The New York Jets go on the road to take on the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday in a rematch of Super Bowl III. Previewing this matchup, Chris Blystone of Stampede Blue was kind enough to answer a few questions for me regarding the 2020 Colts.
1. How much does Philip Rivers have left in the tank? Signing him at age 39 seems like the ultimate win now move. Is he still capable of leading the Colts to a Super Bowl?
From what we’ve seen through two weeks, Rivers certainly has exactly what the Colts need with their current roster to succeed. In week one the Colts saw some things in Rivers that are trademarks of who he is as a QB. He takes shots and gives his receivers opportunities to make plays. Sometimes that pays off and sometimes it means he throws a pick you’d like to have back. Ultimately, he has been efficient and capable.
When the Colts brought him in, it was with the understanding that their roster composition is such that the quarterback should not need to carry the team on their back every week. If we get to a point in the season where we are counting on Rivers to do something incredible every week to stay in games, the team will likely struggle. So long as he is a contributor and not the guy who has to run the show, this team has what it takes to win it all. Having said that, he has shown the ability to still make some incredible throws, and I don’t have the foreboding feeling that if the Colts need him to win some games for them, that he is incapable of doing so. As with most older quarterbacks, the back stretch of the season will be telling, but I don’t see major physical regression from what he was in 2018, which was pretty great.
2. What is the succession plan for the post-Rivers era? Is Jacob Eason the guy, or will the Colts be looking for a new QB soon?
If there is one, the Colts aren’t telling. Losing Andrew Luck threw a wrench in the works and my feeling is that if they get consistent performance from Rivers, he’ll be back in 2021. GM Chris Ballard has been adamant about not rushing a QB pick just because they need one. Additionally, they’ve downplayed Jacob Eason’s role on the team in a major way from day one. He is the third string quarterback behind Jacoby Brissett, but is the only quarterback who’ll be under contract next year, as things currently stand.
I am sure they’ll give Eason a fair shake to develop, but there is a reason he wasn’t selected until the 4th round, and I don’t have a great deal of optimism that he is the guy long term. My sense is that the Colts will likely be in the quarterback market early in the 2021 draft.
3. The Colts currently have the #1 defense in the NFL in terms of yards allowed. Is this Colts defense good enough to keep that position for the entire season?
Yes and no. The Colts don’t have a slate of powerhouse offenses to begin the season, and that’s contributed heavily to those numbers. They struggled greatly in week one against a very young Jaguars team, and the game was lost in large part because they didn’t make the necessary plays to stop them. Last week against the Vikings saw the defense as we predicted them to be over the offseason. DeForest Buckner looked like the monster he was brought in to be, and that impact rippled to every level of the defense.
Darius Leonard has been great through two games, and the Colts are getting good production from their young secondary as well. If the Colts defense stays in number one all season, it will at least be to an extent about who they’ve played. However, they are a very good defensive unit that has depth at many levels. That top spot may be a bit of an illusion, but they are certainly a top ten unit.
4. Mo Alie Cox. Cut multiple times in 2017 and again in 2018. Finally stuck with the team for a full 16 games in 2019 but was a complete non-factor. Suddenly exploded last week for a 100+ yard game. Is Cox the real deal or was that just a freak outlier of a game? If he’s that good, why did it take 3+ seasons before he had more than 34 yards receiving in an NFL game?
Mo-Alie Cox is an interesting case. Prior to joining the Colts, his football experience extended to time on the team in his freshman year of high school. He caught the team’s eye after playing basketball at Virginia Commonwealth University. That’s very evident when you watch him go up and get the football. However, being such a raw player, he simply took time to develop and grow. Last season he made himself a major factor as a blocking tight end, and with the loss of Jack Doyle to injury for last week’s game and the early exit for receiver Parris Campbell, saw his number called. He looked every bit the part, and one of our writers broke down his performance in total from last week. In short, I think he is the real deal. He is raw, but has all the potential the Colts could want, and it seems like that potential is starting to be realized.
5. What is the best way to attack the Colts on offense and on defense?
Offensively, the Colts have a mantra that they adopted with the drafting of Quenton Nelson 6th overall in 2019. “Run the damn ball” has been the plan since he joined the team, and the offensive line is the team’s greatest strength. They’ll run it early, and they’ll run it often. The best way to mitigate that is to win battles up front on defense and to clog the interior with linebackers finding their run fits quickly.
Jonathan Taylor is a very talented back, but he’s a rookie and left a lot of yards on the field last week. He hits the designed holes, and didn’t cut back the way Marlon Mack would have done, so quick diagnosis for the linebackers and safeties will be a key. If Taylor is consistently getting to the second level, or getting around the outside edge, he has game breaking speed. If the Jets can force the game into more of a passing contest, it will be potentially better for them. Rivers is still developing rapport with his receivers, and many of them are young and learning.
On defense, the best bet is to move the ball by hitting the quick pass to the flats and to soft zones in a defense that plays off receivers. The Colts give up short passes and make it their goal to limit the run and big plays by swarming to the ball. To move the ball effectively against them, you have to be consistent, disciplined, and be able to sustain long drives. If the Jets can get the ball to running backs on screen plays and find soft spots in the zone coverage, that will be their best bet for success.