Unexpected runs are one of the most special things about sports. The 2012 Indianapolis Colts have been nothing short of amazing in this department, going from a potential rebuild to knocking on the door of the AFC wild card picture. How have they done it? Certainly, it has been through the impressive development of Andrew Luck's surprising pass offense, a tough running game and a stout defense. Mostly, it's been with heart and sheer inspiration, as the Colts look determined to win for their ailing head coach Chuck Pagano.
The Detroit Lions, coming off a gut wrenching holiday loss, will have their hands full at home with the Colts, who have already beaten two NFC North titans this year in the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings. These aren't your typical Colts of the past, so it's certainly worth another look to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of a young, determined team on the rise.
Colts' Offensive Difference Maker: Andrew Luck, QB. Obviously, we're going to give the nod to Luck here, s he's already amassed an impressive 3,205 yards this season. That's a great start to an NFL career for a rookie. Most important. Luck hasn't faced many pitfalls from the typically tough learning curve, as he's doing a great job adapting on the fly with the help of Reggie Wayne. This week, Luck will get a big test going up against Detroit's tough defensive line, which has continued to play well the past few weeks. Luck will have to do what he's done all season long and stand tall in the pocket, make a few plays and manage the game well. If he's able to do this and make a few big plays, the Colts can keep their momentum going.
Colts' Defensive Difference Maker: Jerrell Freeman, LB. Another young player, Freeman is having just as good a debut as Luck on the defensive side of the ball. He's a tackling machine (101 in 2012 already) and also shows a knack for making the big play with an interception return for a touchdown and one forced fumble on the year. Like Luck, Freeman will be challenged this week by the Lions' quick passing attack. Indianapolis will need him to be stout over the middle and control whatever running game Detroit might feature. Also, he'll have to keep a close eye on the passing game, as Detroit did a nice job working the middle of the field with tight ends against Houston.
Colts' Major Problem: Youth. As good as Indianapolis has looked due to their youth, at times, they can look just as overwhelmed. The learning curve has been very steep at times this year (see: a 59-24 loss against New England and a 35-9 loss to the Jets). Knowing this, it might be tough for the Colts to waltz into Ford Field and beat an Detroit team which should be hungry to atone for essentially giving two games away. Indianapolis will have to have plenty of poise to win in a tough environment. They haven't shown typically well on the road this season getting blown out three times against solid teams, and that reeks of inexperience. This will prove to be another major challenge for Indianapolis.
Colts' Major Strength: Unity. Rather than single out passing, rushing or defense as a strength, let's just say the 2012 Colts simply play well together. They believe in each other, and though it sounds corny, that can often times cover up plenty of deficiencies on both sides of the ball such as injuries, youth or roster holes. It's tough to beat a team like that, so to win, the Lions will have to match the Colts' belief in one another and play good as a team themselves. Chances are, Detroit must out-will Indianapolis on Sunday afternoon and bury them to win. That's been tough duty for many teams this season.
Biggest Intangible: Inspiration. Indianapolis quite simply looks like a team of destiny this year, playing for Pagano who is bravely fighting cancer. They've won games in unexplainable ways, stunned better teams and have ridden an impressive wave of emotion throughout the dog days of the NFL season. It will be interesting to see how the Lions, a mentally fragile team going through tough times, fare against the Colts who are walking tall. The conditions appear right for an upset given the opposite way both teams currently approach the game. One thing is for certain: the Colts' inspiration in 2012 has certainly proven to be more powerful than any disease.
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