1. Better performances from depth pieces
The greatest trait of Shane Steichen and his staff has been their ability to build the gameplan around the strengths of each player. Steichen has proven himself as a play caller and although Week16 was not his best performance, the Colts were given some bad injury news prior to the game. Zack Moss did not practice all week and was ruled out on Saturday but starting WR Michael Pittman Jr. was ruled out with more concussion symptoms after clearing the leagues protocol. Blake Freeland also got torched multiple times while filling in for the injured Braden Smith.
On the defensive side of the ball, we saw the implications of the Tony Brown suspension with Ameer Speed and Nick Cross covering in his absence. Speed covered mostly on special teams and Cross on the defense. Cross is not a specialized nickel corner but can play when called upon. Starter Julian Blackmon left with a shoulder injury and it’s likely that Nick Cross will step into that role this week to play alongside Rodney Thomas II.
If Pittman is out this week against Las Vegas, the Colts will be reliant upon an underwhelming Alec Pierce and unproven DJ Montgomery again. Pittman has been so reliable and a security blanket for Minshew this season that he is almost irreplaceable. The Colts made an interesting signing of the once retired Jared Veldheer and he may be called upon this coming week. Veldheer brings experience to this line for a playoff run. While Freeland has been serviceable, Veldheer has the veteran presence to handle the Raiders pass rush and front four.
Steichen and his offensive staff have shown the ability to create game plans, schemes, and adjust this season. Without question, they didn’t execute this week (no one did) but now we really find out if Gus Bradley can redeem himself heading into the final two weeks of the season. Davante Adams and Josh Jacobs will be one of the toughest tests that JuJu Brents and the defensive front have faced or will to this point this season.
A fast start, consistency and executing at a high level will be imperative this weekend if the Colts want any chance of making the playoffs, as their margin for error is now razor thin. If this defense cannot put together a strong performance, it might be time to find a new voice for this unit, playoff berth or not.