As Bruce Arians said on Tuesday, the Indianapolis Colts are “going high” right now, and the Arians team will be the next to try and get them under control.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will travel to Indiana this weekend to face a Colts team who have won five of their last six games and have just come out of a “statement game” in which they beat an of AFC’s top contenders, the Buffalo Bills, by a score of 41-15. Running back Jonathan Taylor stepped into the discussion about the NFL MVP with a five touchdown performance and the Indianapolis defense kept Josh Allen to 209 yards while pushing him back twice.
After a 0-3 start that began to cast doubt on the wisdom of Indy’s offseason trade for quarterback Carson Wentz, the Colts went 6-2 and are now just a half away. -match the pace for third place Wild Card in the conference. The team’s first five wins came against teams that are currently 15-36 (the Dolphins, Texans, 49ers, Jets and Jaguars), but their Week 11 game in Buffalo appears to identify the Colts as real contenders for the AFC. They are the fifth scoring team in the NFL, they rank 13th in defense, and most importantly, they have by far the best turnover differential in the NFL at plus-15.
This latest note speaks directly to the play of Wentz, the former MVP contender who fell out of favor in Philadelphia after leading the league with 15 interceptions in 2020 and recording 58 fumbles in 68 games as an Eagle. This season, Wentz has only been selected three times and the Eagles are second in the NFL with a 1.11% intercept rate on offense.
The exchange for Wentz during the offseason was the team’s third attempt to replace franchise quarterback Andrew Luck, who abruptly retired just before the 2019 season. Jacoby Brissett got the first shot, then the Colts tried the seasoned veteran route with Philip Rivers in 2020. After Rivers also retired, the team opted for the reclamation project at Wentz, the former second overall pick. One of the reasons it’s working so far is that Indianapolis has built a very promising offense with a series of big hits in the draft. This included goaltender Quenton Nelson (6th overall in 2018), wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. (34th in 2020) and Taylor (41st in 2020). Nelson anchors one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, allowing the Colts to take full advantage of Taylor’s talents.
There are notable players at all levels of defense as well, although a wave of injuries in safety has forced the team to mix up the staff at the back. Another recent trade that paid off for the Colts brought in All-Pro defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, and with defensive ends Justin Houston and Denico Autry starting in the offseason, the team reloaded around the edges with picks. repechage Kwity Paye and Dayo Odeyingbo. Paye’s first two career sacks came in Indy’s last two outings.
Much like the much-vaunted Saints class of 2017, the Colts built a good chunk of their core with impressive work in the 2018 Draft, which started with Nelson in the first round, then delivered linebacker Darius Leonard and tackle from starting right Braden Smith in the second round. This class has also produced continuing contributors like defensive ends Tyquan Lewis and Kemoko Turay and catch-up Nyheim Hines. Leonard rivals Nelson as a star in this class, having amassed three Pro Bowl invitations and two first-team All-Pro nods in just three seasons. More information on Nelson and Leonard in our Difference Makers section below.
The Colts’ offense improves as the season progresses, scoring 30 or more points in five of its last six outings. Meanwhile, the defense has kept four of its last six opponents 18 points or less and has been very opportunistic, recovering an NFL-high 12 fumbles with 13 interceptions. Nine different Indy defenders have a pick this year, led by three from nickel fullback Kenny Moore.
