The Indianapolis Colts weren’t so fortunate in the scheduling department for Week 1 of the 2012 NFL season, drawing a matchup against a strong Chicago Bears team at Soldier Field and losing 41-21.
The Colts (0-1) might fare better there this week.
Indianapolis, on the heels of a rough opening to the Andrew Luck era — the No. 1 pick in April’s draft turned the ball over four times in his first career start — will look to grab its first win of the season at 1 p.m. today in its home opener against the Minnesota Vikings.
Both the Colts and the Vikings (1-0) are in rebuilding phases with young quarterbacks and heavily depleted rosters. Minnesota won its season opener in overtime against the Jacksonville Jaguars on a Blair Walsh field goal. With that in mind, in which areas did the Vikings excel to put themselves in position to win, and how might the Colts combat those areas today to get their first win?
Let’s take a look:
- Running game (a.k.a. Adrian Peterson): Any discussion of the Vikings’ offense has to start — and often end — with Peterson, the best running back in the NFL over the last six years. “All Day” has shown no fragility or rust in his return from an ACL tear last December. He averaged just under five yards per carry against Jacksonville and scored two rushing touchdowns. The Colts allowed Bears running backs Matt Forte and Michael Bush 122 yards on 28 carries (4.4 yards per carry) and three rushing scores. It appears the Indy defense, a unit in transition to a 3-4, will have its work cut out for it again today in defense of the run. Not only is Peterson as talented a back as there is in the league; Minnesota’s offensive line has experienced marked improvement from an abysmal 2011 campaign with the addition of rookie left tackle Matt Kalil. Kalil, a bona fide blind-side protector, allowed Charlie Johnson, the former Colt who filled that role for the Vikings last year, to slide inside to guard, where he’s better suited. And Peterson behind a better line? Scary thought.
- Christian Ponder. The Vikings’ 2011 first-round pick had an efficient, effective beginning to his sophomore campaign, going 20-of-27 for 270 yards. What makes Ponder a nice complement to Peterson — and thus an ideal fit in the Vikings’ offense — is his ability to throw on the run. That could be problematic for the Colts, given the aforementioned improvement of Minnesota’s offensive line as well as the loss of top pass rusher Dwight Freeney to an ankle injury. Indy’s defense started strong against the Bears but completely fell apart once Freeney left. They couldn’t pressure Jay Cutler — while playing a suspect offensive line. Kalil, Johnson, right tackle Phil Loadholt and center John Sullivan figure to present a much tougher barrier through which the Colts must break. Coach Chuck Pagano and defensive coordinator Greg Manusky might need to get creative with their blitz packages without Freeney, and given how the secondary played against Chicago, it might not be risking much to do so.
- Pass rush. Jared Allen is as dangerous as pass rushers come. The Colts likely will provide left tackle Anthony Castonzo with some help blocking Allen, but that could open the door for the Vikings’ other end, Brian Robison, to take advantage of one-on-one matchups, and it might net some pass-rushing work for other Minnesota defenders; linebacker E.J. Henderson and cornerback Chris Cook each had a sack against the Jaguars. Defensive tackle Kevin Williams always is a force himself. The Colts’ offensive line, on the other hand, was nothing short of abysmal against the Bears. It gave Luck next to no time to do anything in the pocket and was responsible for the rookie quarterback’s lost fumble at least. If the line holds up better against Minnesota, Luck might be able to make better decisions (he threw three interceptions against Chicago) and take advantage of the Vikings’ shaky secondary. Given the kind of protection we saw last week and the individual matchups with the Vikings, however, it’s a dicey prospect at best.