On Sunday, the Cleveland Browns’ take on the Indianapolis Colts. To help preview a few topics from Indianapolis’ perspective, we reached out to Chris Blystone from Stampede Blue and exchanged five questions with him. Enjoy!
Pokorny: “Philip Rivers is the Colts’ new quarterback in 2020. Everyone knows the type of quarterback he is from all his years with the Chargers, so tell us in general how he has performed along with the Colts’ receivers.”
Blystone: “Rivers has been a massive upgrade over Jacoby Brissett. While that doesn’t say all that much, it is really nice to have a quarterback who can quickly work through his progressions and hit receivers all over the field. Rivers has a great feel for timing routes, and an aptitude for screen passes that the Colts did not have with Brissett, so having him under center is a big advantage for this team.
Having said that, the Colts have not asked Rivers to carry this team at any point in the season. This is a run-first team, and they have been relying on defense, the run game, and special teams play to win games, rather than leaning on Rivers. He’s played like a guy capable of making big-time throws, but so far this season, he hasn’t been asked to very often.”
Pokorny: “Jonathan Taylor is the Colts’ starting running back this year after being selected as one of their second-round draft picks. How has the rookie’s performance been?”
Blystone: “Jonathan Taylor has looked the part of a running back picked that high in the draft. He’s got explosiveness, speed, power, and runs angry. One of the concerns about Taylor coming into the season was that he tended to put the ball on the turf at a higher rate than you’d like from a featured back. That hasn’t been an issue for him so far, as ball security has been at a premium. Additionally, with Rivers dealing the football, Taylor has proven himself to be a capable pass-catching back, and has the kind of speed that can absolutely torch defenses if he gets the ball in the second level. Given some of the injuries to the Colts receivers, Taylor has been one of the most effective offensive players on the team in 2020.”
Pokorny: “Defense, defense, defense. Through four weeks, Indianapolis has the top-ranked defense in the NFL in yards allowed, excelling at defending both the run and the pass. Sometimes, numbers tell the truth, and sometimes they lie, depending on how the flow of the games have gone. From your assessment, what is the top strength of the Colts’ defense?”
Blystone: “The Colts defense is strongest at stopping the run, and that is in large part due to the fact that they added DeForest Buckner to the middle of their defensive line in the offseason. The stat sheets can’t do justice to the season Buckner has had, but this film breakdown might. When you add his level of talent up front, it creates a ripple effect throughout the rest of the defense, and the Colts have felt that. Their talented linebacker corps has been fast to hit their run fits, and have gotten clean to the backfield consistently due to the penetration from the interior defensive linemen. What’s more, the young secondary has risen to the challenge and played well. They are opportunistic and making plays when they are most needed, despite being banged up a bit early in the season.”
Pokorny: “If there is an area where the Colts’ defense has had some issues in the first four games, tell us a little about it.”
Blystone: “There haven’t been many major struggles in terms of the defense once they got up to speed, but in week one they did struggle with miscommunications about assignments in the secondary. That led to receivers not getting covered properly and busted coverages that often went for bigger plays. That has not reared its head again, but is something to watch.
For a defense that will give up short throws, they have in prior years been susceptible to teams that have talented running backs who can take dump passes in the second level and make guys miss, although that has not been an issue so far this season. However, with Darius Leonard potentially missing this game with a groin injury, it could certainly be a weakness to capitalize on.”
Pokorny: “Tell us about one player on offense and one player on defense who Browns fans might not be familiar with, but who could make a nice contribution for this week’s game.”
Blystone: “The first name to watch is rookie safety Julian Blackmon. He is just 10 months removed from an ACL tear, but has somehow gotten back to playing shape in extraordinary time. More than that, he has stepped in for starting safety Malik Hooker and offered an immediate and significant upgrade. An impact player with a pass breakup that led to an interception as well as a pick himself, Blackmon has flashed all the things you want from a rookie, and he is likely to continue making splash plays as a young player proving he is a ball hawk in the making.
On offense, the player Browns fans might not have heard of is tight end Mo Alie-Cox. Alie-Cox has been bounced from active roster to practice squad, but finally stuck last season. He is a converted basketball player who didn’t play a down of college football. In fact, his last football before being signed by the Colts was as a freshman in high school. Since joining the Colts, he has flourished as a blocking tight end, and this season he has been breaking out as a pass catcher. A crazy athlete, he has put some truly spectacular catches on film, and has the ability to move far better than a man his size should be able to. The Colts have not featured him fully yet this season, but Frank Reich will definitely get him involved in the game plan, and he is one to watch.”
Thanks again to Chris for taking the time to answer my questions.