Colts vs. Buccaneers: 5 things to watch in Week 12

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The Indianapolis Colts (6-5) are riding a wave of positive momentum ahead of their matchup with the reigning Super Bowl champs, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-3).

After blowing out the Buffalo Bills, the Colts have an opportunity to make another statement with a win over the defending champs and one of the best teams in the NFC.

Frank Reich has only faced Tampa once in his career and lost 38-35 in a shootout at Raymond James Stadium in 2019. That was a Jameis Winston-led team, now they will be seeing a familiar face from an old rivalry in Tom Brady.

The Bucs offense is getting healthier and will be another test for the improved Indianapolis defense. Jonathan Taylor will look to improve his MVP resume as he is set to face one of the best rushing defenses in the NFL.

This is a chance to add a quality win for the organization and try to stay within a grasp of a wildcard spot. Here are my top five things to watch for on Sunday:

Jonathan Taylor vs Bucs front seven

AP Photo/Adrian Kraus

The second-year running back has taken over the league chatter with his five-touchdown performance against the Bills. After having his way against one of the highly-ranked rushing defenses, he has another strong barrier to run the ball against on Sunday.

Tampa’s defense has only allowed 78.4 rushing YPG, which is the best in the NFL. It sounds like Vita Vea should be good to go and he will be returning for the Bucs. His presence demands double-teams and he can blow up a run with ease. Quenton Nelson will have to battle to help open up rushing lanes for Taylor.

Tampa also has arguably the best linebacker duo in the league with Lavonte David and David White. Their sideline-to-sideline speed can help deal with Taylor’s quickness in the open field. White is dealing with a quad injury and that will be something to monitor as the game approaches.

JT does have an opportunity to have the longest streak ever if he is able to go over 100 scrimmage yards and a rushing touchdown. If he is able to break that record and help get his team a win over the Super Bowl champs then the MVP talk will get even louder as December football starts.

Defending Tom Brady

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The thorn in the Colts side for the past two decades will be making his return to Lucas Oil Stadium. Brady is 15-4 over Indianapolis. He has a 66.9 completion percentage, averages 252.1 passing YPG, 38 touchdowns, and 18 interceptions. The 44-year old quarterback is once again tearing up passing defenses and is gearing up for another playoff run.

He’s thrown 29 passing touchdowns and has eight interceptions. Brady is currently averaging 317.7 passing YPG, which is a career-high. He’s playing behind one of the best offensive lines in the league. They do a great job at keeping his jersey clean and the 2.8 sack percentage is a career-low. The only proven way to stop the legend is to create pressure and don’t let him get comfortable in the pocket.

This is a game that DeForest Buckner has to help blow up the protection on the inside and force Brady to get off his platform. The pass rush is going to need to deliver otherwise it could be a long day for the Colts’ defense. This will be a lot different than playing Josh Allen but Matt Eberflus has his unit playing with confidence right now and they will need that against Brady.

Can Frank Reich continue his hot streak?

AP Photo/Adrian Kraus

The Colts have won five of their last six games and have also scored at least 30 points in five of their last six games. Reich has his offense running on full cylinders behind his stud back and with the improved play from the offensive line.

They are averaging 147.9 rushing YPG, which is fourth in the NFL. Carson Wentz is protecting the ball and has limited the plays that he tries to do too much. This is definitely a run-first offense but Wentz might be leaned on more during this matchup with the potent Bucs offense.

Tampa is averaging 30.9 PPG, which is best in the league so Reich will need his offense to put up a lot of points if his defense can’t slow down the opposing offense. The Colts aren’t too far behind at the fifth spot in scoring, averaging 28.1 YPG.

Indianapolis has been able to light up the scoreboard and they will likely need to repeat last week’s success on offense in order to beat the Buccaneers on Sunday.

Facing a loaded offense

Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Tom Brady isn’t the only concern that Matt Eberflus has to prepare his defense for on Sunday. The Bucs have one of the deepest rosters for skill position players and they are getting healthier on that side of the ball. Brady’s favorite target, Rob Gronkowski returned on Monday night. Scotty Miller was just activated off of IR and Antonio Brown could return this week if he’s recovered from his injury.

The secondary will have to be ready for a variety of ways that Bruce Arians has his offense attack a defense. They can get you to fall asleep with all the underneath passes then take you by surprise with a deep shot. Mike Evans is one of the best receivers in the league and Chris Godwin can be a killer to deal with in the slot.

Leonard Fournette is the lead dog in the backfield but he gets spelled by Ronald Jones and Geovani Bernard throughout the games. The Bucs offense can take over a game on the ground and through the air. They are one of the more complete offenses in the league. Tampa averages 406.0, which is the second-best in the NFL.

This will take a team effort to help keep their offense in check from the Indianapolis defense.

Complete the November run

AP Photo/Jeff Lewis

Playoff runs are all about timing and the Colts are one of the hottest teams in the league right now. December football will separate the contenders from the pretenders and Indianapolis has used the month of November to gear themselves up for the final quarter of the schedule.

They are 3-0 this month, have gone over 40 points in two of the last three games, and have held their opponents to below 20 points in two of their last three games. The team is over .500 for the first time this season and they are knocking on the door to the postseason. The AFC playoff picture is muddied and all it takes is to go on a run to create separation to secure a spot.

A win over the Bucs would put Indianapolis at a 7-5 record and they could find themselves inside the playoffs if the rest of this week’s matchups fall their way. Four of the final six games for the Colts come against teams that currently have a record of .500 or better.

They are going to have to earn their way into the playoffs and a victory over the defending champs could help propel them into another month of dominant football.

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