The notorious Bears look to spoil Colts' bounce-back bid
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Chicago Bears sure know how to put a damper on Indianapolis' big days.
Eight years ago, they dominated the Colts on Lucas Oil Stadium's opening night. Four years ago, they ruined Andrew Luck's NFL debut. Another win Sunday at Indianapolis could produce an even more devastating blow to the Colts' plan -- and they know it.
"We are going to keep working to try to dig ourselves out of this hole, that's all you can do," Colts coach Chuck Pagano said.
The stakes couldn't be higher for the Colts (1-3).
Aug 27, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts cheerleader performs a dance routine during a game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Just five weeks after team owner Jim Irsay expressed hope of making the playoffs, fans are already discussing whether a fourth loss in five weeks could force a coaching change, a front office change or both. The same problems that cost them in 2015 are back.
A rebuilt offensive line has allowed a league-high 15 sacks. The revamped defense has yielded 31.3 points over the first four weeks. Opposing quarterbacks are completing 68.1 percent of their passes and Luck has accounted for five turnovers. Somewhere among the dropped passes, the constant penalties and the missing pass rush, everyone is on cleanup duty.
"Dropped passes are tough. False starts are tough. Bad throws are tough. I've not had a problem of not getting mad at a guy enough where I had to go yell at a guy for dropping a ball," Luck said. "It's a problem when you feel like effort isn't there, and that's certainly never been the case (here)."
Could the matchup with the Bears (1-3) be just what the Colts need?
Chicago is likely to be without starting quarterback Jay Cutler for the third straight week, leading receiver Kevin White landed on injured reserve earlier this week, and the defense is allowing 123.5 yards rushing.
But the Bears do have something working in their favor: a little momentum. Brian Hoyer, Cutler's replacement, snapped a three-game losing streak last week, and now Chicago returns to a city in which it has never lost.
"I think everybody was pretty disappointed in how we performed in Dallas the week prior (to last)," coach John Fox said. "I was pretty pleased with the guys' focus and how they executed against Detroit on Sunday. In this league, it's what have you done for me lately."
Something the Colts know all too well.
"We're going to be all right," Luck said. "We're a good football team. We practice well. We'll play well."
Here are some other things to watch Sunday:
COLTS CHANGES: Indy cut two defensive starters Tuesday. What it will do at cornerback is clear. Projected starters Vontae Davis and Patrick Robinson will reclaim their jobs. The question is what happens at inside linebacker. After releasing leading tackler Sio Moore, Indy plans to use a committee of Josh McNary, Antonio Morrison and perhaps safety Clayton Geathers. Indy also could start in the no-huddle on offense.
FREEMAN'S RETURN: Indy allowed inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman to walk away in free agency after last season. Now, at a time when the Colts could really use Freeman, he'll be on the Bears' sideline. Freeman said all the right things all week, saying he never took the Colts' decision personally. Now, he'll get a chance to let his play speak volumes.
RUNNING UPHILL: Colts running back Frank Gore moved into 10th place on the NFL's career rushing list last week and needs 20 yards to pass Jim Brown (12,312 yards). That undoubtedly will be a huge moment in Gore's career. He's also hoping to end Indy's 54-game streak without a 100-yard rusher.
WHITE OUT: With Bears receivers White out and Eddie Royal battling a calf injury, whoever starts at quarterback will need Cameron Meredith and Josh Bellamy to play well. Sure, the Bears have Alshon Jeffery on one side. But if Royal can't play -- and he didn't practice Wednesday -- Meredith and Bellamy must do better than they have so far. Meredith has six catches for 52 yards. Bellamy hasn't caught a pass.
MATHIS WATCH: Colts outside linebacker Robert Mathis has struggled this season. In four games, he has 10 tackles, one quarterback hit and no sacks. Some wonder if Mathis is starting to show his age at 35. Pagano still believes in his best pass rusher, saying Mathis could break out at any time. The Colts need him to make an impact now.