With the regular-season finally here, the Indianapolis Colts face a rebuilding team in the Oakland Raiders on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium. Here are the five keys to a Colts win:
1. Protect the Franchise
The Colts spent significant money this offseason on improving the offensive line, adding Gosder Cherilus and Donald Thomas in free agency. There's some question about the health of left tackle Anthony Castonzo but he is expected to play. The line must give quarterback Andrew Luck time to operate. The Raiders have nine new starters on defense, and for good reason. They ranked 31st out of 32 in sacks last season. If Luck has time, he can carve them up.
2. Show some balance
Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton talks about how he wants to establish a power-running game and a run-first, balanced offense. No one believes the Colts are going to run more than pass. They drafted Luck for a reason. But if Vick Ballard and Ahmad Bradshaw can run well enough to offer the threat and option of a ground game, that's a bonus. The more the Raiders have to respect the run, the more time, again, for Luck to operate.
3. Win the turnover battle
The Colts need to show they can win the give-away/take-away battle this season. Luck will be running an offense with less risk (i.e. fewer fling-it-deep plays) and the defense has appeared to upgrade. Playmakers such as cornerback Greg Toler were brought in to bolster the pass defense and that should include interceptions. Toler had a pick and a forced fumble in the preseason.
4. Confuse Terrelle Pryor
If the Colts defense is as improved as touted, they need to find ways to discombobulate Pryor, who remains untested as an NFL quarterback. The Baltimore Ravens defense under Colts coach Chuck Pagano was noted for its combination of aggressiveness and strategic intelligence. The Ravens made opposing quarterbacks overthink things. That needs to happen here.
5. Dominate special teams
The Colts cannot afford to give up big returns, for touchdowns or field positions, or to botch their own returns. Adam Vinatieri has shown his leg strength remains as good as ever, and he's helped by the fact punter Pat McAfee handles kickoff duties. Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton should get his chances in the punt-return game and he's a touchdown return waiting to happen.