The Indianapolis Colts take the field at Lucas Oils Stadium Sunday to play their most meaningful game of the season to date against the Miami Dolphins.
These two former AFC East rivals were predicted by most to be at, or close to, the bottom of the division standings. In a show of how unpredictable the NFL truly is, both teams are instead holding down the second place spot in their divisions with identical 4-3 records. Though I despise the “if the season ended today” factoids (because the season doesn’t end today), the Colts and the Dolphins would be in the playoffs “if the season ended today.” Miami as the 5th seed, Indy as the 6th.
So this game, while maybe not a true marquee game on the surface, does have some early playoff implications. It also could potentially be the first regular season match-up between two of the three quarterbacks drafted in the top ten in last year’s draft (Andrew Luck and Ryan Tannehill) if Tannehill’s knee allows him to play.
Comparing the overall numbers Luck and Tannehill, Luck has a clear advantage. Yes, Tannehill is completing a higher percentage of throws (55.6% versus 55.6% for Luck), but he’s also attempted fewer passes in the same number of games (203 attempts versus Luck’s 288). Luck has more yardage (1,971 to Tannehill’s 1,472) and touchdowns (8). Luck has thrown more interceptions (8), but Tannehill has more interceptions than touchdowns (6 picks against 4 scores).
Both young quarterbacks are playing well enough to win. I would say that the Colts are winning because of Luck, and the Dolphins are merely winning with Tannehill. That may not seem like a big distinction, but trust me, it is.
If the Colts hope to win, they need to play vastly better on offense – especially against Miami’s stout defense. On defense, Miami is rocking 18 points per game allowed (5th in the NFL), and giving up only 82.0 yards on the ground (2nd). However, a chink in the proverbial armor may be the pass defense, which gives up 281 yards a game (27th). If Andrew Luck can make smart decisions and not force bad passes into the end zone, he could have some real success. The other question is whether or not the Colts ground game can duplicate the sort of numbers it has had the past two weeks, when it has averaged 159.5 yards.
Helping matters is Miami’s 23rd ranked offense, and the Colts defense finally starting to get healthy. Linebackers Pat Angerer, Jerrel Freeman, and Robert Mathis and defense end Fili Moala should all play. Their presence will be key if they hope to slow down Reggie Bush and the ‘Phins 11th ranked rushing attack, which includes 10 touchdowns on the ground (4th in the NFL).
3 Things to Watch
Andrew Luck – The young Colts leader has struggled the last three weeks, throwing just one touchdown versus three interceptions. If the Colts run game cannot get going, Luck is going to have to make plays with his arm, and the Dolphins defense may be just the kind of opponent Luck needs to get back on track.
Reggie Bush vs. Colts Run D – Miami’s multi-threat back has been slowed by injuries this year, but is still a danger despite averaging just over 70 yards per game in 2012. The Indy defense has not been healthy all season, but should have a lot of those key players back today.
Dwayne Allen – With the loss of Coby Fleener, it is imperative that Allen play a larger role in the offense. Reggie Wayne will still be the go-to-guy, make no mistake. But the ‘Phins will likely try to double cover him, which Luck will need to anticipate. Dumping the ball off to his fellow rookie tight end would be a good idea to loosen things up down the field.
My 5 Predictions
Luck – He needs to play better this week, and I think he will. Don’t be surprised to see him throw for 325 yards and two touchdowns. I’m going to go big here and say he also gets one on the ground for his best game as a professional quarterback.
Reggie Wayne – If Luck is successful in spreading the ball around early on, things will loosen up for Wayne, the NFL’s leader in receiving yards this year so far. The only real black mark on his numbers is the fact he’s only notched two touchdowns. With Luck on fire, he catches 9 passes for 90 yards and his third score.
Reggie Bush – The Colts have historically been bad on run defense. 2012 has been no different, with the Colts ranking 27th in yardage allowed through 7 games. Bush will take advantage of that, going for 110 yards and a score.
Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis – With Freeney and Mathis likely to both be on the field for the majority of the game at the same time – something that has been very rare this year – it should allow one of them to get free on a near play-by-play basis and get to the Dolphins quarterback (whoever it winds up being). They combine for 3 sacks.
Final Score – I think the Colts will come out on top in a close game, winning 24-20.
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