West Coast meets the Midwest when the high-flying Los Angeles Rams (1-0) come to the Circle City to take on the Indianapolis Colts (1-0) on Sunday afternoon.
The Rams' 2021 season couldn't have gotten off to a better start with a 34-14 beatdown of the Bears on "Sunday Night Football." It was a complete team victory as Los Angeles dominated in almost every phase of the game. Matthew Stafford was as sharp as ever in his Rams debut, and the defense made life miserable for Andy Dalton and the Chicago offense. Stafford and Co. have another opportunity to put up big points against an Indianapolis defense that struggled last week against Seattle.
For the Colts, it was the same ole story — another Week 1 defeat. The loss marks the team's eighth straight dropped season opener and their 11th in 12 tries. The way the Rams dominated the Bears last week was exactly how the Seahawks manhandled the Colts, in every way imaginable. Don't be fooled by the modest 28-16 Seattle win. The game was never that close. Sunday's game against Los Angeles gives Indianapolis a great chance to right the wrongs from Week 1, but it will be far from easy.
Los Angeles at Indianapolis
Kickoff: Sunday, Sept. 19, at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Rams -3.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Stafford starting out hot
It's hard to imagine Stafford's Rams debut going any better than it did on Sunday night. Stafford, whom the Rams traded for in the offseason, was darn near perfect against the Bears. He went 20-of-26 for 321 yards with three touchdowns and a near-perfect 156.1 passer rating. His first two touchdown passes went for 67 and 56 yards, respectively.
On the flip side, it's hard to imagine the Colts' secondary having a worse day than what it did against Russell Wilson and the Seahawks. Wilson absolutely dissected Indianapolis' coverage bit by bit. Well, actually, chunk by massive chunk, as the Colts gave up nearly 10 yards per play in the first half and Wilson finished the day with four touchdown passes and only five incompletions. One of those touchdowns, a 69-yard bomb to Tyler Lockett, felt like the death blow 40 seconds before halftime.
With starting cornerback Xavier Rhodes out of the lineup, Wilson knew he could take advantage of a shorthanded secondary, averaging 11.0 yards per passing attempt, the highest total in Week 1. Stafford should be able to repeat Wilson's performance against Indy's defensive backfield for himself, especially with Rhodes likely out again, as he averaged nearly nine yards per attempt against the Bears.
The one silver lining for the Colts' defense in Week 1 was their ability to pressure Wilson. He was sacked three times and pressured on 21 percent of his throws even though the Colts only blitzed four times. The catch, however, is that Wilson picked them apart while most of the defenders were in pass coverage and whilst he was on the run. Perhaps defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus will call for more blitzes against a much more statuesque Stafford, who was hardly touched last week against Chicago.
2. Indy's O-line concern
For the past few seasons, the Colts' offensive line has been their greatest asset. Last week, the same line that had been so dominant, looked hapless against Seattle's front seven, leaving Carson Wentz extremely uncomfortable in his Indy debut. Things started out well enough with Wentz connecting on nine of his first 10 passes. But after the first quarter, things fell apart up front as Wentz was pressured on 31 percent of his throws, hit 10 times, and sacked thrice.
Since former left tackle Anthony Castonzo's offseason retirement, the Colts' offensive line has been somewhat in flux. Indy brought in two-time Pro Bowler Eric Fisher from Kansas City, but he is still recovering from a torn Achilles suffered last winter. His status for Sunday is still unknown. Julién Davenport started last week at left tackle and got boat raced almost every down. Guard Quenton Nelson, the game's best offensive lineman, has been hobbled by recent foot surgery, and now starting right tackle Braden Smith is doubtful for Sunday with a foot injury of his own.
Since Wentz is also coming off his own foot surgery, missing valuable preseason reps with receivers, and playing without veteran receiver T.Y. Hilton (neck), it's absolutely vital that the Colts keep their $98 million quarterback upright. With Aaron Donald and the No. 1 defense from a season ago coming to Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday, the Colts' once-vaunted O-line better figure it out — fast.
3. "Run the damn ball"
That was the Colts' rallying cry a couple of years ago and not just an excuse for me to swear ever so lightly. It's time for the Colts to take their own advice. And the best way to integrate their new but fragile quarterback into a new offensive system is to be effective running the ball — something they did rather well in the second half of 2020, but not so much this past Sunday.
Last week, the Seahawks took away every running lane Jonathon Taylor thought he might have in a matter of a blink. Taylor (1,169 yds., 11 TDs, 5.0 ypc in 2020) was held to just 56 yards on 17 carries, averaging out to a lousy 3.3 yards per attempt. Combined with backup Nyheim Hines' nine carries, their collective average was only 3.5 yards per carry. Most Indy rushing attempts were snuffed out by the time either back took the handoff, essentially adding more pressure on Wentz's arm.
This week, perhaps the Colts can reverse their misfortunes by establishing a run game against the Rams. Los Angeles' defense was stout against the Bears' passing game, sacking Andy Dalton three times and forcing two turnovers, but struggled to slow down Chicago's run game. The Rams surrendered 5.2 yards per carry and two touchdowns as David Montgomery gashed them for 108 yards on just 16 carries (6.8 ypc).
Again, it all boils down to the Colts' offensive line and their ability to get back to form and keep the Rams' dangerous front seven in check. Easier said than done.
Last week, these two teams couldn't have looked more opposite of one another if they tried. The Rams were totally on point in almost every way, while the Colts looked like they hadn't practiced all summer. While I feel the Indy offense will improve this week, I don't think it will be enough for the Rams' hyper-aggressive passing game against an exposed Colts secondary.
Prediction: Rams 34, Colts 28
— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.