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5 burning Falcons - Colts questions with Stampede Blue

Get the Indianapolis perspective from our friend Chris Blystone at Stampede Blue.

Indianapolis Colts v Tennessee Titans Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Yearning to learn more about the Colts? We were too, especially with injury questions swirling around Indianapolis and an offense built around a terrific back, which has posed problems for the Falcons in the past. Fortunately, I was able to ask Chris Blystone at Stampede Blue five questions and get five great answers, and one hopefully inaccurate prediction.

Dave Choate: Jacoby Brissett, from what I’ve seen, has done a nice job through two games at the helm of this offense. What can you tell us about how the change from Andrew Luck to Brissett has impacted the offense, and how are you guys feeling about Luck with a little distance from that shocking announcement?

Chris Blystone: I’ll start off saying that Jacoby Brissett is not Andrew Luck. That much is pretty clear to anyone who has watched both players. Andrew Luck was an absolute pleasure to watch play the quarterback position, even if Colts fans had to watch him do it primarily from his back. His pocket awareness, elusiveness, and ability to make a back breaking play against defenses at the last possible moment were simply incredible. It would be a lie to say Colts fans are over his loss, because with him on this roster I think this was a Super Bowl team, especially given the turmoil in the AFC.

The offense the Colts have fielded so far is a far more balanced one than Andrew Luck probably would have orchestrated. They talked all offseason about running the ball, and so I think that even with Luck at the helm they would have been heavier on that side of the ball, but with Brissett under center they’ve run the ball 67 times compared with 55 pass attempts. That makes sense because they have an incredible run blocking offensive line and have averaged 5.5 YPC.

In terms of the style of passing, they haven’t changed much. Brissett is capable of making every throw, and has made a few this season that were really impressive. His biggest issue is his processing. He holds the ball too long and takes far longer than Luck to work through progressions. If Reich designs him open first and second reads, he does well. If those reads can’t get open or he faces an elite pass rush, he struggles.

However, from a talent standpoint, Brissett can make any throw he needs to.

Dave Choate: Marlon Mack might be the guy I fear most in this game. Tell us about his season thus far, and tell us how you’d stop him, if you were in charge of doing so.

Chris Blystone: Marlon Mack is quickly gaining recognition around the league, but he’s been on a tear for a while. He has good vision and the ability to one-cut and go. It isn’t Mack’s straight line speed that is impressive, it is his acceleration. He can hit the corner and be gone, and if he gets to the second level he is a real problem.

Additionally, Mack comes with a pretty brutal stiff arm that he has embarrassed some quality players with. He isn’t a power back who can run guys over, but he consistently finds creases and gets positive yardage. Worst for defenses, he tends to get going as the game goes on. As defenses wear down, Mack starts heating up. If the linebackers aren’t on their “A” game deep into the second half, Mack can get loose and find the end zone.

If I’m game planning for Mack it is by doing whatever I can to get penetration into the backfield. He’ll be running behind two of the best in Quenton Nelson and Ryan Kelly all day, so doing what you can to make their lives miserable is critical. Also, you absolutely cannot lose contain. Mack can get to the edge faster than most, and if the linebackers get sucked in and let him get outside they’re in big trouble.

Dave Choate: It sounds like Darius Leonard may miss this game. How much does that impact this defense’s ability to stop the Falcons’ offense, and how good is this front seven minus Leonard?

Chris Blystone: Leonard is in concussion protocol, and it is always tough to forecast how that shakes out. If he has to miss, the Colts will start one or a combination of their two rookie linebackers, E.J. Speed and Bobby Okereke. Both players are athletic freaks with similar profiles to Leonard. They both flashed a ton of ability during camp and the preseason, and if we were playing a team without Matt Ryan as the quarterback, I’d be pretty excited to see them get a lot of playing time.

However, you never want to be missing your All-Pro linebacker, and being without Leonard would be a major loss. He is the on field leader of the defense, and at least in 2018, they went as he went. This year has been a bit different. Leonard had his worst career game in week one, and while his week 2 performance was better, his level of play hasn’t been so starkly better than everyone else on the field.

Anthony Walker is a very underrated linebacker at the MIKE position, and the Colts have a talented defensive line that they rotate frequently as well. If they have to go without Leonard, it will sting, but I expect them to still field a competitive defense. As for stopping the Falcons offense, I think limiting them is far more achievable a goal. This is a team that will try to take the ball away, and minimize big plays. They still have plenty of players who are capable of that, although Leonard makes them a far better front seven when he’s at his best.

Dave Choate: What’s the plan for Julio Jones? He’s had one mediocre game and one very good one, but he’s been largely bottled up aside from a couple of big plays to this point? Without Pierre Desir, how much more difficult is it going to be to slow down this passing attack, and can the pass rush cover up any weaknesses in the secondary?

Chris Blystone: Is curl up in the fetal position a choice?

Pierre Desir is the Colts most reliable defender, and he would be my first choice to have covering Jones. The good news for the Colts is that they have a pretty solid cornerback room. The drop off in talent is minimal from top to bottom, and Quincy Wilson filled in really well for Desir last week after he went out.

In reality, I think we expect that Jones is going to make plays. He is simply too good not to. What the Colts will try to do is to minimize the damage. They’ll roll coverage over top of him in the form of Malik Hooker, and try to make sure they don’t get beat for any big plays.

What they’ll be hoping is that they can abuse the offensive line and get to Matt Ryan early and often with their talented pass rushers. Denico Autry was insane on the interior last week, and Justin Houston has been demanding significant attention from opposing offensive lines. That leaves the Colts’ slew of really fast defenders like Kemoko Turay, Ben Banogu, and Al-Quadin Muhammad to come off the blind side in what is usually a one-on-one matchup.

Turay missed last week with a neck injury, but was electric in week one, notching two sack fumbles (one that was called back due to a Justin Houston offsides call). If he is back and in the game, he could be the impact the Colts need to slow the passing game.

Dave Choate: The usual capper, I suppose. What will be the score of this game, and what are your expectations for the Colts season overall?

Chris Blystone: I’ll begin here by saying I am truly awful at these predictions, and that I always pick the Colts, so Falcons fans, don’t take any offense.

I really do feel good about this Colts team as far as the 2019 season goes. They are as balanced a team as we’ve had since we won the Super Bowl, and maybe even more so than they were then. The biggest question lately has been whether Adam Vinatieri needs to hang up his cleats, as he has missed 3 extra points and 2 field goals already this season. For that reason, Colts fans will be sweating if this is a close game.

Matt Ryan hasn’t played particularly well so far this season, and I don’t think that’s indicative of his norm. I strongly hope he rights himself and plays an excellent season…starting against the Titans in Week 4.

With all that said, I expect this game will be a bit better for the Colts offensively, because I think Marlon Mack has a favorable matchup against the Falcons defense. Likewise, I think the Falcons will move the ball well against the Colts offense. Ultimately, this game will come down to turnovers.

The Colts forced two fumbles and dropped two picks last week. They are a team that has been coached to take the ball away, and they chop and punch at every ball. I believe whoever protects the ball better wins this game, and I think in this case the Colts get the edge at home and win a close one.

Prediction: 31-27.