The Los Angeles Rams hit the road for the second-straight week to play the Indianapolis Colts who are favored by 1.5 points according to DraftKings Sportsbook. LA is coming off a three-point loss in a Super Bowl rematch against the Bengals and hope to get back into the win column for the first time since the season opener.
Rams fans should expect a fun matchup between two teams led by their exciting young talent. I spoke with Chris Shepherd from SB Nation’s Colts blog Stampede Blue to gain more insight on the opposition ahead of their Week 4 matchup.
Q - First-year head coach Shane Steichen has the Colts sitting at 2-1 and leading the AFC South after three games. Indy has been a surprise, especially after beating the Ravens, an expected AFC contender in overtime last week. What has been the strength of Steichen’s coaching and where could he improve as the year goes on?
A - The strength of his coaching has really been, well, all of it. Week one there may have been some questionable decisions but the past two weeks I can’t point to anything that wasn’t good. His gameplanning has been good, maximizing the strengths of the Colts while attacking what his opponents do poorly. His in game decision making has been consistently good. His clock management wasn’t perfect but for his first down-to-the-wire and overtime game last week, it was pretty good. Twice in two weeks he’s forced his opponent to blow a timeout on special teams by running his kicking team off the field and running his offense back on, looking like they’re ready to run a play. Both times Steichen has likely been willing to take a delay of game penalty, but both times opposing coaches have used timeouts instead.
Shane Steichen is three games into his head coaching career and while I was hopeful he would be good, I had concerns. He’s a 38 year old first time head coach. So far he’s exceeding every expectation I had. As far as improvement goes, it’s tough to say. Eventually he’s going to make some mistakes that cost the Colts. You could point to week one and say that he was too aggressive and you might have a point but he corrected that in the following weeks. So before we talk about what he needs to improve, he’ll first have to show something that he’s not good at and through three games, nothing stands out. It will happen, everyone’s human, it just hasn’t shown up yet.
Q - Rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson was ruled out with a concussion in Week 3. Richardson has displayed his incredible athletic ability throughout the first two games but didn’t finish either due to injury. How would you assess Richardson’s play so far this season and what should he improve on to keep himself out of harm’s way?
A - For a guy that was supposed to be “raw” and “a year away from being a year away” he sure does look comfortable leading an NFL offense. The biggest thing has been the fact that he looks like he belongs. Every team that has ever struggled to find a quarterback has gone through the endless shuffle of guys who are given opportunities to play the position and within the first few snaps it becomes obvious that the guy just doesn’t have it. The moment is too big. The lights are too bright. They’re just out of place trying to lead an NFL offense. With Richardson’s lack of experience, my biggest fear was that would be the case. Instead it’s been the opposite. He has looked comfortable, almost relaxed. He’s in command, he’s seeing the field well, working through his progressions and making good decisions. He does have the occasional overthrow, but many of the accuracy concerns he had on short throws at Florida seem to have been cleaned up with improved footwork.
As far as what he needs to do to keep himself out of harm’s way, I actually recorded a video detailing what he could have done on the play he suffered his concussion:
Ultimately he got hurt not because he was being reckless but because at Florida he would have walked into the endzone untouched. He didn’t realize that safety was going to close so quickly and he probably didn’t realize that the little guy was going to hit him that hard. I don’t know if that was his “welcome to the NFL” moment but it sure feels like it was and it cost him (at least) seven quarters of football. So I think the answer to “what does he need to do” is really just gain experience.
Q - Michael Pittman Jr. has been the Colts’ go-to receiver for the last few seasons so it’s expected he’ll be the primary focus of LA’s secondary on Sunday. What other pass catchers should Rams fans be on the lookout for heading into Week 4?
A - Rookie receiver Josh Downs is an undersized, quick win pass catcher who just gets open. Through three games he has 15 catches for 124 yards. One thing to consider about the raw numbers is the fact that Gardner Minshew has run the majority of the offense so far and he’s not going to look to push the ball deep. As the offense starts to expand I expect more downfield passing and those YPC averages to go up.
Another name to watch for is tight end Kylen Granson. Granson is another undersized guy but he’s a high effort blocker and a guy that always seems to pick up plenty of yards after the catch. Watch for Granson on at least one tight end screen.
Q - Veteran linebacker Zaire Franklin currently has an NFL-leading 45 tackles through three games. Him and Shaquille Leonard seem to be the backbone of the defense and lead a solid linebacking corps for the Colts. How should LA’s offense attack Franklin and Leonard along with the rest of Indy’s defense this week?
A - Right now Leonard is the third best linebacker on the team. E.J. Speed is playing great football right now. Leonard is still working his way back after missing, essentially all of last season. Honestly, you really shouldn’t try to attack them at all. At least not in any conventional way. McVay’s best bet will probably be to use some interesting personnel groupings and spacing to get the linebackers one on one against smaller, faster receivers. And that might work, it probably will. But as crazy as it sounds, it’s not a given that Speed and Franklin will lose in coverage.
This Colts defensive line might be the best defensive line in the Indianapolis era. They’re currently on pace to finish the season with 68 sacks and they’re giving up 3.5 yards per carry, which includes a great game from Lamar Jackson who did Lamar Jackson things, broke contain on QB runs and put up big numbers. I’m not convinced many teams are going to have much success running the ball conventionally against this Colts front seven.
If you’re going to attack this Colts defense, you need to try the defensive backs. Last week we saw second round rookie Julius Brents play in his first NFL game and he played out of his mind, but the Ravens also never really tested him. If I’m the Rams, I’m throwing right at the kid. He’s a rookie, he’s bound to make some mistakes. On the other side of the defense is Dallas Flowers is a high effort guy who until last week seemed to give up a lot of catches. So if I’m Matthew Stafford and Sean McVay, those two guys are my targets. I’m going to make them prove they aren’t the weak links. Just make sure Stafford is getting the ball out quick, I’ve always liked the guy and this Colts defensive line is no joke.
Q - The Colts are listed as a 1.5-point favorite with an O/U of 44 according to DraftKings Sportsbook. What are your expectations for this game and what do the Colts need to do to move to 3-1?
A - Right now, while answering these questions I’m watching the Cincinnati Bengals defensive line absolutely terrorize Matthew Stafford. In week two the Bengals couldn’t get pressure on Lamar Jackson. A week later the Colts sacked Jackson four times and pressured him consistently. Anything could happen but McVay is going to have to do some magic to work around the advantage the Colts have in the trenches.
On offense the Colts offensive line is playing almost as well. They’ve revived the career of Zack Moss and behind this line he has run for 210 yards in two games so far this season. Aaron Donald will get his, but I believe the Colts should be able to control the line of scrimmage for most of the day.
A lot of how the game is going to look will come down to who plays quarterback for the Colts. If it’s Anthony Richardson I have a lot of faith the offense will move the ball all day and will put up plenty of points. On the other end of that is the inescapable fact that he is a 21 year old rookie and even though he hasn’t really made any big game changing rookie mistakes, they’re coming. In a way Richardson is unpredictable. Not because he hasn’t played well, he has, but because this is the NFL and nobody just walks into the NFL and goes their entire career without ever playing a bad game. Richardson will have a bad game and the odds are it’s going to happen soon-ish. He’s a rookie, it happens.
To get the win, Indy needs to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, hit Matthew Stafford early and often, and win the turnover battle. If they do that, there’s a good chance they leave week four with their third win in three weeks.