Indianapolis Colts (8-6, 9-5 ATS) at Arizona Cardinals (10-4, 9-5), 8:15 p.m., Saturday
Brolley’s Colts Stats and Trends
Indy has won five of six games outright and they’re 3-1 ATS in their last four games after knocking off the Patriots by 10 points as short home favorites.
The Colts have covered five straight games on the road and they’re 4-1 toward overs in those contests.
Indy has played over the total in five straight games as an underdog.
Jonathan Taylor has scored 19+ FP in 11 consecutive games, and he’s averaging a ridiculous 108.4 rushing yards per game after ripping the Patriots for 29/170/1 rushing. The Cardinals were giving up 4.6 YPC to RBs before Craig Reynolds went for 26/112 rushing against them in Week 15, so Arizona’s run defense needs to improve quickly before JT comes to town on Christmas Day.
The Colts completely hid Carson Wentz in the victory as he completed 5/12 passes for just 57 yards (4.8 YPA), one TD, and one INT. He’s now thrown for multiple TDs just once in his last five games and he’s averaging just 6.1 YPA in that span. Jared Goff just shredded Arizona’s pass defense for 216/3 passing for 20.6 FP last week, and Matthew Stafford lit them up for 287/3 passing and 23.5 FP two weeks ago.
Wentz's lack of passing volume crushed Michael Pittman last week with just a seven-yard catch on five targets, and it didn’t help that he got tossed in the third quarter on one of the weakest ejection decisions you’ll ever see. Pittman has now fallen below 10 FP in three of his last four games and he’s seen six or fewer targets in six of his last nine games with Taylor absorbing all of the production in this offense. The Cardinals have given up 14+ FP to four different WRs over the last two weeks.
Brolley’s Cardinals Stats and Trends
Arizona is coming off two consecutive humbling losses, including last week’s 30-12 defeat to the Lions as 13-point road favorites. The Cardinals dropped five of their final seven games to miss the playoffs in 2020, and they’re giving off similar vibes this season with a 3-4 stretch after opening the season with seven consecutive wins.
The Cardinals are 3-8 ATS in their last 11 home games.
Kyler Murray posted season-lows in YPA (5.7) and completion percentage (56.1%) in his first game without DeAndre Hopkins for the rest of the regular season. He turned in just 257/1 passing and 2/20 rushing against the Lions, and he’s now fallen below 20+ FP in three of his last four starts. Josh Johnson is the last QB to post 20+ against them when he came on in relief for Mike White in Week 9.
The Cardinals are sputtering a bit since Murray returned to the lineup, but Christian Kirk is heating up with 12/180/1 receiving on 18 targets for 26.0 FP over his last two games. Kirk has hit double-digit FP in seven of his last 10 games entering Week 16. The Colts limited Jakobi Meyers to 6/44 receiving on 12 targets last week, and Indy is giving up
A.J. Green is the top WR on the perimeter with Nuk out of the lineup, but Antoine Wesley stepped into eight targets (3/19 receiving) and 85% of the snaps. Green has seen 18 targets the last two weeks since Kyler returned to the lineup, which he’s turned into 11/166 receiving. Green hasn’t scored since Week 6 but the Colts are still giving up the most receiving TDs per game (1.3) to WRs.
Zach Ertz is coming off a season-high 11 targets last week, which he turned into 6/74 receiving. He’s posted 4+ catches and 8+ FP in four of his last five games, and he gets an appealing matchup this week against a Colts’ defense that allowed 6/77/2 receiving to Hunter Henry last week. Indy is now giving up the second-most receiving yards per game (66.7) to TEs this season.
James Conner held advantages in snaps (33 to 29), carries (8 to 6), receiving (2/31 to no catches), and routes (17 to 14) over Chase Edmonds, who saw his first action since Week 9. Edmonds turned in the most rushing yards (53 to 39), but Conner has definitely nudged ahead as the top option during Edmonds’ absence. The Colts are giving up the fifth-fewest FPG (20.4) to RBs this season after limiting Rhamondre Steveson to 10/36 rushing last week.
Barfield’s Pace and Tendencies
Pace (seconds in between plays): 30.1 (27th)
Plays per game: 64.4 (14th)
Pass: 50.4% (30th) | Run: 49.6% (3rd)
Pace: 26.8 (4th)
Plays per game: 64.9 (11th)
Pass: 60.0% (17th) | Run: 40.0% (16th)
All pace / play data is from the last eight weeks.
