Strategy And Personnel

The Sports Xchange

November 22, 2018 at 1:34 am.


–DE Margus Hunt was a full-practice participant on Wednesday after he aggravated a chronic knee injury and exited early in Sunday’s win over the Titans. “The (MRI) result came back very good and it’s been feeling great so far,” Hunt said. “So now it’s all about going back out there and seeing how it feels going full speed and going against somebody.” Hunt leads the team with 11 tackles for loss.

–Rookie WLB Darius Leonard’s 104 total tackles are 13 more than any other NFL player, and that’s despite missing one start due to injury. The second-round pick added his fifth sack of the year against the Titans as well as his first interception. He leads the team with four forced fumbles.

–S Malik Hooker (hip) and CB Nate Hairston (ankle) were limited in Wednesday practice. Both missed the last game and Hairston also sat out the game before that. The Colts were able to adjust without Hooker, a 2017 first-round draft choice, with Mike Mitchell returning from a calf injury that sidelined him the previous start against Jacksonville.

–S Clayton Geathers, the team’s third-leading tackler with 59 stops, did not practice Wednesday due to a knee injury. The Colts have been routinely resting him for a day or two during the week. He missed two starts in Week 6 and 7 while dealing with neck and concussion issues.

–S George Odum played every defensive snap in his first NFL start and finished with six tackles, including one for a loss, against the Titans.

–After registering just four sacks in the previous five games, the Colts had five against the Titans. Defensive end Jabaal Sheard boosted his team-leading total to 5.5 and with 1.5 against Tennessee.

–Joining Geathers on the DNP list for Wednesday were C Ryan Kelly (knee), TE Erik Swoope (knee), TE Ryan Hewitt (ankle) and DT Al Woods (illness). Swoope has missed the last three games and Hewitt, a reserve used for blocking, has missed the last two.

–RB Marlon Mack has five TDs in his last four games, four of them rushing and one receiving. He leads the Colts with 471 yards rushing on 94 carries (5.0 per attempt).

–Rookie RB Jordan Wilkins forgot to grab the football after he scored his first NFL touchdown on an 18-yard run on Sunday. Not to worry, fellow rookie RB Nyheim Hines alertly grabbed the ball to give Wilkins a keepsake.

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: WR T.Y. Hilton. The four-time Pro Bowl performer reminded the Titans that it’s risky to cover him with a single defender as he caught all nine passes in which he was targeted for 155 yards and two scores including a 68-yard TD. Standout second-year Titans CB Adoree Jackson had the dubious distinction of trying to cover Hilton in a rather humbling experience. Hilton had been used primarily as a decoy in three previous starts as defensive coverages were designed to limit him. He did more on Sunday than in those three previous games combined, when he caught eight passes for 136 yards and two TDs. Hilton has repeatedly said he doesn’t mind the Colts spreading the ball around and likened it to defenses needing to “pick your poison” on whom to cover. The Titans obviously chose wrong. Hilton’s 38 receptions are one shy of Ebron, but his 585 receiving yards and 15.4 yards per catch are a team best.

GAME PLAN: The Colts’ blueprint isn’t a secret. Luck spreads his passes around to different targets led by Hilton and Ebron while ideally opening up running lanes for Mack, Wilkins and Hines. The Dolphins will try to accomplish where most have failed in recent weeks by pressuring Luck into mistakes, but Reich’s offense is designed to get rid of the ball quickly. And when the Colts did dial long distance against the Titans with a 68-yard TD strike, it’s worth noting that the offense went with maximum protection to ensure Luck had enough time to find Hilton with the deep ball. The Dolphins defense ranks 27th in total yards allowed and 22nd in points allowed, so the pass rush is imperative. Miami is just 29th with 17 sacks, which likely means the need to blitz. But the Titans were unable to get to Luck with an array of blitzes on Sunday.

The return of QB Ryan Tannehill gives the Dolphins hope that they can generate more offense against a Colts defense that ranks 20th in total yards allowed and 18th in scoring defense. Miami was 3-2 when Tannehill was starting, but has struggled to protect its quarterbacks in allowing 27 sacks. The Dolphins are 21st in rushing offense compared to 26th in passing offense, which suggests relying more on ageless RB Frank Gore, but the Colts have been decent against the run in recent weeks. The Titans managed just 85 yards rushing and 3.5 per carry on Sunday. The week before that, the Colts limited Jacksonville RB Leonard Fournette to just 2.2 yards per carry on 24 attempts. The Colts also surprised the Titans with some early blitzes to get to QB Marcus Mariota. And these Colts don’t typically blitz. Expect the Colts to drop back into normal zone coverage early to see if their pass rush can speed up Tannehill. Presuming the Colts can limit Gore’s effectiveness, they might send extra pass rushers again to try to force mistakes.

–Colts RT Braden Smith vs. Dolphins LDE Cameron Wake. While the rookie Smith has stepped in and been solid in starting at a new position the past six games, Wake is being scrutinized for coming up with just 3.5 sacks, best on the team but a significant drop-off for a five-time Pro Bowl pass rusher who had 22 combined the previous two seasons. Wake is 36, which means whispers wondering whether he’s slowing down. He also underwent arthroscopic knee surgery and missed two starts last month. Smith, a second-round selection who played guard in college, made his first NFL start in the season opener at left tackle. He has since settled in nicely at right tackle after Joe Haeg suffered a high ankle sprain that landed him on injured reserve. Haeg is eligible to return after Sunday, but the Colts appear to be set at the position with Smith.

–Colts TE Eric Ebron vs. Dolphins S Reshad Jones. Despite not being used against the Titans, the Dolphins watched film of all the games and see how Ebron leads all players at his position with nine TD catches. He’s quick enough to elude linebackers in coverage and big enough to get separation against secondary defenders. Jones has been used in the past against New England standout tight end Rob Gronkowski, who has made his share of big plays against the defender. But it’s doubtful that Miami has a linebacker who can stay with Ebron in coverage. Trying to do so likely provides opportunities for big plays, if the season trend is any indication. The Colts won’t use Ebron as a decoy again, so the Dolphins will have to hope Jones can stay with him.