The Seahawks head to Indianapolis this weekend for their regular season opener, the first meeting between the teams since 2017, and the first in Indianapolis since 2013. To learn more about this week's opponent, we reached out to Colts.com writer JJ Stankevitz, who answered five questions about the Colts.
From injuries to COVID-19 issues, this has been a challenging offseason for the Colts, how has the team responded to that adversity and what's the mindset heading into Week 1?
Stankevitz: So let's just recap this for your readers, John. The Colts, between the first day of training camp and their first practice of Seattle week, had all these things happen:
- Head coach Frank Reich, who is fully vaccinated, tested positive for COVID-19 and had to quarantine for 10 days.
- Had four players (CBs T.J. Carrie and Xavier Rhodes, DE Al-Quadin Muhammed and OT Julién Davenport) placed on the COVID-19 list at the start of camp; all were activated between Aug. 2-Aug. 6.
- QB Carson Wentz felt a twinge in his foot on Day 2 of training camp and underwent a procedure to remove a bone fragment from his foot on Aug. 2
- LG Quenton Nelson underwent the *exact* same procedure *exactly* 24 hours later on Aug. 3.
- Defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus, who is fully vaccinated, tested positive for COVID-19 and had to quarantine for 10 days. Like Reich, he was asymptomatic.
- LT Eric Fisher, who was on the PUP list, was placed on Reserve/COVID-19 list Aug. 26; he was activated on Labor Day
- Nelson was placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list Aug. 26; he was activated Aug. 30.
- Wentz, C Ryan Kelly and WR Zach Pascal were placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list Aug. 30; all were activated Sept. 2.
- WR T.Y. Hilton underwent neck surgery and was placed on injured reserve Sept. 2.
If Colts fans started to feel like this team was doing its best impression of the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant softball team, well, that would've been fair. But the good news is the Colts have responded incredibly well to all this legitimate adversity, and enter the season feeling well-prepared to face the Seahawks.
Different players stepped up in the absence of so many critical pieces and proved they can be valuable contributors in 2021. The team's chemistry was not altered and continued growing in a positive direction. Practices remained competitive and spirited with both the offense and defense taking turns delivering everything from jabs to haymakers.
So the mindset is pretty good going into Week 1, to answer your question.
Speaking of offseason challenges, is Carson Wentz going to make it back to start the opener, and if he does, how ready is he given all the time he missed?
Stankevitz: Yep. Wentz is on track to play Sunday after being a full participant in practice Wednesday and Thursday. His recovery from that Aug. 2 foot procedure has been remarkable yet unsurprising, given Wentz's toughness and how well the surgery went. He's been determined to get back for Week 1 ever since he returned to practice in the last week of training camp and that's showed.
As for how ready he'll be? That's sort of the big question around here. Wentz only participated in six practices between the start of training camp and the end of the preseason. But he did put in a ton of work with his new teammates before training camp rolled around and does seem to have solid timing with the guys he'll throw to on Sunday.
And another thing here — it's not like Wentz was dropped into an entirely foreign scheme. He has a deep relationship with Frank Reich dating back to the 2016-2017 seasons with the Eagles, when Reich was Philly's offensive coordinator, and he also has Press Taylor here, too (Taylor was the Eagles' QB coach from 2018-2020 and is an assistant on the Colts' staff). Some of the terminology and details in the Colts' playbook is different, but he'll be running a lot of the same concepts he ran with the Eagles.
So there are reasons to believe Wentz will be ready even with limited practice time.
What are expectations like for this season after making the playoffs two of the last three years under Frank Reich and Chris Ballard?
Stankevitz: Expectations are high around here, starting with winning this first game. The Colts haven't won their season opener since 2013 and that's been a topic of discussion ever since Owner and CEO Jim Irsay made it a point of emphasis in talking to his team before training camp opened. From there, this is a team that's seen the impact of making the playoffs, yes, but not winning your division — last year, that meant going on the road to face a red-hot Buffalo Bills team in the wild card round and falling three points short of a win.
Irsay said back in March he feels like the Colts are entering another "golden era" of football here in Indianapolis. That's a tall order. But the expectations here are to win, and to win consistently. With the roster assembled by Ballard and coached by Reich, there are plenty of reasons to believe those expectations can be met.
The Colts defense looks to be a strength of the team, what does that unit do best and what will be its biggest challenge facing Russell Wilson and company?
Stankevitz: The Colts' defensive line played out of its mind during training camp. And get this: DeForest Buckner, who your readers certainly know well, played all of 2020 with a hand injury that limited his ability to grab and throw opposing offensive linemen.
Buckner was a First-Team All-Pro last year.
First-round pick Kwity Paye had an impressive preseason off the edge, with sacks in both games in which he played, and 2018 and 2019 second round picks Kemoko Turay and Ben Banogu, respectively, had excellent training camps after some rocky seasons recently. Grover Stewart is a menace at defensive tackle and there's plenty of depth behind the starting four in Matt Eberflus' 4-3 defense. But those players are going to have to stay disciplined knowing Russell Wilson's ability to make big-time plays outside the pocket.
Also, the coverage skills of linebackers Darius Leonard and Bobby Okereke are off the charts, so throwing over the middle will be difficult for any offense that takes on the Colts. The Colts' front seven (really six, since Eberflus mostly plays nickel) is going to provide the biggest challenge to the Seahawks.
What are a couple of matchups you're most looking forward to seeing on Sunday?
Stankevitz: I'm going to lock in on how Kenny Moore II matches up against Tyler Lockett in the slot. Moore is one of the best slot corners in the NFL — he limited opposing quarterbacks to a passer rating of 79 last year when targeting him in the slot — while Lockett, of course, is one of the best receivers from the slot in the NFL.
Paye will make his NFL debut against Duane Brown, and I'm fascinated to see how the rookie will do against a veteran making his 187th career start.
And on the other side of the ball, it's not a mono-a-mono matchup, but whoever has the most success between Colts running back Jonathan Taylor and Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner will be big in determining how this game plays out.
First meeting in 1977, the Seahawks and the Colts have faced one another 12 times in the regular season over the years. They will face off this Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Week 1 of the 2021 season.