Seven Things To Watch For: Colts/Cowboys Edition

Intro: A pair of road games await the Colts (10-4) before complete focus shifts to the playoffs. Here’s a look at seven things to watch for in the Cowboys (10-4) meeting the Colts in Week 16.
INDIANAPOLIS – The Colts will now take their act on the road to close out the 2014 regular season.

luck-andrew-03Indianapolis will wrap up its NFC East slate on Sunday with the division-leading Cowboys (10-4) in Week 16.

What should fans be looking for when the Colts head to Jerry’s World on Sunday afternoon?

1. Murray’s Status

-Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray is listed as questionable on Sunday, but the feeling is that he will give it a go. For Dallas, this game is about as close as it gets to a “must win” for Week 16. That means the Cowboys needs the game’s top running back, who has gained more than 400 yards than any other player in the league this season.

2. Fast Starts

-The lack of fast starts from an offensive standpoint has been talked about a ton over the past few weeks. A first down on the opening series come Sunday would be the just the second such gain since Week 10. While the offense looks for some consistency early in games, the defense has been stout in allowing just two first quarter touchdowns all season long.

3. Defensive Momentum

-Since the return of Arthur Jones, the Colts defense is beginning to look like the unit envisioned at the start of the year. However, this Cowboys offense provides a challenge the Colts haven’t seen in 2014. Whether it’s through the pass, run or from a trench-standpoint, the Colts will see an elite offense this weekend.

4. Dez Bryant’s Playmaking

-When teams load the box to slow down Murray, that’s when Bryant takes full advantage of favorable matchups. For the Colts, that probably means some one-on-one looks for Vontae Davis and Greg Toler against the NFL’s leader in receiving touchdowns. When healthy, the Colts secondary has limited the big plays for a large part of 2014, but Bryant will test that this weekend.

5. T.Y. Hilton’s Health

-Hilton is listed as questionable for Sunday after not practicing all week long. If Hilton can’t go on Sunday that would mean more expanded roles for guys like Donte Moncrief and Hakeem Nicks. Can Nicks build off last weekend’s game against the Texans, where he recorded his first touchdown since the New England game?

6. Playoff Barometer

-With each week that goes by, it’s looking more and more like the Colts will have to make trips to Denver and/or New England in order to reach the game’s grandest stage. In that path stands two impressive offenses, just like the opponent this weekend. Dallas is certainly a desperate team searching for a playoff bid, so Sunday will be a nice warmup for the month of January.

7. Resting vs. Health

-Chuck Pagano has made it clear the Colts won’t rest guys just strictly to hold guys out. Nagging injuries will be taken into consideration though and that’s something to watch when inactives come out just before 3:00 p.m. on Sunday. The Colts will pretty much lock up the No. 3 seed with one more victory and still have a very slim chance at earning a bye.

Keys to the Game: Chargers vs. Broncos

Here are your keys to the game between the Chargers and Broncos.

121114FlowersChat630 Here are five keys to the game between the San Diego Chargers and the Denver Broncos.
1. Feed Keenan–Keenan Allenhad strung together strong games in Week 12 and 13, posting six catches for 104 yards and a touchdown against the St. Louis Rams and 11 receptions for 121 yards and two scores against the Baltimore Ravens.  Unfortunately, he was held to season lows in receptions (two) and yards (three) in a loss to the New England Patriots last week.  The good news heading into Sunday’s important tilt is that Allen has feasted on Denver in the past, having more success against the Broncos than any other opponent in four career games.  More specifically, he’s dominated the last three.  In that span, he has five touchdowns with 17 catches for 244 yards (14.4 yards per catch).  Just like this season, the Bolts and Broncos squared off in Week 15 a year ago and it was a game in which Allen authored his signature play by leaping over defenders before bullying his way into the end zone.  While some may assume Allen gets pumped up even more to face the team’s rival, he says he approaches it the exact same way as any other game,:“There really is no difference.  I take the same mindset I take every other game.  It seems to be working that way, so that is how I approach it.”

2. Pressure Peyton Off His Mark– Few are more accurate and lethal than Peyton Manning when he has time to sit in the pocket and survey the field.  The Bolts have had their most success against him when able to move him off his mark, and they lamented their inability to get much pressure on the quarterback in their first meeting.  While they only had one sack last week against Tom Brady, they did a good job getting in his face and frustrating him into misthrows and turnovers. Melvin Ingram,Jerry Attaochuand Manti Te’o will be called upon to get to Manning, and all three of those linebackers missed the previous meeting. Defensive Coordinator John Pagano was asked about Ingram in particular, and he said “SupaMelvin” brings the wow factor:“He’s somebody that gives us unbelievable athletic ability to do the things that we want him to do out on the edge.  He’s a very dimensional player that you can place him in a lot of different spots.  Not playing for those two months and getting him back up to speed, the amount of snaps that he’s been playing these last couple weeks have been very important.  But it’s just getting his feel and getting going back in the game.  You see him getting better each week, so that’s been a plus for us…We always talk about guys making those ‘wow’ type of plays, when you’re sitting there watching him on film or watching him during games, and it makes you say, ‘wow!’”

3. Find Balance by Pounding the Rock– The Bolts’ ground attack was virtually non-existent when these two teams squared off back in Week 8 as the offense became unbalanced.  The second half of last week’s game was awfully similar, as the Chargers ran five times for minus-4 yards.  The team has stressed a need to find strong balance between the run and pass, and it is unknown if San Diego will haveRyan Mathewsavailable who is questionable with an ankle injury.  With or without number 24, the offense must run the ball, and Head Coach Mike McCoy said he has confidence in whoever they line up in the backfield: “We have no hesitation at all playing any of the three guys.  They’ve all had their role at different times of the year and have done a nice job of stepping up regardless of who it is.  We’ve won plenty of games with them, so we’ll be fine either way whatever we decide to do on Sunday.”

4. Slow Down C.J. –As noted on Thursday,there may not be a hotter running back in the NFL right now than C.J. Anderson.  In his most recent three games, Anderson has 80 carries for 393 yards (averaging 4.9 yards per carry) with four touchdowns.   Those first two games came in November, when Anderson led all NFL players with 709 yards from scrimmage, which also ranks as the third-most yards from scrimmage in a single month in Broncos history.  Much like the Bolts would like to get the run game back on track to provide balance, Denver aims to do the same, led by Anderson.  Executive Vice President of Football Operations John Spanos explained the secret to his recent success on “Bolts Breakdown”:“He’s really taken advantage of that opportunity.  He’s leading their team in rushes, rushing yards and average per carry.  Undrafted out of Cal, he’s a little shorter but really thick and strong.  This is a guy close to 220 pounds, has a really strong lower body, excellent balance, center of gravity and gets yards after contact.  He’s also dangerous catching the ball out of the backfield.  So he’s really taking advantage of the looks he’s been getting.”

5. Rock the Q! –Sunday is Fan Appreciation Day at Qualcomm Stadiumas it marks the team’s final regular season home game of the year.  The Bolts hope to make it a memorable one and implore fans to rock the Q.  Many plays pointed toward the second quarter last week against the Patriots, when they fed off the excitement followingMalcom Floyd’s touchdown and the subsequent fumble return for a score byDarrell Stuckey. On Wednesday,Philip Riverspoint blank said they need a home field advantage and hopes fans cultivate that culture for the pivotal clash:

“We’re going to need a home field advantage…We’re going to need out fans to be loud and in full force on Sunday to help us get win number nine and finish off our home regular  season with a win.”