GENTLEMEN, START YOUR ENGINES!
It’s time to rev up for a high octane showdown between one of the best teams in the NFC and one of the hottest teams in the AFC. It’s the 7-3 Bucs versus the 6-5 Colts, winners of three straight and five of their last six, including a 41-15 shellacking of the Buffalo Bills last week. It’s definitely not the “gimme” game we all thought this might be when the schedule first came out, so Tampa Bay will have to play much better than they played against the Giants if they want to pull out a much-needed road win on Sunday.
The Bucs are an abysmal 2-3 on the road this season, while the Colts are just 3-3 at home. They have won their last two games inside Lucas Oil Stadium, even though those games were against the Jaguars and Jets. It’s a matchup of one of the league’s best rushing attacks and the league’s best rushing defense. Something’s gotta give! So let’s dive into this Colts team and see what they’re all about before the toe hits the leather for the Bucs vs Colts game.
The Colts offense is currently ranked 11th in total yards averaging 364 yards per game, and 5th in points averaging 28 points per game. They are 4th in the league in rushing, averaging 148 yards per game on the ground. And don’t let their 24th ranked passing game averaging just 216 yards fool you; they have some weapons; they have four of them, in fact, including receivers Michael Pittman Jr., T.Y. Hilton, Zach Pascal, and tight end Jack Doyle. Make no mistake; the Bucs’ first priority, as always, will be to stop the run. Jonathan Taylor has been on fire lately, rushing for 100+ yards in six of his last eight games, including 145 yards against the Texans, 172 yards against the Jets, and 185 yards against the Bills last week. He’s averaged 6.3 yards per carry AND scored 13 rushing touchdowns over that span. In the two games that he didn’t rush for 100+ yards, the Colts lost. Translation: stop Taylor and stop the Colts.
The Colts defense is currently ranked 17th in total yards, with 359 yards per game. They’re allowing 247 passing yards (18th) and 112 rushing yards (15th) while giving up 22 points per game; however, that points per game average is a bit skewed because the Texans only scored 3 points on them. Take that game out, and the number jumps to 24 points per game, taking them from 11th to 24th in the league. They do have some studs on this side of the ball like defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, defensive end Kwity Paye, cornerback Xavier Rhodes and linebackers Darius Leonard and Bobby Okereke. But they shouldn’t be anything this Buccaneers offense can’t handle, as long as they can take care of the football. The Colts lead the league in turnover differential at +15 with 25 takeaways, including 13 interceptions and 12 forced fumbles.
WHO’S IN, WHO’S OUT?
The Bucs are starting to get healthy at just the right time. They got Sean Murphy-Bunting back last week. They could be getting Carlton Davis back soon as well since he is now eligible to practice. It looks like Vita Vea will be back for Sunday, and Scotty Miller could play this week as well. The only player officially listed as “out” is Antonio Brown again. Ali Marpet is listed as “doubtful” with his abdominal strain, but he has been ruled out as well, and Aaron Stinnie will get the start in his place. The only other players listed on the injury report are Devin White and Vita Vea; both are “questionable,” but both will likely play.
The Colts are relatively healthy coming into this game with the Bucs. The only players listed on their final injury report are Darius Leonard and Quenton Nelson, both listed as “questionable“, but both will probably play.
Vita Vea vs Quenton Nelson
Both guys have been injured over the last couple of weeks. Both are listed as “questionable,” but both will probably play. When healthy, these two would be formidable opponents and fun to watch. With both guys battling leg injuries, Vea with a knee and Nelson with an ankle, it will be interesting to see who’s the last man standing in this game.
Donovan Smith vs Kwity Paye
Smith has been playing good football this season, but he has always had trouble with speed rushers. Paye is just that. He only has 2 sacks in 8 games this season, but they’ve both been over the last two weeks.
Rob Gronkowski vs Darius Leonard
I don’t know how much they will be matched up, but when they are, it should be fun to watch. Two of the best at their respective positions going head to head is always good football.
Devin White vs Jonathan Taylor
I can’t wait for these two titans to clash. Both guys have speed and power; both guys are young studs, and both guys are fierce competitors. White will play a key part in keeping Taylor contained in this game, which will be the deciding factor on Sunday.
Jamel Dean vs Michael Pittman Jr.
Dean typically plays on one side of the field, but he will be matched up with Pittman from time to time. Stopping the run will be priority #1, but keeping Pittman from breaking loose will be next on the list.
The Colts are peaking at just the right time, and they’re coming off of a huge road win in Buffalo, where they dominated the Bills. They’re probably feeling pretty good about themselves right about now, and maybe they should be. They had a disappointing start to a season that began with high expectations. Now things are clicking, and they are playing good football. Their goal is to control the clock and the game by running the football. When they can do that, they typically win. If they can’t, then it’s hard for them to rely on Carson Wentz to win a game for them. Making this Colts team one-dimensional is the key to winning this game for the Bucs.
I think this is going to be a good, competitive game. The Bucs have struggled on the road this year, but they know they have to be better away from Raymond James Stadium. We’re getting to the part of the season where the wins REALLY matter, and every game has playoff implications. I’m hoping this team starts playing with the urgency that they played with last season at this point. If they do, they should pull out a win here in Indy.
SCORE – BUCS 31 COLTS 23
The Bucs need this one. They have seven games left on their schedule: Three at home and four on the road. Four of the seven are against NFC South opponents, with two of those being at home, then they have the Bills at home and the Jets in New York. Besides this game, Buffalo is the only opponent with a winning record. If they can beat the Colts, then they could have a relatively smooth sailing run to the playoffs. That journey starts in Indy!