Oakland at Colts
Kickoff: 1 p.m. Sunday in Lucas Oil Stadium
TV: WANE, Ch. 15
Radio: WOWO, 1190-AM
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INDIANAPOLIS – The media overheated this week in questioning how the Indianapolis Colts will stop Oakland Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor, owner of 14 completions and 10 rushing attempts in four NFL appearances.
How will the Colts handle Pryor on the read-option? Have they researched it? Studied it? Contacted outside sources, including strategic and statistical analysts?
I understand there's a storyline to generate and the emergence of Pryor adds a bit of mystery and intrigue to the Raiders' offense.
But, come on, this opening game is more about the Colts than the Raiders. It's more about whether the offensive retooling of coordinator Pep Hamilton takes hold. It's more about whether the defense has truly upgraded. It's more about whether the Colts, 2013 version, can pick up and improve on last year's model.
If the Colts can't handle Pryor – who'll be feeling the pressure of new responsibility – what can they possibly hope to do against the 49ers' Colin Kaepernick, the Seahawks' Russell Wilson and some guy named Manning?
This game at 1 p.m. Sunday in Lucas Oil Stadium is all about the Colts.
“I'm not worried about them,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said after noting the potential of Pryor, running back Darren McFadden and the rest of the Raiders. “I'm worried about us.
“Everybody in this locker room is worried about us. The enemy is always in your own camp. There's nothing worse than reading your own press clippings, thinking about what you did a year ago, because nobody really cares what happened a year ago. This is about 'What have you done for me lately?' So our guys understand that and we will not overlook anybody.”
A year ago, the Colts came out of a painful breakup (so long Peyton Manning, Dallas Clark, Gary Brackett, Joseph Addai and friends) in a massive rebuilding project. Construction came in well ahead of schedule with a playoff berth.
Each unit on the team needs to show it's better than a year ago against the Raiders. The Colts offense will be facing an Oakland team with nine new starters.
Colts quarterback Andrew Luck needs to show he can exploit that defense, utilize his impressive array of talent (Reggie Wayne, Darrius Heyward-Bey, T.Y. Hilton, Dwayne Allen, Ahmad Bradshaw) and put up a ton of points.
The Colts offense will be measured by consistency and points, but primarily points.
“We'd love to go out there and be productive,” Luck said. “We'd love to get first downs. We'd love to convert third downs. We'd love to score points and limit turnovers. But we know it's going to be tough. They're an aggressive defense. They fly around. It's going to be a great test for us.”
That's Luck being respectful. Every NFL defense is a test and the retooled Raiders – who notably added aging playmaker Charles Woodson – will be a test. A “great” test? Again, if the Colts offense struggles against the Raiders, what will they do against the 49ers, Seahawks, Broncos and Texans? They need to take care of business against the Raiders.
Yes, Pryor and the potential for the read-option is a concern, even if his non-existent track record hardly portends an expert at the position.
“He gives you another dimension that you've got to take care of,” Pagano said. “He's dangerous on the move. Whether they're running read option with him (or) drop back to pass, if it's not there then the guy can take off. He can scramble. He can scramble to run. He can scramble to make plays down the field.”
Fair enough. Pryor is mobile. But, again, he won't be the most mobile quarterback the Colts fans and clearly not the most experienced.
If he runs the read option, it's a bonus to prepare for Kaepernick in three weeks.
It's most important to see the Colts defense thrive in all situations. The fortified front line needs to slow McFadden. The half-new defensive secondary needs to read Pryor and disrupt and possibly intercept some passes. A pass rush of any kind needs to emerge from some combination of Robert Mathis, Erik Walden and Bjoern Werner.
“It's a team defense; everybody has to do their job,” Mathis said. “We've got to put it on the field. Can't go by hype or anything of that nature. We've got to put the product out.”
Some in the media have framed the Raiders as being similar to the Colts of a year ago in terms of the amount of turnover they've had in their lineup. I can see some parallels. Those Colts also got beat down by some superior teams a year ago (the New England Patriots come to mind).
This is a team the Colts must beat, if not beat down, the Raiders if they're going to be a better team than a year ago and a possible Super Bowl contender.
It'll be interesting to see what Pryor brings to the Raiders offense of even if Raiders coach Dennis Allen turns to Matt Flynn.
But make no mistake. This game is about the Colts and where they stand to open 2013.