Talk about two teams headed in opposite directions.
The Colts are surging towards the playoffs on the back of Jonathan Taylor while Carson Wentz is operating as a glorified game-manager. Over the last eight weeks, the Colts have been ahead on the scoreboard on a whopping 70% of their offensive plays – by far the highest rate in the league. Their strategy of running JT non-stop is clearly working as the Colts have, unironically, just taken a carbon copy of the Titans game-plan with Derrick Henry. Indianapolis ranks top-10 in run rate in all game situations (within a score, leading, and trailing) and are sixth in time of possession per drive.
Arizona’s offense has hit the skids as of late while their defense has hemorrhaged 22 points to the Bears and 30 points to the Rams / Lions since their bye. The Cardinals have gotten back to playing much faster as of late, though, and if the Colts build another lead here – we could see Arizona go warp-speed. Over the last eight weeks, the Cardinals are second in pace (22 seconds in between plays) when they’re trailing. Their defensive struggles combined with their fast pace on offense gives this game plenty of shootout appeal and it’s well deserving of the second- highest total on the slate (49 over/under).
Huber’s Key Matchup Notes
Is it time for Arizona to be concerned? Consecutive defeats, including a 30-12 embarrassment to Detroit last week, and permitting the sixth-most FPG to opposing offenses in the last four weeks (94.2). Robert Alford missed Week 15 as a member of the COVID list, forcing Byron Murphy Jr. to spend the majority of his week on the outside. This is going to be a nice spot for Michael Pittman Jr. whether it’s Alford or Murphy that ends up guarding him. While the Cards have done a nice job to limit opposing QBs to the fourth-fewest FPG (15.2), the cracks in their armor are giving way to a particular vulnerability.
Arizona’s secondary has been pushed into the forefront as one of the NFLs most lenient to WRs production in the league. They are giving WRs the go-ahead for 36.7 FPG (seventh-most), 1.36 TDs/game (the most), and 2.0 red zone touches/game (third-most). Those numbers will be a concern when the playoffs begin. However, their level of dilapidation during the last four weeks against wideouts must be chronicled in bullet-form:
The most receptions/game (16.7) 😎
The most receiving YPG (187.0) 😎
The most TDs/game (2.0) 😎
The most FPG (47.9) 😎
And the 56.1 FPG they’ve allowed the last two weeks is 22% more than second on the list.
The Colts are shutting down opposing QBs and WRs. And only the Broncos and Patriots have allowed fewer rushing TDs. It’s a tricky matchup, for sure. That stated, Rock Ya-Sin was just placed on the COVID list, and Christian Kirk avoided being forced to do additional work on the outside in the post-Nuk world. That’ll keep Kirk inside the press-zone coverage of Kenny Moore II on upwards of three-fourths of his routes. Among 37 qualified nickelbacks, Moore has permitted 1.30 YPCS (10th-most), 0.30 FP/CS (fourth-most), while being targeted at the highest rate among all slot CBs this season.
Dolan’s Vantage Points
Let’s start with the Colts. Indy is a two-man fantasy team, at best, during these playoffs, and that depends on how you feel about WR Michael Pittman.
The Colts are RB Jonathan Taylor’s team. Make no mistake about it. Here are Taylor’s last 11 finishes: RB10 > RB2 > RB3 > RB5 > RB6 > RB2 > RB5 > RB1 > RB11 > RB3 > RB2. (Do keep in mind the Colts put star G Quenton Nelson on the COVID list on Friday. It’s not like you’re sitting Taylor, but it needs to be noted.)
Meanwhile… Carson Wentz has not played particularly well. Wentz’s pass attempts in wins this season – 25.6 per game. Wentz’s pass attempts in losses – 41.5 per game. And he was 5/12 last week, for 57 yards with a TD and a pick.
Week 15 Carson Wentz is responsible for PFF's lowest single-game passing grade of the season (26.7).— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) December 20, 2021
Look, I’m not saying Frank Reich is doing something wrong. In fact, it’s the opposite. He’s playing smart and not putting the ball in Wentz’s hands. But he also knows the reality of the situation.
Good response from Frank Reich after he was asked by @bkravitz if Wentz is gonna have to win them a game at some point.— Zak Keefer (@zkeefer) December 21, 2021
"For us to go where we wanna go, I think there will have to be games where Carson is the quote-unquote star of the game. I think that’ll have to happen."
