This is the third installment in a series that will examine each of the Green Bay Packers’ scheduled 2020 opponents, their offseason changes, and their statuses heading into training camp. We are beginning by looking at the teams in the AFC North and today we examine the Packers’ week 11 matchup against the Indianapolis Colts.
In 2019, the Indianapolis Colts struggled, landing themselves in third place in the AFC South with a 7-9 record. After going 10-6 in 2018, Frank Reich’s team struggled in its first season without Andrew Luck, as Jacoby Brissett just was not the answer.
Enter Philip Rivers, the 38-year-old 16-year veteran quarterback, who moved over from the Los Angeles Chargers in the offseason. Rivers signed a one-year deal with the Colts and will look to recapture his play from 2018 after a significant backslide last season.
Rivers is hardly the only notable addition that the Colts made this offseason, however. They traded their first-round draft pick to the San Francisco 49ers for defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, signing him to a long-term contract and strengthening the middle of their defensive front. Then the team added some new offensive weapons on round two of the draft, including a name that will be very familiar to football fans in the state of Wisconsin.
The Packers are currently scheduled meet the Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium in week 11. Let’s let our colleagues from Stampede Blue, the SB Nation Colts blog, tell us about Indy’s offseason changes and preview their roster heading into the start of training camp practices.
Notable free agency additions: The Colts were more active in free agency than they have been during GM Chris Ballard’s tenure, at least in terms of big-name talent. QB Philip Rivers is a huge addition for the offense and transforms the prospects of this team. He is a great fit for the offense and will hit the ground running in a familiar offense.
On defense, DT DeForest Buckner offers the same kind of transformative presence in the middle of the defensive line. The Colts now have arguably the second best defensive tackle in the NFL on the roster as he enters his prime. His presence should have ripple effects across the defense.
Other notable names: TE Trey Burton, CB Xavier Rhodes.
Over/under 10 wins? The Colts struggled down the stretch and had one of the worst passing attacks in the NFL in 2019. In spite of the difficulties they faced, they had many bright spots, and have addressed most of their glaring weaknesses. This is a team primed to be very good, and facing a weak division, where the biggest threat is the Titans, who will be hoping for a repeat performance from Ryan Tannehill and leaning heavily on Derrick Henry to be as incredible as he was in 2019. Give me the over.
Rookie I’m most excited about: There are a couple good options to choose from in this year’s rookie class. Michael Pittman Jr. could very easily have a major role on the offense, and is an excellent fit with the team. However, rookie receivers don’t frequently find overwhelming success in the NFL, so the choice has to be Jonathan Taylor.
The Colts have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, and run blocking is their specialty. Marlon Mack is in a contract year, and his undeniable ability is likely the biggest hurdle for Taylor in terms of 2020 production. However, there is little doubt that Taylor will get opportunities, and behind this line as well as the tight end group which excels in getting blocks downfield and blowing open big holes, Taylor could conceivably be taking the lion’s share of the carries by midseason.
Best position battle heading into training camp: There are sure to be several interesting battles in camp, but the most heated will likely be for the MIKE linebacker spot. Anthony Walker has had that role and done well in it, but the emergence of Bobby Okereke last season could spell serious competition for the job. Okereke is more athletically gifted than Walker, and has a more versatile skill set. It is a competition worth watching closely.
Biggest storyline heading into training camp: Perhaps the biggest storyline, and the most critical one for the Colts to find success in 2020, is whether Philip Rivers is still able to play at a high level. Ask a handful of people what they think on the subject and you’re likely to get a variety of answers.
After watching him closely in the 2019 season and comparing it to his excellent 2018 season, it seems clear that the majority of his issues stemmed from bad decision making rather than an inability to play the position at a high level. There were far too many back-breaking turnovers that took place because he was trying to play hero-ball.
The question that must be answered is: Can Frank Reich rein that tendency in? If he can, the Colts could have a very prolific offense in 2020.
Under-the-radar storyline heading into training camp: Do they Colts have a viable pass rush? They added DeForest Buckner on the interior of the defensive line, but are leaning heavily on the hopes that young players like Kemoko Turay and Ben Banogu begin to produce on the outside as pass rushers. Justin Houston played well last season, but at 31 years old, it is not reasonable to put all the pressure on him to have high level production. He’ll need help, and the team let Jabaal Sheard walk after last season.
Notable injuries heading into training camp:
Defensive end Kemoko Turay’s recovery from a broken and dislocated ankle will be critical for the team. He went down in week five last season against the Chiefs, and was really showing signs of a sophomore year breakout up to that point.
Second year receiver Parris Campbell will look to return from an injury riddled rookie year where he dealt with a broken hand, a sports hernia, and a broken foot that ended his season. Another promising player, receiver Daurice Fountain also suffered a broken and dislocated ankle, on the last day of training camp last year. He was drafted in 2018 as a raw athletic prospect, and had flashed in camp up to that point.