The Colts are in for a rough season this year. With the news that Carson Wentz will be out for an unknown amount of time, it looks more and more likely that Jacob Eason will be the starting quarterback come week 1 and possibly beyond. Wentz is projected to be out for 5-12 weeks following his August 2nd surgery, meaning the first 5-7 weeks of the season are going to be highly focused on other matchups that will help new QB1 Jacob Eason in any way possible. Ranging from help from his offensive producers to help from certain defensive groups and players, he’ll take what he can get.
Of course that will only last for a few weeks, so what about once Wentz returns? Well you have to think Eason won’t fare too well with how tough of a schedule the Colts will have in the timeframe Carson Wentz is supposed to be rehabbing. Meaning essentially Indy’s playoff hopes will be in jeopardy if the ship isn’t turned around once the true QB1 returns. So unfortunately, these key matchups to victory will be relied on heavily throughout the entire season despite the quarterback play. Let’s take a look at the potential key matchups to victory.
Quenton Nelson vs Aaron Donald (Week 2)
The last time the Colts faced Aaron Donald, Scott Tolzein was the quarterback and Quenton Nelson was a senior at Notre Dame. Things are a little different this time around. Week 2 will feature arguably one of the best offensive linemen in the league matching up against easily the best player (not just defensive) in the NFL. This is perhaps one of the biggest matchups for Jacob Eason as the QB1. It will only be his second game starting as essentially a rookie. At Washington, he was not so great under pressure, so ensuring Quenton Nelson (and potentially Ryan Kelly) get Aaron Donald under control will be crucial. Keep Eason in a clean pocket and let him work. If Donald gets home multiple times though, this team will be in trouble.
Derrick Henry vs Colts Front Seven (Week 3 & 8)
The 2000-yard rusher is surely going to be looking to go back to back. The freight train known as Derrick Henry is nearly impossible to put a stop to. Having under 90-yards only 5 times in 16 games last year, Henry is going to be a focal point for the Colts front seven. In the two games against the Titans last year, Indy allowed Henry to rush for 103 and 178 yards, also tacking on 3 touchdowns in the second game. The wide receiver duo of AJ Brown and Julio Jones will be a massive 1-2 punch to Henry’s run game, but it’s almost certainly the latter that will be a bigger factor. If Buckner, Leonard, and co. don’t get him under control, Jacob Eason will constantly be playing from behind.
Darius Leonard vs Lamar Jackson (Week 5)
Another rematch from 2020, shutting down Lamar Jackson is going to be key for this week 5 matchup. You have to think Darius Leonard is going to be the man watching him like a hawk all game. Last year, 6 of Jackson’s 13 rushing attempts were ended by Darius Leonard. Through the air he only finished with 170 yards and no touchdowns, but this Ravens wide receiver core is much stronger than last year’s. They’ve added Sammy Watkins and rookie first-rounder, Rashod Bateman to the mix. Meaning Lamar has some weapons to work with. Darius Leonard is going to have to be all over everything in this year’s game or the Ravens offense is going to pull away faster than Jacob Eason can keep up.
Deforest Buckner vs Niners Offensive Line (Week 7)
If Carson Wentz isn’t back by this game, this should be the last one Eason starts before he is. And it’s shaped up to be a good one. Perhaps one of the biggest matchups this week would be Deforest Buckner’s homecoming/revenge game. Playing and starting every game since he was a rookie in 2016 for the 49ers, Buckner was traded away the year after he was named a Second-Team All-Pro. In his first season in Indy, he finished 3rd in sacks for an interior defensive lineman and seemed to essentially live in the backfield, earning him First-Team All-Pro honors. As for the Niners offensive line, last year they were in the bottom half of the league on pressures and sacks allowed. More often than not, from the interior of the offensive line (Buckner’s territory). They brought in an aging Alex Mack to assist with that, but you have to think DeFo is going to feast once again.
Josh Allen vs Colts Defense (Week 11)
This 2020 Wild Card rematch should be after Wentz’s return, meaning it will feature a different QB vs QB matchup than the playoff game last season. But it’s not the Colts’ QB play that will determine this game. It’s almost certainly neutralizing Josh Allen. I think all Colts fans remember this game very vividly. I think what they should remember more is the effect that MVP candidate Josh Allen had on the game. Accounting for nearly 400 total yards and 3 touchdowns of offense, the Colts defense proved there was nothing they could do to stop him. And that has to be the focal point this time around. Someone who can throw as far as Allen and run as fast as him is very tough to hinder, but if the Colts are able to keep him somewhat under control, there’s a solid chance they can take this game.
Bucs Receivers vs Colts Secondary (Week 12)
This matchup should be self-explanatory. If the Colts can not stop the likes of Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, Scotty Miller, Gronk, and OJ Howard, then I don’t see any possible way they can win this game. The run game for the Bucs is still not great, meaning Tom Brady is going to be spreading the ball all over the place. These receivers are not going to be easy to keep under wraps by any means and the Colts secondary are almost certainly not going to be able to keep up with them. However, if you go out and keep everything in front of you and play for the redzone, the Colts have a genuine shot to come out of this game on top.
Patriots Secondary vs Colts Wide Receivers (Week 15)
Last year, the Patriots secondary was 4th in yards allowed vs. wide receivers. They locked down almost every WR core they went up against. The combination of Gilmore, Jones, Jackson, McCourty, and Dugger is nearly impossible to rack up yards against. Pittman, Hilton, Campbell, and crew will be in for quite the competition this year. Carson Wentz will be playing (and have played for weeks, assumingly) by this time, so they will have a solid arm throwing to them. But they will all have their work cut out for them.
Chandler Jones & JJ Watt vs Colts O-Line (Week 16)
Assuming Chandler Jones does not get traded like he currently wants to, this is almost definitely the best pass rushing duo in the league. However with Chandler Jones coming off an injury and JJ Watt being injury-prone in general there is no telling how they could look come Week 16. It will likely be Jones going up against the tackles, while Watt matches up against the interior offensive linemen, so it will be crucial that Eric Fisher comes back as strong as he once was and Nelson/Kelly/Glowinski continue to be as dominant as they have been as a unit in the last few years. Control Jones and Watt, keep Wentz, and let the defense work to stop Murray and Hopkins.