Josh Edwards previews the Redskins vs. Colts tilt and makes a confident (and not at all biased) prediction.
Washington Redskins (1-0) vs Indianapolis Colts (0-1)
When: Sunday 16th September, 1pm EST (6pm GMT)
Where: FedEx Field (Landover, Maryland)
TV: CBS Local/NFL Gamepass Europe
Odds: Washington -5.5
Last Matchup: Colts 49-27 Redskins, Nov 30th 2014
Week one saw the long awaited return of Andrew Luck, who threw for a career high 39 completions with little sign of the debilitating shoulder injury which sidelined him all of last season. Though the Colts lost the game to a promising Bengals outfit, new head coach Frank Reich will be buoyed by Luck’s performance.
On Sunday Luck and co. travel to (just outside) the nation’s capital to take on the rejuvenated 1-0 Redskins, who defeated a lacklustre Arizona team with a physical, varied rushing attack and uncharacteristically dominant defense in the season opener. Here are some of the key questions pertaining to Sunday’s game:
Can the Colts slow down Adrian Peterson and Chris Thompson?
Against the Cardinals the Redskins didn’t feel it necessary to take shots down the field, or even target their wide receivers regularly. Peterson and Thompson, who combined for a total 294 yards (161 rushing, 133 receiving) were the primary outlet early on and given their success behind one of the NFL’s most talented and mobile offensive lines, head coach Jay Gruden didn’t risk changing a winning formula. With such success last Sunday, it seems inconceivable that Washington doesn’t attempt to stamp their authority in a similar fashion in their home opener against Indy. Perhaps the most difficult thing for the Colts to contend with will be the sheer variety of looks Jay Gruden and company will throw at them. Inside zone (naturally), counter, toss, zone read, RPO, fast option and jet sweep were all on show in Arizona, with Peterson running extremely successfully out of the gun, something he has struggled with historically.
The Colts though have an advantage over Arizona in that they have regular season game tape to study in an effort to work out how to limit the effectiveness of Washington’s dynamic duo. It will be tough for defensive co-ordinator Matt Eberflus, who certainly does not have a loaded defensive roster with which to work. In attempting to stop the run on Sunday he will pin hopes on rookie outside linebacker Darius Leonard, who registered 9 tackles against Cincy, and perhaps allow roving second year safety Malik Hooker more time close to the line of scrimmage. Whether or not Eberflus is confident to commit enough defenders to stopping Peterson and Thompson, given the threat of play-action to Jordan Reed et al, remains to be seen.
Will Anthony Castonzo suit up at left tackle for Indy?
After missing week one due to tweaking a hamstring, earlier this week Castonzo was ‘excited to have a full week of practice and get out there and play’, adding ‘absolutely’ when asked if he was ready to go against Washington. However, after a limited practice Wednesday, and missing practice on Thursday, his status for Sunday is uncertain. If the eight year pro can suit up and start, the Colts will have a huge boost, and not just in the passing game. With Castonzo back, Jordan Wilkins will rush behind an offensive line not forced into a considerable rejig, and perhaps the pass-run balance will be more, well, balanced. With 22 rushes for 75 yards at a lowly 3.4 yards per carry against the Bengals, the Colts are after much more on the ground, to help keep opposing defenses honest and concerned about more than TY Hilton, Eric Ebron, Jack Doyle, and ex-Redskin Ryan Grant, who have emerged as Luck’s favourite receivers upon his return.
Can Washington’s improved defense play at a consistently high level?
There have been glimpses, throughout the Gruden tenure in Washington, of an improved, playoff calibre defense, but a lack of consistency and an inability to stop the run the majority of the time has been their downfall. More often than not the disappointments have come after season ending injuries to key players (see Jon Allen 2017, DeAngelo Hall 2016, Junior Galette 2015), though the injury card only gives you so much rope, and quality strength in depth has alluded the Redskins for years. Last season they were dead last in the league in rush defense, allowing 134 yards per game.
This year however there seems cause for sincere optimism, not least due to the improvements on the defensive line, which was on full show in week one. The new look front includes Alabama alums Jon Allen (second year) and DaRon Payne (rookie) on the interior, with perennially underrated pass-rushers Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith on the edge. Matt Ioannidis, fifth round pick out of Temple in 2016, has developed an eye catching bull rush, and there is buzz about rookie Tim Settle, who had established Redskins offensive lineman in trouble during training camp. On Sunday the burgundy and gold faithful will be keeping a very close eye indeed on how the defense shapes up against a different threat in Andrew Luck. If the unit is able to put together back to back stellar performances, something very rare in Washington, heart rates and playoff hopes will rise exponentially.
An unashamed Redskins diehard myself, I am giving the team considerable credit for the manner of last week’s performance and confidently siding with Washington in this one. The Redskins were so dominant on the ground that Gruden was able to keep his trademark, play-action spread passing offense in his back pocket for the most part. Against Indy I am confident that Gruden will look to take more shots down the field, especially given the respect that Indy will have to afford Peterson and Thompson, with playmakers Jordan Reed and Paul Richardson JR looking to build on encouraging week one performances. For Indy, this week could be a microcosm of their season, with Luck impressing despite a lacklustre supporting cast, and the defense struggling to contain their opponent either on the ground or down the field. For the fifth straight season, the Colts will go 0-2.
Washington 30-17 Indianapolis