by Kent Sterling
Any idiot can blather about what five or seven or three or twelve things a team needs to do to win on Sunday, but here at kentsterling.com, we hold ourselves – or more accurately myself – accountable for bold prognostications.
Here are the five key’s I identified Friday, and whether I was on the money, in the ballpark, or stark raving mad and ill-informed:
The Colts must help left tackle Anthony Castonzo keep Robert Quinn from getting to Andrew Luck. Quinn has the second highest grade in the NFL on profootballfocus.com for defensive players, behind J.J. Watt. Colts fans will remember Dwight Freeney as a young man getting the corner against Ravens LT Jonathan Ogden. That is exactly what’s possible Sunday. Quinn can get rolling and cause Freeney-esque havoc.
Full credit here. Although the Rams did try to help, even on the sack-fumble that gave the Rams a 7-0 lead, they still couldn’t keep him from raising hell in the pocket. Luck was uncomfortable all day in a way we have not seen in 2013. One point
Take a lead and keep it. That seems a pretty elementary way to win a game, but if somehow the Rams get a lead and the Colts are forced to throw, the Rams talented pass rush will be unleashed, and that will not be a good thing for Andrew Luck.
I give myself only half-credit for this because getting a lead is an easily ID’ed means to winning, but the point was – the bigger the deficit, the more enthusiasm Des Robert Quinn and Chris Long would bring to pressuring Andrew Luck. 1/2 point
Stop Zac Stacy. The fifth round pick out of Vanderbilt has been very productive the last two weeks, running for 134 and 127 yards. He’s not quite as thick as Trent Richardson, but he’s quicker to the hole. The Colts run defense is ranked 27th, so expect the Rams game plan to include a whole lot of Stacy. If the Rams are forced to turn the game over to Clemens, the Colts will have turnover opportunities. In 14 career starts, Clemens has thrown 15 picks, and fumbled 14 times – four in two starts this year alone.
This is another partial credit as Benny Cunningham joined Stacy to make the Rams very stout in their running game. Stacy was not quite as effective as in the previous two games when he ran for 134 and 127 yards, averaging a Trent Richardson-esque 2.4 yards per carry. Cunningham picked up the slack, and scampered for 72 yards on seven carries. The Rams ran for a very respectable 140 yards, and averaged 3.8 yards per carry. 3/4 point
Control Tavon Austin on punt returns. Austin appears to have some pedestrian numbers as a returner (26 for 123, averaging 4.7 yards), but a couple he has broken have come back because of penalties. He’s explosive and can cause mayhem if not respected. The Colts won’t want to rely upon sledgehammer/punter Pat McAfee to stop Austin.
Full credit. Austin returned a punt 98 yards for a touch that blew that game open. His other three returns netted 47 yards. This was Austin’s coming out party, and the Colts did a poor job of delaying it for another two weeks. Full point, and only because I don’t cheat, do I not award myself a bonus point for being so prescient!
Attack Cortland Finnegan and the safeties. The Rams weakness on defense is is in the secondary. Finnegan is either dinged up or feeling the effects of a career filled with launching himself at ball carriers. Whatever the cause, he’s not playing well. How bad are the safeties? Former Colt Matt Giordano has gotten two starts back there. There was a reason the Colts let him walk. They still exist.
The Rams played a lot of cover two, and the reads and routes were rarely correct in attacking it. The safeties for the Rams weren’t great, but Luck never really took a look downfield until the game was out of hand. As for Finnegan, he played well today, so I’ll only give myself 1/2 a point here.
No one could have foreseen this dominating performance by the Rams coming, but the match ups did not favor the Colts – with the exception of Luck vs. Clemons. Two of the Rams first three scores were on a fumble return and a punt return. That changed the game so throughly toward the Rams’ strength that the Colts were never able to recover.
I don’t think for a minute that the Colts took the Rams lightly, but once the train got rolling the wrong way, they were not prepared or able to stop it.
It’s been a few days shy of 20 years since a non-playoff team (and at 4-6, it’s likely the Rams will fail to earn a berth in the playoffs) beat the Colts by more than 30 points at home, and a whole lot needs to go wrong for a good team to lose this badly.
That’s a total of 3.75 out of five points, or the best score I’ve gotten on an exam since the fifth grade.