Six Points: Colts vs. Falcons
The Indianapolis Colts (4-5) will hand the keys to the car over to backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, as starter Andrew Luck is out due to a lacerated kidney. His exact return date is unknown, but he'll definitely be out in Week 11 against the Atlanta Falcons (6-3). After losing three straight games, the Colts bounced back in a big way just before their bye week, defeating the Denver Broncos 27-24.
While Indianapolis has still lost three of their last four, the same can be said about the Falcons, who started the year out 5-0. Atlanta lost to a San Francisco 49ers team who chose to start backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert, and also didn't have a healthy running back who had been on the roster for more than a week and a half. It was obvious changes needed be made during the Week 10 bye week for both of these teams, but who will come out of the week off and make a statement that they are still true contenders?
Here are three keys to the game for both the Colts and the Falcons.
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1. More Gore
Coming off his 28-carry game in the win over the Broncos, it's time for more Frank Gore. With Luck out, the Colts need Gore to take on a larger role in the offense. The Denver game marked the first time all season the Colts had more rushing attempts than passing attempts. That should only continue without Luck in the lineup. Indianapolis needs to give Gore the ball at least 20 times, something the team has only done three times this season. The Falcons have the NFL's third-best defense against the run, yielding an averaging of 88.9 yards per game, so it won't be easy. But it's imperative Gore and the Indianapolis offensive line have a productive afternoon in the running game.
2. Don't ask too much of Hasselbeck
With Luck expected to miss up to six weeks, this is Hasselbeck's team for now, and a playoff spot is at stake. To put the 17-year veteran in the best position to succeed, offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski needs to devise a game plan with an emphasis on short and intermediate passes, especially to the team's under-utilized tight ends, Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen. That, combined with a heavy dose of Gore, will give the Indianapolis offense its best chance.
3. Put Vontae on Julio
Nine games into the season, Julio Jones has already surpassed the 1,000-yard mark. Despite reaching the end zone just twice since Sept. 27, he continues to be the most dangerous part of the Atlanta offense. The Colts need to put Pro Bowl corner Vontae Davis on Jones in an effort to limit his effectiveness. With Hasselbeck at quarterback, the Colts likely won't be able to score at the rate they're accustomed to with Luck under center. Keeping Jones in check will help limit the Atlanta offense and hopefully, keep the scoring down.
1. Get Devonta Freeman rolling once again
In Atlanta's final game before their bye week, the San Francisco 49ers shut down Freeman to the tune of just 12 rushes for 12 yards. In the four games before that he had never failed to top 88 yards rushing. While he'll consistently be a part of the passing game, the Falcons need Freeman to dominate on the ground. To top it off, the Colts haven't been great against opposing running backs this year, allowing 852 rushing yards with nine scores on the ground. They've also given up 42 receptions for 331 yards and an additional touchdown as well. Expect Freeman to be a huge part of Atlanta's gameplan in Week 11.
2. Figure out a way to generate a pass rush
The Falcons are sitting in last place in the NFL in sacks this season with just 10. In comparison, the Denver Broncos are in first place with 32. Coming out of the bye week, Atlanta needs to figure out a way to make life tough on opposing quarterbacks, and it'll have to start with the veteran Hasselbeck. Dan Quinn decided to move Vic Beasley to the other side of the defensive line in a few packages, so we'll see if that winds up helping out. Regardless, something has to change, because the lack of pass rush leaves their secondary very vulnerable on a weekly basis.
3. Julio, Julio, Julio
The Colts have struggled mightily against opposing wide receivers this year, allowing 117 receptions for 1,634 yards and 11 touchdowns. With Jones fresh off a bye week to help heal up any bumps and bruises he may have been dealing with from the early part of the season, he should come out rolling in Week 11. The offense as a whole for Atlanta needs to get going, but feeding their superstar wide receiver is obviously going to be a focal point right out of the gate. Between Freeman and Jones, don't be surprised if these two wind up dominating the box score for the Falcons.