Could this also be a big game in NFL history?
We’ll continue a series of opponent preview posts for the New Orleans Saints opponents in 2019. Next, we’ll look at the final Saints home regular season game of the year (and maybe Drew Brees’s last?) - the Week 15 Monday Night contest against the Indianapolis Colts. Our friends over at Stampede Blue took some time to give us Saints fans the scoop on our AFC opponent.
Week 15: vs the Indianapolis Colts
Notable free agent additions:
Chris Ballard grabbed three veteran free agents with the potential to improve the Indianapolis Colts in 2019. Perhaps the most important is veteran pass rusher Justin Houston, who will slide in as the most experienced and productive pass rusher the Colts have had since Robert Mathis retired following the 2016 season. While second-year defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus did a nice job of mitigating opponents’ ground games, too much pressure was placed on a young secondary due to a lack of consistent pass rush. Houston’s presence should also help the development of young pass rushers Kemoko Turay and Tyquan Lewis, along with helping 3-tech defensive tackle Denico Autry, who led the team in sacks in 2018.
The other free agents join the Colts on the offensive side of the ball. Young wide receiver Devin Funchess has traded up from Cam Newton to Andrew Luck and brings a physical presence the Colts haven’t had at the receiver position in some time. His size should help him in the red zone and force defenses to make choices against other receiving threats, particularly tight ends Jack Doyle and Eric Ebron who have had their share of success in the end zone. Former Chiefs starting running back Spencer Ware also joined a young a promising backfield. He brings a different element to the backfield as a bruising runner who is comfortable catching the ball out of the backfield. His experience could help influence second year rushers Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins, and could take some of the load off of Marlon Mack during a long season.
10 wins -- Over. The biggest test for the Colts this year is how the defense will respond in the face of a slightly more difficult schedule that includes a more talented group of quarterbacks. Indianapolis will face Phillip Rivers, Patrick Mahomes, Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Ben Roethlisberger. Frank Reich will likely need to win a couple of those games if the Colts are going to finish the season over 10 wins. Unfortunately, only the Atlanta Falcons and Matt Ryan will make a trip to Indianapolis. Beating a legitimate NFL quarterback on the road will seal the deal on this over/under.
Most exciting rookie:
While it’s difficult to make this call, I’ll choose second round wide receiver Parris Campbell. The reason Campbell is over Rock Ya-Sin has little to do with a feeling that Campbell is or will be significantly better than Ya-Sin. However, I acknowledge that transitioning to cornerback in the NFL may be more difficult than being the fourth or fifth receiving option on an offense that is tailor made for Campbell’s comfort running short crossing routes. With Doyle healthy, Ebron back, Hilton still producing at a high level, and Funchess joining the team, Campbell will have some opportunities to break some big plays, which could turn the tide in some important games.
Position battle to keep an eye on:
Inside linebacker. In 2018, Anthony Walker Jr. took a big leap forward from his rookie season. At times, Walker looked like the perfect complement to Defensive Rookie of the Year Darius Leonard. The one problem is that Walker’s consistently better against the run than he is against the pass and that the Colts often find themselves in sub packages on defense. This could mean that, when the defense starts in a nickel formation, rookie Bobby Okereke may be on the field. Shockingly, Okereke’s draft comparison was none other than Darius Leonard and his speed could allow him to sneak into the starting lineup for his impact in the passing game.
Biggest storyline heading into training camp:
Andrew Luck is entering his first training camp healthy since 2016. He missed all of the 2017 season after undergoing shoulder surgery early in the year and slowly ramped up his workload in training camp a season ago. In his second season under Frank Reich, Luck will now get a full summer and training camp to establish a rapport with his receivers and should enter the season well ahead of how he entered the 2018 season.
Under-the-radar storyline heading into camp:
How will the Colts defense make up for losing run stuffing defensive tackle Al Woods? The assumption is that Margus Hunt and third-year defensive tackle Grover Stewart will be asked to carry the load but there is very little proven beef on the inside. Could that spell problems for the Colts run defense?
Notable injuries heading into training camp:
Veteran safety Clayton Geathers is the assumed starter across from Malik Hooker at safety. His downhill, box stuffing style is a nice counter to Hooker’s speed and range. However, the two have only played together sparingly and Geathers missed all of the Colts spring program. Can he kick the injury bug and stay on the field?
Obscure player on the 90-man roster that will be a preseason star (and likely later cut):
Tight end Ross Travis. Perhaps no franchise in the NFL is richer at tight end than the Indianapolis Colts. Starters Jack Doyle and Eric Ebron should be easily considered one of the top starting tandems in the NFL. Former VCU basketball player Mo Alie-Cox showed that he is capable of making highlight reel catches and, more surprisingly, has established himself as a rather impressive blocker.
Ross Travis is also a former basketball player and has the ability to stretch the field as a pass catcher. Don’t be surprised if he receives a lot of targets in preseason and makes a strong impression. Can the Colts keep four tight ends, four running backs, five or more wide receivers, and enough offensive line depth to feel comfortable entering the season? Unless Doyle’s health is in doubt to start the year, Travis could see himself make the team only to be cut after waiver claims go through.
This game could very well be the final regular season game - and maybe just “game” - for Drew Brees in the city of New Orleans. One of the other reasons this game is set for prime time is because, looking at Drew’s career averages, this would be the game Drew breaks Peyton Manning’s all-time career touchdown mark
So what says you, you unbiased Saints fans? Can the Saints take care of business against the Colts at home? Vote in the poll. Explain in the comments. And make sure you also check out DraftDividends.com, a website for a new book I’m writing currently titled Draft Picks and Dividends: A Fantasy Football Player’s Guide to Understanding the Stock Market.