The Buccaneers (+2.5) are once again on the road this week, this time in Indy to square off against the Colts (-2.5). The Buccaneers sitting at 4-6 look to avoid a second straight loss while the Colts are coming off of their bye week after two straight wins.
To preview this game, we sat down with Chris Shepherd of Stampede Blue to get a closer look at this Colts team and how Sunday may play out.
1. With the Colts winning their last two games, they suddenly find themselves in the AFC playoff hunt. Was making the playoffs something that Colts fans were expecting heading into the season?
Most reasonable fans were expecting this to be a year of development. Obviously you’re going to have fans who believe the team is a Super Bowl contender every year and others who will believe the team is destined to lose all 17 games and this year was no different. But the vast majority of Colts fans recognized that the team won 4 games a season ago and came into the year with a first time head coach and a rookie quarterback. A playoff berth is always welcome but very few people were predicting it before the season started.
2. Losing QB Anthony Richardson for the season could have buried this team, but instead they have rallied around Gardner Minshew. What has been the biggest key to Minshew’s success?
I would argue they have succeeded in spite of Gardner Minshew. Shane Steichen has done a fantastic job putting the offense in position to move the ball and score points without Richardson. With Richardson, the Colts were leading the league in explosive play rate... without him the offense has been far less exciting but Steichen has done a great job effectively calling an entirely different offense for Minshew than he did for Richardson.
When Minshew has managed to be successful it has been when the run game is working. Without the ground game, however, Minshew hasn’t been able to beat simple coverages and take advantage of what should have been easy plays defenses have been giving him. It will be very free interesting to see what Steichen has up his sleeve after the bye to see if he can get Minshew out of the same behavior-loop of poor post snap play facing loaded boxes. Against the Panthers and Patriots the Colts only scored 23 offensive points combined. So in their last two games, against two of the worst teams in the NFL the Colts offense scored 11.5 points per game. Defenses have figured out how to stop the Colts offense, you just have to have an offense that won’t turn the ball over and score about two touchdowns and you’re all set.
So the Colts aren’t winning because of Minshew, they’re bringing him along with the rest of them.
3. The Colts made headlines this week by cutting star linebacker Shaq Leonard. Were you surprised by this move and why do you think the Colts decided to do it at this time?
I wasn’t surprised that the team moved on from Leonard. I was surprised they moved on from him when they did. Watching Leonard this season, it’s been obvious that he isn’t the same guy he was before the injuries. He just doesn’t have it anymore and a linebacker playing as poorly as he was, making $20 million per year, well the writing was on the wall. It seems that the team did a lot of self scouting over the bye as coaches informed Leonard he would be a healthy scratch from next weeks game before the front office decided to release him outright.
I believe the Colts did it now for Shaq. The move seems cold on the surface but I believe it was made with Shaq’s best interest in mind. He can’t beat out the guys in front of him in Indy and he was probably going to be a healthy scratch the rest of the way. His career is all but over. Cutting him now gives him the chance to possibly sign with a contending team and chase a ring while he can. There’s never going to be more interest in his services than there’s bound to be in the next few weeks as good teams try to fill depth roles and deal with injuries deep into the season.
4. When looking at this matchup, what would you say is the biggest X factor between these two teams that will ultimately decide how Sunday’s contest will go?
The biggest thing from the Colts perspective will be what Steichen has planned to (hopefully) improve Minshew’s play. Frankly, I’m not sure there’s much anyone can do to hide the ways in which Minshew struggles, but Steichen and I are the same age, one of us is an NFL head coach and the other is appearing in this 5 Questions article, so I guess I’ll wait to see before I count him out completely.
From the Bucs perspective on defense (assuming no major offensive changes from Indy) will Todd Bowles be patient enough to just load the box all day and dare Minshew to beat them with his arm? If Bowles does force Minshew to throw, the Bucs defense is going to have a great day. On offense if Baker Mayfield can just not turn the ball over, I think the Bucs offense will be just fine.
5. According to DraftKings Sportsbook, the Colts are a slight home favorite at -2.5 points. How do you see this one shaking out and what is your score prediction?
On defense, the Bucs load the box all day. Jonathan Taylor will be unable to get anything going, Gardner Minshew will continue to panic and not sustain drives. The Colts will have 2-3 scoring drives on the day.
On offense, the Bucs will find success running the ball. The Colts are still without nose tackle Grover Stewart and have given up 154 rushing yards per game without him. Mayfield will be able to take what the defense gives him without the pressure of playing from behind. The only limit to Bucs scoring drives will be their own dumb mistakes and time constraints.
If it doesn’t happen like this I believe it will be due to game changing special teams plays, turnovers or backbreaking penalties.
Thanks so much to Chris for doing this!