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Seahawks-Colts preview: Indy isn’t lifeless without Andrew Luck

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Seattle Seahawks v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Jonathan Moore/Getty Images

The 1-2 Seattle Seahawks return home to make their 2017 prime-time debut against the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts, 1-2 as well, come into Seattle having just recorded their first win of the season in an encouraging 31-28 game against the Cleveland Browns. What should’ve been Russell Wilson vs. Andrew Luck II has become Wilson vs. Jacoby Brissett, with both teams entering Sunday with a clear mission.

For the Seahawks, it’s shaking off a slow start on both sides of the ball. For the Colts, it’s simply continuing to keep pace with the rest of a poor AFC South until Andrew Luck returns from injury.

Despite missing Luck, the Colts aren’t the directionless ship they usually resemble without him. An interesting defense, a dynamic running quarterback and one of the most explosive receivers in the league makes this an interesting foe. Now, for the debrief:

Last week, Indianapolis looked like…

A competent football team. The only time over the last three seasons that the Colts have resembled an actual NFL team without Luck was a several-game stretch in 2015, when an aging Matt Hasselbeck served as a lifeline. That’s insane. While Luck has missed 13 games since 2015, Hasselbeck, Josh Freeman and Scott Tolzien have all started for the Colts. Additionally, Charlie Whitehurst and Ryan Lindley have gotten into games for them. Math isn’t my strong suit, but I believe what you get when you add up five mediocre quarterbacks is five wasted seasons of a generational talent’s career.

Trading for Jacoby Brissett was a season-changing move. In Tolzien’s one start this season, Indianapolis posted one offensive touchdown - a Marlon Mack rushing score - while Tolzien threw two pick-sixes. Since Brissett has come in, the Colts have looked capable of moving the ball both on the ground and through the air. More importantly, Brissett gives them a chance to compete on a weekly basis and will help them remain competitive in a lousy division until Luck returns.

In this game, Seattle needs to…

Come out firing. There’s a huge opportunity against a lesser opponent to turn this into a quicksand game for Indianapolis early. To do so, the Seahawks can’t spend another first half sorting themselves out on offense. Whether it’s finally connecting on a deep shot to Tyler Lockett, getting Jimmy Graham involved, forcing the ball to Doug Baldwin like last week, or riding Chris Carson, Seattle has to put up points early.

If they’re allowed to hang around for even a few possessions, the Colts are good enough to stay in the game. Brissett is going to gain yardage and make things happen on the ground, T.Y. Hilton is an explosive play waiting to happen; Indianapolis can score points against Seattle’s defense, and as we’ve seen already this year, the defense can only hold serve for both sides of the ball for so long.

A critical factor for the Colts will be…

For their defensive line to continue to be a strength. After former GM Ryan Grigson spent the better part of five seasons ignoring the defensive side of the ball, new GM Chris Ballard spent the offseason correcting that, making smart additions like OLB John Simon, DE Jabaal Sheard as well as DTs Johnathan Hankins and Al Woods.

Simon signed with Indianapolis following the best season of his career in Houston, and has registered two sacks and been one of the best defenders on a defense ranked 15th by DVOA. He, along with Sheard have been a revelation on the edge for the Colts this season. Woods and Hankins immediately solidified the interior of Indianapolis’ defensive line, playing incredibly stout for the 11th ranked run defense by DVOA. Beyond the new signings, the Colts have been able to regularly rotate in Henry Anderson and Margus Hunt, something they were unable to do in past seasons.

The Seahawks are most vulnerable along the offensive line, and Indianapolis’ newfound strength on their defensive line could represent a big problem for Seattle.

A critical factor for the Seahawks will be…

Getting Jimmy Graham involved. Despite a slow start to the season, Graham remains Seattle’s biggest mismatch and one of the ten biggest mismatches in the entire league. Colts’ cornerback Vontae Davis is set to make his season debut against the Seahawks, career journeyman Rashaan Melvin has been playing well, and one of the best players in the 2016 Draft - Malik Hooker - has been outstanding since he got healthy. With Doug Baldwin hobbled by injury, Indianapolis’ secondary should be able to slow down or even shut down Seattle’s receivers completely. Graham represents an entirely different problem.

For all the strides the Colts’ defense has made through three games, their inside linebackers and strong safety spot remain question marks. Indianapolis rotated Darius Butler and Matthias Farley at strong safety throughout week three, with Butler playing predominantly on passing downs. Hooker will be tasked with covering the middle of the field, so the Seahawks will have the chance to kick-start their star tight end and take advantage of a great matchup against Butler or Farley on Sunday night.

Players who have stood out for the Colts…

Malik Hooker and Jacoby Brissett. Hooker, my favorite player in this past draft class, has been a contributor from the moment he stepped on the field. After missing week one recovering from injury, Hooker started in week two against the Arizona Cardinals, playing every snap on defense while picking off Carson Palmer and registering a PBU. In week three, nearly the same impact; 99-percent of Indianapolis’ snaps, an interception and a PBU. The Colts haven’t had a secondary player this talented or impactful since Bob Sanders, and he’ll be all over the field on Sunday night.

Brissett has made such a difference to Indianapolis. On the field, he gives them a chance to win, he already has a connection with star wideout T.Y. Hilton and he can hurt teams with his arm and legs. Off the field, he deserves a ton of credit for keeping 2017 from being another lost season for the Colts. He’s going to keep Indianapolis in the division race until Luck returns - assuming he does - and more importantly the trade for him was a great message of intent from GM Ballard. For veterans like Frank Gore, Hilton, Anthony Castonzo and Davis, they faced another uncertain season in an uncompetitive division with Luck injured. Ballard was proactive in bringing in a competent placeholder, and both he and Brissett deserve credit for keeping the Colts relevant - even if it is relevancy in the AFC South.

A reason for optimism…

Prime-time under the lights at CenturyLink Field. A chance to show the league and the country that the Seahawks are still a contender, still a bully, and can still blow teams out. They’re coming off of their most promising half of offensive football of the season, and will have a chance to keep that momentum rolling with Indianapolis running into a buzzsaw in Seattle.

And a prediction…

The Seahawks have been here before: disjointed on offense, short drives wearing out the defense and the team getting written off, only for Seattle to remind the league who they are in epic fashion. Prime-time against the Colts is a perfect scenario for that to play out again. Seahawks come flying out of the gate and it’s not as close as it looks, 31-13 final.