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I’m dreaming of a Colts’ Christmas,

Just like the ones I used to know

Where the ball is ran,

And Colts fans listen

To “Touchdown Colts!” on the TV, Oh the TV

Admittedly, my lyrics and singing aren’t as strong as other Colts fans, but for these happy holidays, I’m sure the fandom can give me a pass. 

 

 

Speaking of passes, the Colts face off against the Cardinals this Christmas vs. one of the better passers in the NFL: Kyler Murray. Murray started this season on a tear, looking like a genuine MVP candidate at the season’s halfway point. Diminutive but dangerous, Murray has been a dual-threat menace throughout his career, but he has regressed badly in the last few games. He scored only 5 TDs to 10 Turnovers in the previous four games, leading the Cardinals to a 1-3 record in that span. In that one win vs. the Bears in that span, Kyler had 4 TDs, but in the losses to the Packers, Rams, &, surprisingly, Lions, he had only 1 TD with eight turnovers. With the Colts’ number one ranked defense in forcing turnovers, expect them to emphasize taking the ball away from him via jumped routes and stripping the ball away.

However, the Colts don’t just have to worry about Kyler and his passing weapons like Christian Kirk, Rondale Moore, AJ Green, & Zach Ertz. They also have to try to contain the three-headed rushing attack of Kyler himself, Versatile dual-threat back Chase Edmonds, and potentially the 2nd best red zone back in the league in James Conner (should he play despite a heel injury). This offense loves to use Edmonds as a receiver or a very efficient change of pace back and pound the ball with Conner. Their heavy use of RPO’s with the backs and Kyler means the Colts run D has to be very disciplined in their run lanes while also not letting receiving threats slip by them. It is a tough assignment, but the Colts have shown success vs. this style of O.

 

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With the Cards’ prevalence of screens, crossers, & “man beater” routes, the Colts’ zone coverage can have the edge. Colts will be without breakout CB Rock Ya-Sin and situational pass rusher Kemoko Turay due to COVID. Still, the Cardinals will be without star WR DeAndre Hopkins & potentially Conner, making both teams a bit more short-handed.

The Colts’ offense will be going up against another top 10 scoring defense. The Cards are a pretty solid bend but don’t break defense, specializing in pass defense; they have two standout edge pass rushers in Chandler Jones and Markus Golden and the versatile Isaiah Simmons and rookie Zaven Collins in the middle of the defense. With Budda Baker also patrolling the deep, this is a talented pass defense that can disrupt Os in various ways.

Thankfully the biggest weakness of the Cardinals defense is the strength of the Colts Offense: the ground game. Cardinals are just 27th yards per carrying allowed (4.7) and have been predominantly gashed right up the middle.

 

 

However, to take advantage of this weakness, the Colts will need to rely upon a trio of backup iOL. Pro Bowl Center Ryan Kelly is still away from the team after a family tragedy & Guards Quenton Nelson & Mark Glowinski are on the COVID reserve list. In their place are Backup 2nd year Center Danny Pinter, veteran backup/starter LG Chris Reed, and swing Tackle moving inside Matt Pryor. All three have started at various points throughout the season for the Colts, but usually, they were spread out along the line, and it was only 1-2 of them starting. Now all 3 of them get a chance to prove how good they can be together without Pro Bowl or All-Pro caliber OL besides them to help. It will be a big test not only for them but also for Pro Bowl RB Jonathan Taylor.

 

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GAME MVP: JONATHAN TAYLOR

 

Jonathan Taylor has been the best back in football in 2021. Leading the league in all cumulative rushing stats & yards from scrimmage stats, the 2nd year RB from Wisconsin has certainly made his mark. However, there is still a narrative nationally that he is doing so well because of the Colts’ powerful offensive line.

While the Colts’ OL has been really good in run blocking, Taylor himself has created many yards as well. Taylor leads the league Yards after Contact, having so much that just his yards after contact would rank in the top 5 among all RBs Total rushing yards with over 1,000. RYOE (rushing yards over Expected) is an even better metric, which measures how many yards an RB should get based on the positioning and movement of his blockers and the defense at the handoff, and then how much the RB earns more than expected. In this stat, Taylor leads the entire NFL both cumulatively (418) and per attempt (1.58). No other RB is above 180 RYOE and 1.3 RYOE/att, showing that Taylor is more than capable of creating even more yards than the offensive line gives him. Should Taylor dominate on Christmas Night with a national audience and no starting interior OL, not only will a false narrative be put to bed, but he will truly make headway in the 2021 NFL MVP conversation.

 

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Score Prediction: Colts 31-Cardinals 24

 

As usual, I expect the Colts Offense to jump out to an early lead, aided by an opportunistic Defense to capitalize on the Cardinals’ mistakes. With such a lead, the Colts will feel more comfortable but start to stall in the 3rd and 4th Quarters. As the game goes on, it could become tougher to contain Kyler and stay disciplined, allowing him to take advantage of a tired/confused Colts Defense late in the game to make it a more competitive game. However, the Colts O will do just late enough to secure the victory, as well as the Colts D making a crucial end-of-game stop. 2 high-flying offenses will be tough to stop for all four quarters so expect a high-scoring Christmas night. At the end of the night, expect to get one final gift: a Colts Victory!

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