A week after playing the worst team in the NFL in the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Indianapolis Colts might be facing the best in the Seattle Seahawks.
The Seahawks (4-0) are known for their devastating defense, but also bring all sorts of offensive weapons in quarterback Russell Wilson, running back Marshawn Lynch and a bevy of wide receivers. Is it possible for the Colts to prevail in the 1 p.m. Sunday game at Lucas Oil Stadium? It's possible, and here are five keys to make it happen:
Take more than you give away
As any coach from Pop Warner on up will attest, the turnovers battle is always crucial, but it's even more so against a team that capitalizes as efficiently as the Seahawks. The Seahawks' secondary, led by the irrepressible Richard Sherman, has a combined seven interceptions. That means Colts quarterback Andrew Luck cannot be careless with his passes and he must be on the same page as his receivers (paging T.Y. Hilton!) from the start of the game. The good news is running back Trent Richardson rarely fumbles. The Colts are 6-0 under coach Chuck Pagano and an NFL-best 41-2 since 2000 when they don't commit a turnover.
Fire up in the red zone
When the Colts' offense moves inside the 20-yard line, they must come away with points. That doesn't necessarily mean touchdowns, although that's obviously preferable. But this is a game where points will likely be at a premium, so if it's 4th-and-2 at the 15, they better cash in an Adam Vinatieri field goal. The Colts rank 14th in the NFL in red-zone percentage, scoring 60 percent of the time. Seattle ranks eighth in stopping red-zone drives, with opponents scoring 36 percent of the time.
Contain Russell Wilson
The Seahawks quarterback is often lumped with Robert Griffin III and Colin Kaepernick as a “read-option” quarterback with a number of designed runs. But in actuality, he's more like Luck in terms of being a strong runner who can make things happen when plays break down. It will be especially crucial for the Colts to “set the edge” as they like to say, with defensive ends Cory Redding and Erik Walden. If the Colts defensive secondary can play well, Robert Mathis might get his shot at Wilson. Seattle has allowed 13 sacks this season.
Reggie and friends rule
The trio of Reggie Wayne, Darrius Heyward-Bey and T.Y. Hilton need to come up big against the Seattle secondary of Sherman, Brandon Browner, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor. Tight coverage is guaranteed on all three, so when Luck pushes a pass into the small window, they need to deliver by making the tough catches. Colts tight end Coby Fleener could be a critical factor, too. He had one of the best games of his career against Jacksonville. This is quite another level, however.
Colts coach Chuck Pagano has had an extended honeymoon period when it comes to criticism of his coaching decisions. That will likely be coming to a end. This is the type of game that could end up riding on decisions on his shoulders. Those decisions can range from when to challenge calls to when to call timeouts to when to go for a fourth-down conversion instead of punting. But it can also ride on knowing when it's pivotal to go for two on an extra point. He made a puzzling decision on that against the 49ers when it didn't ultimately matter. This time it might.
The pick: Colts 17, Seahawks 16