Strategy And Personnel

The Sports Xchange

December 14, 2018 at 5:05 pm.


–OUT: DL David Irving (ankle), G Zack Martin (knee), TE Geoff Swaim (wrist)

–QUESTIONABLE: WR Tavon Austin (groin), DE Randy Gregory (not injury related), LB Sean Lee (hamstring), WR Lance Lenoir (illness), T Tyron Smith (neck)

–OUT: G Mark Glowinski (ankle), S Mike Mitchell (calf), LB Skai Moore (neck)

–QUESTIONABLE: S Clayton Geathers (knee), WR T.Y. Hilton (ankle)


–The Colts’ decision to waive tight end Erik Swoope on Tuesday came as a surprise considering the former basketball player was a long-term project who broke through with three TD catches this season. He was dealing with a knee injury. “We’re still working through that,” head coach Frank Reich said. “That was a tough move.” At the time, Reich’s comment suggested the Colts had every intent of bringing him back. But Swoope was claimed off waivers by New Orleans.

–TE Eric Ebron needs four receptions and 58 receiving yards to set career highs (62, 712) in both categories.

–K Adam Vinatieri needs one field goal from 40-49 yards to tie Gary Anderson (161) for the most from that distance in NFL history.

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: WR Zach Pascal. The Colts were missing two wide receivers at Houston, which provided an opportunity for Pascal to make plays. He atoned for tipping a pass he should have caught for a Texans interception by scoring his second career NFL touchdown on a 12-yard pass play off a double-move fade route to the corner. The first-year pro, claimed off waivers in the offseason, has had three games with at least five receptions.

GAME PLAN: There’s no mistaking the intent of these two offenses. The Cowboys will look to run with Ezekiel Elliott to take pressure off quarterback Dak Prescott. The Colts will count on Andrew Luck’s passing to hopefully create run lanes for Marlon Mack, although those ground gains have been few and far between the past two games. The Colts have had decent success in stopping the run, but the Cowboys stay committed because they’re convinced the defense will eventually wear down. It won’t be enough for Leonard and his teammates to stick Elliott early on, it’s how he does it in the fourth quarter. The Colts also have to be sure tacklers with wide receiver Amari Cooper, the reigning NFC Offensive Player of the Week, who can beat defenders deep and uses that against them to thrive on underneath routes.

Luck’s 399 passing yards against the Texans were the fourth-most in his seven-year career as he continues to enjoy a career year. That starts up front, where the Colts have allowed 16 sacks. But the Cowboys have one of the NFL’s best defenses – No. 2 in fewest points allowed and No. 4 in fewest yards allowed. Fifteen players have contributed to the team’s 35 sacks, led by Pro Bowl pass rusher DeMarcus Lawrence. Just two weeks ago, this defense stopped New Orleans 13-10. The Colts threw off the Texans by going no-huddle in the second quarter. If the home team sputters early, look for them to quicken the pace again.

–Colts CB Pierre Desir vs. Cowboys WR Amari Cooper. Who’s right behind Hilton for most receiving yards in the last four games? Cooper, acquired from Oakland for a first-round draft pick in October, was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week after catching 10 passes for 217 yards and three scores, the latter touchdown deciding a 29-23 home overtime win over Philadelphia. Since his trade in Week 9, Cooper has a NFL-best 642 yards receiving, 32 catches for first downs and six TDs. While the Colts have shuffled cornerbacks in and out of the lineup, Desir started on the left side last week and had three tackles, including one for loss. Cooper will be a difficult matchup. Aside from having speed to get deep or break off routes at the chains for first downs, he routinely loses cover guys on slant routes.

–Colts RT Braden Smith vs. Cowboys RDE DeMarcus Lawrence. One week after the rookie Smith had to face two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt, he draws a 2017 Pro Bowl pass rusher who has a team-best 8.5 sacks, 12 tackles for loss and 30 quarterback pressures. Lawrence had a career-best 14.5 sacks last season. Smith, a second-round selection who has started 10 of 12 games, gave up one sack and two hurries to Watt, considered by many the NFL’s best pass rusher. The Colts will likely use a tight end to help Smith block Lawrence.