Tue, 27 Oct 2020

Opposing Viewpoint: 5 Questions (and Answers) About Colts

Minnesota Vikings
19 Sep 2020, 04:37 GMT+10

Eric Smith

With Week 2 on the horizon, the Vikings are looking for a bounce-back performance from their defense, and sustained time of possession on offense.

But what are some key storylines from the other side?

To find that out, Vikings.com chatted with Colts reporter Andrew Walker for a glance at what Indianapolis is thinking before Sunday's game.

Here is the Week 2 of Opposing Viewpoint:

The Vikings played against Philip Rivers late in the 2019 season, but it's a little weird seeing him in a Colts uniform. How has he adjusted to his new team, and what dynamic has he brought to Indianapolis?

AW: Even I had to admit it was a little weird at first seeing Philip Rivers wearing that No. 17 practice jersey and the Horseshoe on his helmet those first couple days of training camp practices. You've got to remember that this guy was a huge rival of the Colts going back several years, including some notable AFC playoff matchups, but I guess if we've learned nothing else the past year or so around here at the quarterback position, it's to expect the unexpected, right? The Colts were content with bringing back Jacoby Brissett as their starter heading into the offseason after he showed enough last year, especially in their 5-2 start, which included a road win over the Kansas City Chiefs, and then he really wasn't able to find the same consistency after suffering a knee injury Week 9 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. But once free agency started heating up, there was this "unique opportunity" to bring in a guy like Rivers, who has a ton of familiarity within head coach Frank Reich and offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni's system - Reich was Rivers' quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator with the Chargers from 2013-15, and Sirianni was an offensive quality control, quarterbacks and wide receivers coach with the Chargers from 2013-17. So, in that aspect, Rivers was really able to hit the ground running; what was left was working on getting on the same page with his offensive line and pass catchers, which he was able to accelerate through during camp. Simply put: Reich wants more "chunks" through the air this season (16-plus yards), and that's historically what Rivers is always going to give you. Last Sunday's opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars wasn't perfect by any means, but you did see eight of those chunk passing plays to five different receivers, so if Rivers can keep that going while limiting the interceptions, which were an issue last season and also last Sunday against the Jaguars, then this offense, with its talented offensive line and run game, should be pretty hard to stop at times.

The Colts lost running back Marlon Mack to an Achilles injury in Week 1. How does that impact the Colts offense, and who steps up in his place?

AW: You always feel for a guy who suffers such a serious injury so early into the season, but it just feels like an extra hard punch in the gut when you consider it happened to a guy like Marlon Mack. This guy has just quietly built himself into one of the better (and more underrated, in my biased opinion) running backs in the league, and he's also been about as tough as they come. He played almost his entire rookie season in 2017 with a torn labrum in his shoulder, and then last year, he broke his hand, had surgery, missed just three games and returned to play the final four games of the season to earn his first-career 1,000-yard rushing performance. Fortunately for the Colts, while they'll miss Mack's all-around presence, they do have a deep running back group to step up in his place. Most will point at 2020 second-round pick Jonathan Taylor as Mack's primary replacement, and with good reason: Taylor, who starred at Wisconsin, finished his college career sixth all-time in NCAA history in rushing yards, and matches his chiseled frame with elite speed, and Rivers is going to make sure he is involved in the passing game, something he didn't do much for the Badgers. But the Colts will also rely on Nyheim Hines, who is their primary receiving threat out of the backfield, but also could see an uptick in his usage carrying the ball, as well as third-year back Jordan Wilkins, who has gotten more limited reps his first two years in the league behind Mack and Hines, but has made the most of his opportunities - since 2018, Wilkins' 5.79 yards-per-carry average is second among all NFL running backs with at least 100 carries.

Colts Head Coach Frank Reich is his third season in charge with the Colts, but Vikings fans might not know much about him. What kind of culture has he created?

AW: If I had to compare Frank Reich to anybody as a coach in terms of his demeanor and the culture he's creating, it would definitely be Tony Dungy. And that makes sense, considering it was Dungy who gave Reich his first coaching opportunity with the Colts as an intern in 2006 before he started working his way up the ladder, and the two remain very close to this day. But like Dungy, Reich has this calm aura about him; he can get fired up at times like anybody else, but he doesn't need to yell and scream and demean to get his point across. Players respect that. They also respect the fact that Reich is a former player himself, having spent 13 years as a quarterback in the NFL, most notably as Jim Kelly's backup with those talented Buffalo Bills teams of the late-1980s and early-1990s (but it was Reich who led the Bills to the greatest postseason comeback in NFL history, 32 points, against the Houston Oilers in January 1993). Reich has been very consistent and seems to have a good feel for when he should press on the gas or apply the brakes when it comes to his players, which is oftentimes half the battle. And that's not even getting into his acumen and creativity as an offensive play-caller. So Reich has just done a solid job establishing his vision and his expectations - "trust, toughness and team" are his three biggest goals each year - and the future certainly looks bright with him in charge.

Both teams are 0-1 after Week 1. What went wrong at the end of Sunday's loss for the Colts, and how important is it for Indianapolis to avoid falling into an 0-2 hole?

AW: It sure started off well. The Colts received the opening kickoff and needed just three minutes, 18 seconds (seven plays) to go 63 yards and get into the end zone with a 12-yard Hines touchdown run. The defense answered by forcing a Jaguars punt on their first drive, and then the Colts drove right back deep into Jacksonville territory, getting all the way to the 3-yard line. Reich elected to go for it on fourth-and-1, but Hines was stuffed on the play, and that, coupled with the injury to Mack, really seemed to shift the momentum to the other side. Offensively, Indy, which has been one of the league's best in the red zone under Reich, converted just 2-of-5 red zone opportunities into touchdowns on the day, with costly penalties to blame for most of those issues. Rivers also threw two head-scratching interceptions, the second of which occurred late in the fourth quarter as the team tried to mount a game-winning drive. The Colts defense, meanwhile, wasn't doing much to stop Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew II, who was perfectly content taking the shorter and more intermediate open looks to finish 19-of-20 passing for 173 yards and three touchdowns on the day; some communication issues and penalties in the back end on the rare occasions Minshew II did press the ball down the field certainly didn't help matters. Heading into Sunday's game, the Colts find themselves in a similar position as the Vikings, in that these teams both know they play in solid divisions, and, of course, every game counts, but you're really not doing yourself any favor by starting out in an 0-2 hole. I'm looking forward to seeing how both teams react after disappointing losses to begin the season.

Finally, the Vikings will see a familiar face in cornerback Xavier Rhodes, who spent seven seasons in Purple. How has he acclimated to the defense, and how'd he fare in Week 1?

AW: The selling point for Xavier Rhodes to sign with the Colts this offseason after his release from the Vikings was that he has two defensive backs coaches in Indy in Jonathan Gannon and Alan Williams who were with him in Minnesota that he feels, and the team feels, can get him back to playing at the Pro Bowl or All-Pro type level that he showed in that 2016 to 2017 timeframe. The major difference for Rhodes in this system, however, is that the Colts like to primarily run zone defensive schemes as opposed to the more man-to-man approach that he had utilized with the Vikings, so that certainly has, and will continue to be, an adjustment for the veteran corner. Rhodes didn't have the greatest of debuts last Sunday against the Jaguars - he had a costly pass interference penalty that eventually led to a Jacksonville field goal in the third quarter, and then was trailing in coverage on the eventual game-winning 22-yard touchdown pass to Keelan Cole at the 6:04 mark of the fourth quarter - but the Colts will rely on Rhodes to move on and shift his focus to his former Vikings team on Sunday. You've got to imagine he'll be a little fired up for this one.

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