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The Dallas Cowboys welcome the Indianapolis Colts to AT&T Stadium on Sunday for a game that is crucial to the Cowboys playoff chances. The Colts have already clinched a playoff berth, but still have an outside chance of grabbing a #2 seed in the AFC. To find out what's been going on with the Colts, we turn to Josh Wilson at SB Nation's Colts blog, Stampede Blue.
Blogging The Boys: The Colts offense has a had a couple of rough weeks. What's going on there, any particular reason?
Stampede Blue: That's a great question. Four of the five lowest yardage totals for the Colts have come in the last five weeks while four of the six lowest point totals have come in that span as well. Last week was the lowest of the season in both areas, and it's pretty clear that the offense is struggling. I looked in-depth at some of the struggles earlier this week, but I think one of the biggest ones has been that they're turning the ball over a lot. In the last four games, they've turned the ball over twelve times. The main issue has been fumbles, as they've put the ball on the ground fourteen times in the last four games, losing eight of them. It's absolutely unacceptable to be turning the ball over at that pace and if the Colts can't get that under control then the struggles will continue. Additionally, however, the offense has had a lot of trouble adjusting to the loss of star back Ahmad Bradshaw for the season, defenses don't respect their run game, their offensive line has some issues, their receiver position has struggled a bit recently, and then simply Andrew Luck has been off on some throws too. It's a combination of a lot of things, but I think the turnovers are the biggest one and then the loss of Ahmad Bradshaw and their inability to replace him follows behind that as second. I don't think anything is beyond fixing, but the Colts better get some of the issues worked out before the playoffs roll around.
BTB: What's the latest on the injuries to TY Hilton, Vontae Davis and the offensive line?
SB: Officially, three offensive linemen have been ruled out, including starting right guard Hugh Thornton (missing his fourth straight game) and "starting" right tackle Gosder Cherilus. Additionally, valuable backup Joe Reitz will miss his second straight game. Neither Thornton nor Cherilus were playing well this season, so while those losses might hurt neither are disastrous for the Colts. It would be absolutely terrible for the Colts if T.Y. Hilton and/or Vontae Davis can't play, and they're both officially listed as questionable. Outside of Andrew Luck, they're the two most important players to the Colts. If I had to guess, I doubt Hilton will play, as he didn't practice this week, but head coach Chuck Pagano was quick to remind us not to count him out, as he's a special player. With that said, however, I would be surprised if Hilton plays. I think there's a better chance that Davis will play, but I do know the Colts will be more careful with injuries now that they've locked up the AFC South division. We likely won't know for sure on either Hilton or Davis until Sunday, but both are causes for concern. And if they can't go, that's absolutely not good news for Indy.
BTB: Andrew Luck is already one of the best QBs in the league, but has a very high turnover count. Any explanation for it?
SB: As far as the interceptions go, the easiest explanation is simply that he throws the football a lot. Nobody in the NFL has thrown more passes than Luck this year, and so while his fourteen interceptions look like a lot, his interception percentage is still a healthy 2.4%. That's right around league average, and so while it's not great it's also not as big of a concern as some might think by just looking at the stat sheet. There are certainly some throws that are just bad throws, but by and large I think a reason for the interceptions are just the high volume of throws.
As far as the fumbles go, however, it's simply an area where Luck has to get better. There's an explanation for this one too, and it's that Luck tries to extend plays. This is also one of his biggest strengths, as he can make something out of nothing and has to do so a lot with the Colts' offensive line. But recently, we've seen him try to make something out of a sure-sack and that leads to a fumble. He'll try to throw the ball while clearly in the grasp of a defender (or multiple defenders) and it results in a fumble. This is just one of those things that with a young player who has been counted on to do something with nothing for much of his first two seasons that he's become used to having to do that. He just needs to learn that it's ok to take a sack sometimes when he's wrapped up by a defender. He did a better job of this last week, so hopefully he's learning, but a lot of his fumbles are just him trying to extend plays when he shouldn't.
BTB: Should teams show any respect for the Colts running game, or should they just concentrate on stopping Luck and the passing game?
SB: Well... no, not really. If I was an opposing defensive coordinator I'd show no respect for the Colts' run game until they proved to me that they could run the ball. And ever since Ahmad Bradshaw's injury, that's really what teams have done. They just tee off on the offensive line in trying to pressure Luck and focus their attention almost solely on the passing game. When Boom Herron is in the game the Colts actually can get some plays on the ground, but they don't do this consistently enough to really scare a defense. I wouldn't respect the Colts' running game (especially with Trent Richardson in there) and focus on pressuring Luck and on the passing game until the Colts show they can beat you on the ground.
BTB: Can the Colts run defense stop the Cowboys running game, with or without DeMarco Murray?
SB: Well, with DeMarco Murray, I don't think so. We've come to understand that it's impossible to predict things in the NFL, but when Jonas Gray rushes for 201 yards on this defense there's really no reason to think they'll be able to stop DeMarco Murray - even if he's injured. My guess is that the closest they might come to stopping him is if he fumbles the ball and the Colts recover. If Murray doesn't go, then I think we'll see the Colts have a bit more success, but the Cowboys' offensive line is perhaps the best in the NFL and I think that even if Murray can't go the Colts will have problems stopping the run, though not as much as they would have with Murray in the game.
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