65.8%, good for only 29th in the league. The quarterback mold that has seen success against the Green Bay secondary is the extremely accurate quick passer (e.g. Alex Smith, Drew Brees) and inconsistency plays right into the Packers’ hands (e.g. Jay Cutler). For Luck to be successful he has to improve on his -1.3 grade on passes less than 10 yards. If he can’t it could be a long day.