As we’ve done in previous years, before each game. . .well, before most games, anyway. . .we like to sit down and exchange some knowledge about the Minnesota Vikings’ upcoming opponent with our fellow SB Nation blogs. This week, I have the opportunity to exchange some questions and answers with Chris Blystone of Stampede Blue, SB Nation’s home for the Indianapolis Colts.
If you want to see the questions that he asked of me and my answers to them, you can check those out right here. Here were the questions that I had for him and the answers he had for me.
1) A little over a year ago, the Colts’ star quarterback, Andrew Luck, abruptly announced his retirement. Do you think the Colts as a franchise have recovered from that?
This is tough to answer. In short, no. Andrew Luck was one of the most entertaining and talented players I’ve had the pleasure to watch play quarterback. To lose him right as he was entering his prime is a blow that you can’t recover from in just one season.
The Colts have done a great job of adding talent to the roster and building a well-balanced team since GM Chris Ballard took over. Andrew Luck’s retirement left a hole at the toughest position to fill, and the addition of Philip Rivers can’t fix that. Rivers is a great fit in with the group because of where he’s at in his career and his connection with Frank Reich, but he doesn’t fix the long term need at quarterback. Even if he is great and leads this team to a really successful season, Rivers is still just a patch at best.
The team will now need to do the thing every NFL franchise hopes it can and go out and draft a quality young quarterback. Until they’ve done that, I don’t think we can say they’ve recovered fully.
As for the fan base, we may never recover.
2) The Colts made a big splash this offseason, trading their first-round pick to the 49ers for defensive lineman DeForest Buckner. What sort of impression did he make in his debut?
The Colts defense in week one was pretty poor. There were a lot of miscues and miscommunications that let Jacksonville find success in both the short passing game and with the run. The Colts prefer to operate with a “bend but don’t break” mindset. Unfortunately, against Jacksonville they forgot about the “don’t break” part.
Buckner had a largely insignificant impact in week one. He wasn’t bad, and he certainly wasn’t a liability, but not what you hope to see from the guy you spent a first round pick on in the offseason. Given that the Colts haven’t won a season opener since 2013 and haven’t won in Jacksonville since 2014, it was not a total surprise that they flopped on the road, but the team will certainly hope to get a bigger performance from Buckner in week two.
3) With Marlon Mack going down for the year, how will the Colts handle their running game with Nyheim Hines and rookie Jonathan Taylor against a Minnesota team that’s had its issues against the run recently?
Rookie Jonathan Taylor will take the bulk of the snaps as the primary back, and he definitely looks the part. His numbers are unremarkable from week one, and a lot of that is due to uncharacteristic struggles for the offensive line in run blocking. With the ball in his hands, Taylor looks explosive and has incredible speed and burst to pair with his power. It remains to be seen if he has Mack’s vision and can be a serious weapon as a runner.
He’ll get use in the passing game a fair bit as well, as Rivers got all the backs involved there in week one. That’s Nyheim Hines’ primary role, and both offer the kind of game-breaking speed in the second level that will make any defense nervous. With Taylor in particular, if tackling isn’t good or he is consistently getting into the second level, it could spell trouble.
Here was Taylor’s first screen pass last week:
4) The Vikings played in front of no fans in their opener last Sunday, while the Colts played in front of fans in Jacksonville and will have fans in attendance at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday. Do you think that the limited crowd was enough to make a difference at either venue?
I really don’t think so. While the crowd noise from the 17,000 people at Jacksonville helped the game to feel more “normal,” it didn’t interfere with hearing calls, disrupting any play, or causing real shifts in momentum.
In Lucas Oil Stadium with 2,500 people I expect the noise to be even less. The Indiana state high school football championship is held there, which draws a considerably larger crowd than 2,500, and it still sounds like a museum. I expect that there will be a very minimal impact on gameplay.
5) Give us one player on each side of the ball that Vikings fans may not know that you think will play a vital role on Sunday.
The player I have pegged as the potential biggest impact on Sunday’s game for the Colts is second year receiver Parris Campbell. Campbell missed much of his rookie year as he struggled through a slew of weird injuries. In week one he had 6 catches and a run for a total of 80 yards. He is at his best on crossing routes and screens, where he can use his speed to leave defenders behind. A true YAC threat, Campbell offers a touch coverage matchup and could be a challenge.
On defense, another second-year player is my pick. Linebacker Darius Leonard gets a lot of pop for his contributions on defense, but Bobby Okereke is the linebacker to watch Sunday. He played the run really well as a part of a team that struggled in that regard last week. The Colts will want to do whatever they can to minimize how much Dalvin Cook can do, and that likely means more snaps for Okereke. He is a smart, athletic player who many Colts fans expect to carve out a starting role as the season goes on. Look for number 58 to be a playmaker Sunday.
Thanks to Chris for sitting down and answering our questions for this week. We’ll try to get back to doing this on a weekly basis as much as possible.