Despite their recent run, the Colts still have a lot of work to do to qualify for the playoffs. They’re still 1.5 games away in the NFC South, and it really looks more like a 2.5 game deficit because they’ve lost to Tennessee twice already. In the confused realm of the AFC, they are one of eight teams that currently have five or six wins. In addition to this weekend’s game with the Buccaneers, the Colts also have last month’s battles against the Cardinals and Patriots. The Colts are no doubt bolstered by their recent performances and feel confident as the defending champions come to town, but they’re also likely to be highly motivated by the challenge of hanging on to the stretching race of the l ‘AFC. Here’s a look at some of the challenges and opportunities the Bucs will face when they travel to Indianapolis to take on the rising Colts on Sunday:
In addition to his effective work as a passer in 2021, Wentz is also quite mobile and has nine career rushing touchdowns. After taking a record 50 sacks in his final year at Philly behind an injury-plagued line, Wentz has enjoyed working with the strong Colts frontline, which ranks seventh in sacks allowed per passing play. . In addition to Nelson and Smith, center Ryan Kelly is among the best in the league in his role. Hines is a good change for Taylor who has 26 receptions this season and second-year catcher Michael Pittman, a contested wrestling stud, is emerging as a star in 2021. In addition to those players, here are four Indianapolis stars. who will be some of the toughest challenges for Tampa Bay in week 12:
1. DT DeForest Buckner. The Colts gave up the 13th overall pick in the 2020 Draft to get Buckner from San Francisco, and coincidentally that pick ended up in the hands of the Buccaneers and was used to take on Tristan Wirfs. Although Buckner plays the position of the three techniques and lines up mostly inside tackles, he could take on Wirfs at times, which would be an impressive battle. Buckner leads the Colts in two sacks (4.5) and QB hits (11), and according to NFL Next Gen Stats, he’s generated 33 quarterback presses this season, or exactly three per game. It’s the 20th highest pressure total in the NFL and among players who line up primarily as interior linemen, it ranks behind Jeffery Simmons, Javon Hargrave and Aaron Donald. Buckner is a huge indoor presence at 6-7 and 295 pounds, and his first season in Indianapolis was everything the Colts could have hoped for. He finished the 2020 season with 9.5 sacks, 26 quarterback hits, 48 tackles, 10 tackles for a loss, two assists defended and even a safety. Buckner also happens to be a force against the race; since arriving, the Colts’ defense has averaged 3.4 yards per carry while on the field and 4.8 yards per carry while on the sidelines.
2. RB Jonathan Taylor. With Derrick Henry sidelined for Tennessee, Taylor has taken on the role of top running back in the NFL and he’s on a tear unlike anything the league has seen in quite some time. Taylor is leading an active eight-game streak in which he has amassed over 100 yards of scrum and scored a touchdown. After entering the end zone on four carries and one assist last Sunday, Taylor leads the league in total touchdowns (15) and rushing touchdowns (13) and he is also averaging 5.8 yards per. race. He also leads the NFL with 68 first runs and with an expected extra points total (EPA) of 34.2. the 226 pound back is powerful but also extremely quick and hard to catch when it hits the open field. On a 78-yard carry-over against the Jets in the ninth week, he hit a top speed of 22.05 miles per hour, the fastest speed of any NFL running back during of the entire 2021 season. Bruce Arians isn’t surprised at Taylor’s success after seeing him at Combine 2020. “Oh, I loved him,” Arians says. “I thought he was fantastic – tall, active, fast, has good hands. He can do anything and it was only a matter of time before, playing behind that offensive line, that he was going to be the strength that it is And that offensive line is very, very special and it’s a special back, so it’s going to be a hell of a challenge for our defense against the run. “
3. LB Darius Leonard. Like fellow 2019 rookie Quenton Nelson, Leonard has won an invitation to the Pro Bowl in each of his first three seasons, and he’s just a first-team All-Pro selection behind Nelson. Leonard has been extremely productive since first entering NFL field, starting with 163 league-leading tackles in his rookie campaign. He’s averaged over nine tackles per game in his first 53 outings and has also filled his stat line with 15.0 sacks, 29 tackles for a loss, nine interceptions, 27 defended passes and 13 forced fumbles. Although he doesn’t have a sack yet in 2021, he has two picks, five assists defended, four forced escapees and three fumbles recovered. These 13 forced fumbles are the third in the NFL since 2018, and in the first nine weeks of the season he was tied for fifth in the NFL off-ball linebackers with seven quarterback presses, with a rate of impressive 29.4% pressure on his forays into the backfield. Leonard is quick, nimble, instinctive, strong and very rarely misses a tackle when in range, which is often the case.
4. G Quenton Nelson. Nelson of Notre Dame was the rare keeper who wouldn’t have to move to be drafted into the top 10, as Indy caught him sixth overall in 2018. He didn’t disappoint, essentially landing fully formed as can be. to be the best indoor lineman in the league. Although he missed time with an ankle injury this season and changed that articulation in the Colts’ win on Sunday, Nelson has been as dominant as ever on the pitch this year. Nelson isn’t just a top player at his post, he’s one of the NFL’s most impressive performers in all position. Ahead of the 2021 season, Pro Football Focus ranked the Indianapolis tackle as the fourth best player in the NFL, period. He’s been credited with allowing a total of three sacks in his first three NFL seasons combined and last year he gave up just 15 QB presses in the regular season and playoffs combined. He’s also one of the most powerful NFL players in the running game, regularly moving strong defensive linemen and creating wide gaps for Taylor and his fellow fullbacks to exploit.