Pack Will Try To Second That Emotion In IndyPosted:Oct 5th, 2012 2:45 pm
I'm a big Motown guy and this song comes to mind as we get set for Sunday's game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indy. The scene inside will be about as emotional as you can get, and no, I'm not talking about the scheduled pre-game video tribute to Jeff Saturday.
With head coach Chuck Pagano battling a leukemia diagnosis just blocks from the stadium, the players and coaches will have him close to their hearts and will likely be as focused as a young, starting-from-scratch team can be. Pagano's form of leukemia is 90% curable, but it will be the battle of his life and all football fans are praying for him--that he'll beat this and be back on the sidelines next season.
The Colts are also coming off their bye, so they've spent a lot time preparing over the past two weeks, but no one knows how they'll respond to the loss of their coach. We do know the fans will be in a frenzy at the start. And if their team takes a lead or keeps it close early, they'll stay in it. There' also a good chance there will be 10-15,000 Packer fans in the house, too (including Jackson and me--we'll be there). Interim coach Bruce Arians has already said he doesn't want to hear us Cheeseheads inside his stadium. Four words, Bruce: Good luck with that. You'll hear us. Count on it.
Now, let's look at the matchup: the first of three straight on the road for the Pack and the most winnable one on paper. After a 2-14 season and moving on from one of the greatest QBs of all time, the Colts fell into Andrew Luck, who has "can't miss" written all over him. But the Colts need to build a team around him. They've turned over 60% of their roster and have big holes on both sides of the ball. They drafted his college teammate, tight end Coby Fleener in the second round and added another TE later in the draft.
Their offensive line is below average. They'll likely be without center Samson Satele along with left guard Joe Reitz, and possibly his backup Seth Olsen. Left tackle Anthony Castonzo, their #1 pick a year ago, was highly touted at draft time, but hasn't shown star power to this point. As for the skill positions, Reggie Wayne remains a top threat, but he's almost 34 and is slowing down. There's really not much on the other side. Donnie Avery has bounced around a bit but is off to a promising start. Austin Collie is done for the year again. At running back, Donald Brown has never lived up to his #1 pick status. He's a speed guy, so the Pack will have to watch him on the edges.
The Colts defense has undergone a complete makeover with Pagano's arrival. They switched from a 4-3 to the Steelers and Packers version of the 3-4, meaning Pro Bowl defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis have moved to outside linebacker, a la Aaron Kampman a few years ago. Mathis has made a smooth transition and will be a stiff test for Marshall Newhouse. Freeney suffered a high ankle sprain in the season opener and hasn't played since. He hopes to return Sunday in a limited role: third down pass rush situations, but it's generally a 4-6 week recovery time and its only been three weeks.
Watch the injury report to see whether Pat Angerer is active. He broke his foot in August, but is close to returning. He's their best tackler and their defense will look different when he's on the field. As for the secondary, it's a mess and Aaron Rodgers should be able to feast on them, providing his protectors are keeping Mathis at bay. They traded for Dolphins corner Vontae Davis to lead the unit--but he's out with an ankle injury. Nickel back Justin King will also likely miss this one (groin). They're very thin at corner: we may see former Packer Josh Gordy at the nickel.
The Pack will be without Greg Jennings, whose groin injury may cause him to miss most of this road trip. If James Jones can step up like he did last week, the Pack should be okay. But we all know that Jones has the irritating habit of following a strong game with a dud. Look for Randall Cobb to get more touches on the fast track at Lucas Oil. While the Pack continues to rely solely on Cedric Benson, James Starks may get a couple of series to get his legs under him. The Pack should be able to look a lot like it did against the Saints. 30 points should be no problem.
The defense looked very 2011-like against Drew Brees and the Saints. But they get a rookie QB this week and while Luck will likely be a great player, he's still stuck with a below average offense and his passer rating of 75ish is very pedestrian. He's mobile like Rodgers, so he can extend plays--the problem is he's throwing picks by trying to make too much happen. The Packers' D left a couple interceptions on the field last week; that won't be the case on Sunday. Expect a multiple pick game: I'm calling a defensive score in some fashion.
The Packers are a touchdown favorite and have always been a great road team under McCarthy. The feeling here is the crowd and emotion keep it close for a half. But Rodgers and company take control in the second half and move to 3-2.
Packers 31 Colts 17
If you'll be at the game, hit me up on Twitter. Maybe we can connect before kickoff. I'll be wearing my Ray Nitschke jersey. Jackson has requested an Andrew Luck jersey (he's starting him on his fantasy team). Sigh. I may try to find a Unitas hersey. That I could live with.