HOW SEATTLE WILL TRY TO WIN::
New offensive coordinator Shane Waldron was brought in to renovate the offense, focusing on pace and getting the ball out of Russell Wilson’s hands quicker. This will be their first test and, while we didn’t get to see anything from the starting unit live in the preseason, by all accounts, the transition has gone well, and they have looked sharp during training camp. This should be a good matchup for their new offense as the Colts play primarily off man and deeper zone type coverages (Cover 2, Cover 3, and Cover 6) — which aims to limit big plays and keep things in front of them. The Seahawks’ new scheme is designed to attack those shorter areas of the field, and they have the athletes to make plays after the catch.
The Colts’ run defense is notoriously strong — over the last two regular seasons, they have given up three 100-yard games in four matchups with the freakish Derrick Henry and NONE over their other 28 games. Their defense is anchored by their two First-team All-Pro players – LB Darius Leonard and DT DeForest Buckner — and is built to create problems for opposing running games. Buckner and his fellow defensive linemen are great at disrupting blocking schemes and causing havoc in the middle of the field. Leonard and the rest of the Colts’ speedy/athletic LB corps are terrific at filling gaps on inside runs and pursuing and tracking perimeter runs. The pieces of the Colts’ run defense just “fit” and make it very difficult for opposing offenses to run the ball effectively.
While this is still a Pete Carroll team that will not completely abandon the run, this should be a perfect storm for the Seahawks’ debut of their new OC. The Seahawks will take what the Colts give them — short and intermediate passing — and attempt to efficiently move the ball down the field (while hoping for their athletic receiving corps to make a few big plays after the catch).
HOW INDIANAPOLIS WILL TRY TO WIN::
New QB Carson Wentz missed most of training camp after a broken bone in his foot required surgery. He recovered on the fast end of his 5-12 week timeline from that surgery but was then promptly placed on the COVID list after only a couple of light practices in his return. This is hardly an ideal lead up to the season for a QB in a new situation looking to turn his career around. The one positive that Wentz has going for him is his familiarity with the system that HC Frank Reich runs, as Reich was his OC in Philly during his first two seasons in the NFL — including his 2017 Pro Bowl season.
That is all-important context because of what it means for how the Colts will likely approach this game. Wentz will be rusty after all the missed practice time, and given his past, the Colts need to make sure they work him in slowly and don’t break him early in the season by asking too much of him. This should lead to the Colts leaning on their running game and short-area passing.
The Colts have a solid offensive line that should have an advantage over the Seahawks’ defensive front. Seattle ranked 6th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed last season. That number is deceiving, however, because the first half of the season, when their offense was on fire, they forced many teams to abandon the run in catch-up mode while during the second half of the season they faced a parade of poor offenses and running games. The Colts will provide a great test to Seattle’s run defense as they have a superstar-in-the-making RB, a formidable offensive line, and are very well-coached.
This all sets up for the Colts to use a heavy dose of the run game and keep Wentz in manageable situations, emphasizing short-area passing (screens, curls, and crossing routes) and conservative play calling.
LIKELIEST GAME FLOW::
These are two very well-coached teams, and this should be a highly competitive game. The Colts’ offense will not play aggressively enough to pull away early in the game, and the Colts’ defense by nature forces teams to take short gains and matriculate the ball down the field. Both teams have matchups that should allow for some success moving the ball but also serious reasons to worry about being able to score quickly and/or finish off drives with touchdowns. This could result in a lot of long drives ending in field goals, which would make this a lower scoring game than the over/under would lead you to believe. The likeliest game flow is a slug-it-out, back and forth game with a low likelihood of a shootout.
One way this game could play out could cause a team to abandon their initial plan and speed things up. That scenario would be if Wentz comes out rusty and unfamiliar with his new situation and the Colts have a couple of sloppy early turnovers. This situation could lead to short fields, and Seattle could build a big early lead if given those opportunities. This would force the Colts to become more aggressive and play at a faster pace. In that situation, Parris Campbell and Nyheim Hines would become very intriguing plays out of the slot and backfield as potential high volume pass catchers. TY Hilton is on IR, and Michael Pittman, while very talented in his own right, will play primarily on the perimeter against the Seahawks’ physical corners and deep zone schemes. A SEA D + Campbell stack would be an intriguing way to attack this game as more Wentz pass attempts at a faster pace would likely be the result of early mistakes (i.e. — sacks, fumbles, INT’s, TD’s for SEA D) and also lead to more opportunities for those types of plays throughout the game…..simultaneously creating a scenario where Campbell could see upwards of 10 targets at a very cheap $3,700 price tag on DraftKings. It is important to note that in Week 1 of 2020 (his only healthy game of the season), Campbell saw nine targets and a rush attempt (with a healthy TY Hilton).
The Colts (and Wentz) historically spread things out among many different pass catchers in their passing game. As outlined in the Tributary section above, Parris Campbell is an intriguing option given his expected role/usage + matchup + price. Week 1 pricing is soft enough that no other Colts pass-catcher has much appeal besides Michael Pittman if you want to make a “bet on the best athlete” despite how the game appears to set up for him.
Jonathan Taylor could be an attractive “bet on talent + volume” play in Week 1 as he is priced high enough ($8,000 on DraftKings) that most of the field will choose to pay up for the top end RBs or pay down for the RBs in the $6k range who appear to be underpriced. Taylor would be a bet that the Colts are able to keep this game competitive throughout by controlling pace with their running game and making him the workhorse after his breakout end to the 2020 season. Taylor does not have any injuries he is dealing with, but the Colts still chose to keep him in bubble wrap and not play a snap in the 2021 preseason, which would seem to indicate they intend to ride him this season. Taylor scored eight TDs in the last five weeks of 2020 and was an underrated pass catcher with 2.4 receptions per game despite playing under 60% of snaps in 12 of 15 games and ceding third-down work to Nyheim Hines. These context clues should lead us to believe he will have 20+ opportunities to handle the ball while receiving Goal Line work and having some upside out of the backfield against a Seattle defense that encourages short passes.
On the Seattle side, the matchup isn’t great but the talent is always there for Metcalf or Lockett to have a big game. It will be interesting to see how Metcalf fits in the new scheme, as in the past, he ran a fairly limited route tree with a lot of deeper routes that took longer to develop. Both WR’s should see more consistent target volume this season than they have in the past while also seeing their average depth of target (aDOT) come down some. While both Lockett and Metcalf always have a big game in their range of outcomes, the expected game flow and low likelihood of a shootout makes it very unlikely that either receiver or Russell Wilson will put up a “had to have it” type of game at their price tags, making them tough to justify outside of maybe a game stack with Taylor in MME situations.
Chris Carson will likely struggle to produce efficiently due to the difficulty of his matchup with the top-notch Colts defense. This means that playing him is a bet on multiple TD’s and a few receptions. While that is certainly possible, it is essential to understand that his paths to a good game are limited while having a high probability of an underwhelming game relative to a lead RB on a top 10 offense.
Gerald Everett followed OC Shane Waldron over from the Rams and has familiarity with the system, high-level athleticism, and increased opportunity working for him in a matchup that appears to favor shorter area passes that would increase his volume. At a $3,400 price tag on DK, there are worse bets you could make at a notoriously volatile TE position.