If the Colts are going to go far, Wentz will have to step up at some point. This week would be a good place to start given the production the Cardinals have given up at QB the last two weeks, including Jared Goff going off. Wentz is no more than a QB2, however, while Pittman is a tough-to-trust WR3 — Wes, of course, does love the matchup, as he outlined above.
Meanwhile for the Cardinals, a loss to the Lions is not going to convince their fanbase that another December swoon isn’t on the way for coach Kliff Kingsbury and QB Kyler Murray.
"Dating back to 2019, the pairing of Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray are now 5-8 in the month of December."— Johnny Venerable (@JohnnyVenerable) December 20, 2021
Should the Cardinals continue to spiral, everyone within this franchise not named Bidwill will be under a microscope.https://t.co/0J4E3TWrmi
The Cardinals’ offensive splits with and without DeAndre Hopkins have been drastic. Over the last two years, when Hopkins plays (26 games), the Cards average 27.4 points per game and 2.51 points per drive. That would be 7th and 10th, respectively, in the NFL this year. In four games without Hopkins, they average 19 points per game and 1.81 points per drive — which would rank 26th and 24th, respectively. Obviously, other factors come into play (Murray has missed multiple games that Hopkins also missed this year), but that’s a pretty staggering difference.
Here’s Scott Barrett from the XFP Report on this receiving corps without Hopkins — which is AJ Green, Christian Kirk, Antoine Wesley, and Rondale Moore.
(NOTE: Moore is dealing with an ankle injury.)
“Until further notice, Rondale Moore is just Kliff Kingsbury’s new Andy Isabella. And Antoine Wesley is a starter in 3WR sets. Without DeAndre Hopkins (and Kyler Murray) in Weeks 9-11, Wesley ran a route on 76% of the team's dropbacks, averaging 2.7 targets, 2.3 catches, and 35.3 YPG. For perspective, Moore ran a route on 54% of the team’s dropbacks… Last week, without Hopkins, Wesley (83% route share) continued to play over Moore (30% route share). And, interestingly, he played over AJ Green as well (68% route share). And Wesley also saw the best volume on the team. Christian Kirk (12) and Zach Ertz (11) saw more targets, but Wesley led the team in XFP, on the back of 9 targets, 80 air yards, 1 end zone target, 2 deep targets, and 2 targets inside the 10-yard-line. But he didn’t do much with that valuable workload, scoring just 4.9 fantasy points. And that’s a problem, or the problem. Wesley’s role is certainly very good, but he might not be any good.”
And here’s Scott on TE Zach Ertz, a major beneficiary of Hopkins’ absence:
“Ertz, like Mike Gesicki, has a TE-designation for fantasy but is basically an oversized full-time slot WR, running a route on 84% of Arizona’s dropbacks over the last 7 weeks, with 63% of his catches coming from the slot.
Since joining the Cardinals in Week 7, Ertz is averaging 6.3 targets (17.5% target share), 11.3 XFP/G, and 11.5 FPG. Among all TEs over this span, those numbers rank 13th- (10th-), 10th-, and 7th-best.
And some of these numbers might be skewed against him, with Kyler Murray playing hurt and then missing time due to injury. And we should also expect a little bit more from Ertz moving forward, with DeAndre Hopkins out for the remainder of the season and leaving behind an 18% target share. Last week — despite picking up a hamstring injury late in the week which left him entering the game listed as questionable — Ertz gained 74 yards (13.4 fantasy points) on 11 targets (1 off the team-high) and 19.0 XFP (4th-most at the position).
This week he gets a Colts defense that is giving up the 2nd-most schedule-adjusted FPG to opposing TEs (+4.9). Christian Kirk led the team in targets last week, but has the far tougher matchup this time around; Indianapolis ranks 4th-best in FPG allowed to opposing slot WRs (10.2). So, look for Murray to pepper his TE with targets, as opposing offenses have done against Indianapolis all year — Indianapolis has surrendered 45% of their total receiving fantasy production allowed to TEs, which ranks 4th-most. And start Ertz as a top-5 option this week.”
Obviously, it doesn’t appear that RB James Conner wasn’t fully healthy last week as he attempted to return from an ankle injury. He played just 44% of the snaps to 38% for Chase Edmonds, and has missed some practice time this week. With the Colts one of the toughest run defenses in the entire league, Conner is a TD-dependent RB2 and Edmonds a FLEX. If Conner can’t play, Edmonds is immediately in the RB2 conversation.