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Colts vs. Rams: Five keys to squashing St. Louis' spirit

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For more on the Colts, follow Reggie Hayes via Twitter at www.twitter.com/reggiehayes1

Indy needs to protect its QB and convert on third down

Saturday, November 9, 2013 - 12:01 am

The Indianapolis Colts play at home for the first time since beating the Denver Broncos in what seems like a long three weeks ago. Can they give their fans a show?

The Colts (6-2) face the St. Louis Rams (3-6) at 1 p.m. Sunday and will attempt to shake the trend of playing to the level of their competition.

Here are five keys to sending the Rams back with the St. Louis blues:

Protect the house, or at least The Franchise

The Rams bring one of the best pass-rushing duos in the game in Robert Quinn and Chris Long and they'll be out to replicate the Houston Texans' harassment of Colts quarterback Andrew Luck last week. Quinn has 10 sacks and Long 5.5. So it'll be up to the Colts offensive line, especially left tackle Anthony Castonzo and right tackle Gosder Cherilus, to have solid games in pass protection. But running backs Trent Richardson, Donald Brown and Stanley Havili will be important, too.

Wake up in the first half

A tendency to start slow has led to a number of comeback wins for Luck and the Colts offense, but it's a tendency that could end up biting them eventually. It's vital that Luck connect with his receivers early, putting the Rams on their heels. Maybe that means a deep ball to T.Y. Hilton early or maybe it just means a series of efficient completions to Coby Fleener, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Griff-LaVon-David Whalen-Brazill-Reed.

Robert Mathis on the loose again

Mathis has been the best pass rusher in the NFL this season, but had an off game against the Texans last week in trying to chase down Case Keenum. He'll have his eyes set on Rams quarterback Kellen Clemens this week, but he could also use some major help from Erik Walden, who had one of his best games in Houston. The sooner the Colts can make Clemens uncomfortable, the sooner Vontae Davis or Darius Butler come up with a pick or even a pick-six.

Convert on third down

When the Colts offense was struggling in the first half at Houston, much of the problem was the inability to convert on third down. That needs to change against the Rams. Two possibilities are Luck looking to Fleener more frequently and Luck using his running backs, Richardson and Brown, in short near-sideline routes that allow them to catch and accelerate. If his receivers avoid drops, that would be a big help on third down, too.

Smart coaching

It's not Chuck Pagano's fault that officials told him he could not throw the challenge flag when punter Pat McAfee was hit last week, but those are the type of things that Colts coaches responsible for knowing the challenge rules must know. Pagano also needs to make the right calls on punting vs. going for it on fourth down and using the clock well if the Colts have a second-half lead.

The pick: Colts 27, Rams 17