The Indianapolis Colts face the Detroit Lions in the 2016 regular season opener. The Colts struggled through an injury plagued 2015 while the Lions were never able to crawl out of an 0-5 start to the season.
The 2016 season is finally upon us and the Colts open the year by hosting the Lions. Indy finished 8-8 last season, with approximately all of the injuries. The Lions were 7-9 and saw yet another dominant superstar get tired of perpetual failure and retire early.
The Colts and Lions haven’t faced each other since 2012, when Andrew Luck was a rookie. That game required a fourth quarter rally as Luck found Vick Ballard as time expired for the game winning touchdown. Bruce Arians was the coach then as Chuck Pagano was finishing up his battle with cancer. This was a classic slow start game for Indy, but also showcased Luck’s brilliance and ability to bounce back.
But four years means these team’s are completely different. Luckily for the Colts they won’t have to worry about Calvin Johnson doing his Megatron thing (13 for 171 yards and a TD in 2012), but the secondary is a mess for the Colts and Matthew Stafford might be able to put the ball wherever he wants Sunday.
Here’s what fans should be watching for the Colts in the 2016 matchup:
- Pass protection. This will be a theme all season long: can the Colts protect Luck? Detroit ranked eighth in pass rush last season and will test the home team Sunday. If this line can be merely average, that would be an improvement over the past four years. Shockingly, there is an outside chance Jack Mewhort will return to the lineup, but smart money says he’s out at least another week. We saw this unit struggle and even the cornerstone pieces had issues during the preseason. If the protection can’t improve, it will be another long disappointing season for the Colts.
- Run game. Is there any chance whatsoever that the Colts will be decent running the ball in 2016? The Lions were 14th in run defense efficiency last season so this will be a good litmus test for the rest of the year. Part of the issue has always been how the Colts choose to run the ball. Will they line up in power, two tight end formations or from spread out three receiver sets? The latter is more effective, but history says the former will be the team’s MO, despite not having the personnel to do so.
- Redzone efficiency. The Colts struggled to score when they reached the redzone during the preseason. This has been a bit of problem when the team has been without players like Ahmad Bradshaw, who was like a super weapon for this team in that area of the field. It feels like they’ll be most efficient scoring from 20-plus yards out and certainly have the weapons to do so, but the Colts have to get touchdowns when they get this close to the endzone.
- Pass rush. With the secondary in shamble, the Colts will desperately need to get Stafford off his spot quickly. That role largely falls to Robert Mathis, who sat out the preseason because he can. The Lions line ranked 22nd in pass protection last season, but the Colts don’t have too many players who can consistently bring pressure. Kendall Langford is expected to play, but how much he’s on the field remains to be seen. The Colts will have to blitz and that means more one-on-one outside matchups that they’re unlikely to win. The Colts really need a 2013-style game from Mathis to get stops on defense.
- The secondary. This could get ugly. Real ugly. Maybe you don’t want to watch this unit. Antonio Cromartie didn’t play all preseason and was lounging on his couch three weeks ago before the Colts called. Patrick Robinson is coming off a groin injury but appears to be completely healthy now. Darius Butler and Vontae Davis are out with ankle injuries. Clayton Geathers out with a foot injury. That least rookie T.J. Green to start alongside aging Mike Adams. Good luck secondary, better hope Stafford is off his game or Mathis becomes unblockable.
- Must win? The Colts can’t afford a slow start to the season, and dropping the home opener would be particularly bad. There seems to be some apathy about the Colts heading into the season and a win Sunday would go a long way towards exciting the fan base again. With all the injuries it would be understandable if they lose (and lose badly). This is one of the “winnable” games on the schedule in 2016 and with a tarip to Denver next week, the Colts can’t afford to start the year 0-2 with such a backloaded schedule.
The Colts should win this game, but it could easily be a high scoring affair. Or not. This is one of those games where it is really tough to get a feel for how it will play out (fairly common for season openers). How will the Colts line actually look? Will Stafford be able to compete without his safety blanket? This is a toss up but with homefield advantage, I’ll take the Colts.