While the Indianapolis Colts' season-opener against the visiting Oakland Raiders isn't the highest-profile game of Week 1, don't assume for a second that the team is overlooking their first regular-season matchup.
After a month of playing meaningless football games without game-planning, the Indianapolis coaches will be spending all week finding favorable matchups, especially matchup-guru Pep Hamilton. One could argue that this could be a trap game for the Colts, who have big aspirations for this season and could assume a win against the seemingly hapless Raiders is guaranteed.
But with it being the first real game of 2013, that's an unlikely outcome. The team should be focused and prepared. If they're not, Indianapolis has more problems than anybody thought.
So after looking at the different potential problems that Oakland presents, what should the Colts' game plan look like?
Defense: Corral Terrelle Pryor
No, Terrelle Pryor isn't setting the world on fire.
But that doesn't mean he can't be dangerous. Given his ability to both run and throw the deep ball, Pryor is a threat to make big plays even if his efficiency is lacking.
The first step to keeping Pryor from making an impact is the same as it is for all quarterbacks: pressure him.
The Colts certainly have questions about their ability to do that, but against the Raiders, it will be easier than most weeks. The Raiders were 30th in the NFL in Pass Blocking Efficiency during the preseason, according to Pro Football Focus, and their starting offensive line suffered another blow when left tackle Menelik Watson suffered a shoulder injury this week.
Watson may still play, but regardless the Colts are facing one of their least impressive opponents in terms of pass-blocking. The Colts do have a lack of proven pass-rushers (even OLB Cam Johnson, recently traded for, has never gotten a sack in the regular season), which they will attempt to mask with complicated blitzes, head coach Chuck Pagano told Stephen Holder of the Indianapolis Star:
We stayed pretty vanilla throughout the course of preseason. You rush three and you rush four. We’re probably like everybody else where you don’t show a whole lot and so we’ve got a lot of things that we can do to generate pass-rush in a lot of different ways, like most people. I feel good about it and the plan will be a little bit more creative, if you will, going into this first one. We got guys that can get after it.
The Colts blitzed about 12 percent higher than average last season, expect a lot of that this year as well.
The one area the Colts do need to worry about in that regard is the read-option. But according to Mike Wells of ESPN, they've done their homework there as well, preaching discipline and containment.
As long as the defense keeps Pryor's athleticism in focus at all times, and it seems that they are prepared in that regard, they should be able to keep the Raiders offense at bay. The Colts can overcome a big day by Darren McFadden (as they did against the Chiefs last year when Jamaal Charles ran for 226 yards on 22 carries), but if they can't stop the quarterback, it will turn into a shootout.
Offense: Efficiency is the Name of the Game
This is what the switch to Pep Hamilton is supposed to be all about: efficiency.
With Bruce Arians, the Colts took risks on every other play and were a threat to score at all times.
Under Hamilton, especially against the Raiders, the Colts don't need to try to force the ball down the field, but can use their flexibility to create mismatches and then take what the defense offers.
It's a game of chess: make a move, let the opponent make a move, react to that move, etc. Of course, the good chess players know how an opponent will react and plan their moves accordingly.
Take, for example, this sequence against the Giants.
The Colts ran a screen while the defense came out in soft coverage on the outside. Darrius Heyward-Bey is able to get nine yards on the quick pass.
The Giants don't adjust, and the Colts go to Reggie Wayne on a screen to the slot man as both the outside and slot corner are six yards off the line of scrimmage.
After a short gain, the Colts look long on the next play, but Andrew Luck's first read is covered, and the pass rush gets to him. He scrambles for 14 yards.
On the next play, the Giants are in soft coverage again on the outside, and the Colts run the exact same screen to Heyward-Bey as they had at the beginning of that sequence.
Finally, the Colts got the adjustment they wanted: press-man coverage with a single-high safety, and they took advantage with a deep touchdown pass to Wayne.
On this particular play, the Colts lucked out as the Wayne touchdown came courtesy of a tipped pass. But the Colts got the coverage they wanted and the results they desired (one-on-one on the outside, no safety help). Wayne has a step on the corner, but Luck's throw is short due to the pass rush.
And actually, the only reason Wayne is able to tip it to himself is because the safety is so far away on the play.
This is exactly the kind of thing I expect to see from the offense against the Raiders. The Colts can take their time, take the short gains and then find the big plays when they are available.
The one thing that the Colts absolutely have to do is to stay aggressive.
The Raiders are likely the worst team the Colts will face this season, outside of possibly Jacksonville, and the team needs to put them away early.
If the Colts allow Oakland to stay in the game by being uber-conservative in the second half, miracles (or disasters) can happen at the end of games. The Colts likely won't have the luck they had last season in 2013, so they absolutely have to win the games they are supposed to win, including this one.
While they must be smart about that aggression (again, take what the defense gives you), they can't allow conservative play-calling dictate their second-half, especially if the Raiders show any signs of offensive life.