Colts vs. Cardinals: 5 things to watch in Week 16

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  • Arizona Cardinals
    Arizona Cardinals
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  • Atlanta Falcons
    Atlanta Falcons
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  • Indianapolis Colts
    Indianapolis Colts
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The Indianapolis Colts are looking to ride their momentum from their win over the New England Patriots into their Christmas Day matchup with the Arizona Cardinals.

The two franchises are heading in two different directions in December. Indianapolis has climbed out of their slow start to the season and has put themselves in prime position for a spot in the playoffs. They still have a small chance of winning the AFC South if the Tennessee Titans continue to lose.

Arizona is a playoff team, but after having the best record in the NFC they have lost their last two games, which the most recent one was to the Detroit Lions. That has caused them to lose grip of the number one seed and their control over the NFC West.

Both teams are fighting for their seasons to officially continue so this should set up for a great primetime holiday matchup. The two franchises don’t meet often, only twice in the past 10 seasons and this will be the first time a Frank Reich-led team has faced the Cardinals.

Here are my top five things to watch for when they clash on Christmas night:

Carry the energy over from Week 15

There are times throughout the history in the NFL where teams will come off a huge win for their franchise and follow it up with a dud in their next game. Indianapolis needs to make sure that they aren’t comfortable with just beating New England and avoid coming out flat against the Cardinals.

One of the factors that played into the Colts beating the Patriots was the energy that they played with throughout the matchup. Especially in the first half when they stormed out to a 17-0 lead entering halftime. The team won’t have the electricity that Lucas Oil Stadium had this past Saturday night but they can’t let being on the road lead to a slow start as a team. Despite their recent struggles, Arizona’s offense is more than capable of scoring 30+ points in a game and could quickly make it a two-score game if their opponent doesn’t come ready to play.

Indianapolis has entered halftime with a two-score lead in their last six games, they have won five of those and the only loss came to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Coming out of the gates hot has helped with their turnaround and gave them enough cushion to help close out wins.

They will need to continue that success on Saturday night to help deal with the potent Cardinals offense.

Containing Kyler Murray

The Arizona quarterback is one of the most electric players in the NFL. He can make a highlight reel-worthy play on any given snap because of the explosive playmaking ability he has with his arm and legs. He has a career-high completion percentage (69.8%) and in passing YPG (276.3) entering this week.

Murray has thrown for 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 11 games. He has cut back on his running, his 24.5 rushing YPG is a career-low, but he does have five rushing touchdowns this season. Even though he isn’t running as much as he has in the past, his mobility is still one of his strengths in his game. He can be elusive in the pocket and can extend plays to make it difficult for the secondary to stick on their man.

He will look to escape the pocket from any angle so the defensive front will need to be disciplined to their gaps and help collapse the pocket on Murray. Their goal should be to eliminate any sliver of space that the quarterback can squeeze through.

DeForest Buckner and company will have their hands full in Arizona but if they can keep him contained for most of the game then that should help disrupt the flow to their offense.

Can Carson Wentz shake off last week?

Even though the Colts are one of the hottest teams in the NFL, there are questions surrounding how far they can go in the postseason with Wentz at the helm. His 57-yard performance last week was arguably his worst game of the season.

He was shaky all night and his fourth-quarter interception almost helped the Patriots make a comeback. He’s been solid for most of the season, has shown some flashes of what the passing attack could be, but he has yet to put together a four-quarter performance that doesn’t consist of down moments. He’s toed the line between being the reason why the team has won and lost games. Wentz hasn’t gone out and willed his team to victory but he also hasn’t been so terrible that it was on his shoulders that they lost.

He will be facing one of the stingier pass defenses in the league. Arizona’s defense only allows 210.0 passing YPG, which ranks fifth in the NFL. Whether it is this game or in the future, at some point Wentz will need to deliver when his team needs him.

It could be on Christmas night if the opposing offense starts to light up the scoreboard and they find themselves in a barn burner.

Keeping the takeaway streak alive

The talk of the Colts is Jonathan Taylor and the MVP resume that he is putting together. One of the underlying stories is the other identity of this team that has played a part in the turnaround of the season. It is the defense’s ability to take away the ball from the opposing offense.

They are currently riding a 15-game streak with at least forcing one turnover. Indianapolis is tied with the Dallas Cowboys for the most takeaways (31) entering Week 16. Their turnover differential (+14) is the best in the league. Matt Eberflus and his players set a goal of 40+ takeaways this season. They are nine away from making that happen but will need to average three a game to get it done.

The Cardinals have been one of the better teams in the NFL at protecting the ball. They are tied for the fourth-fewest giveaways (14) entering this week. With that being said, Kyler Murray does give defenses opportunities to force turnovers. He is responsible for 10 of the 14 Arizona giveaways. All 10 are interceptions. An interesting stat with him is that he has fumbled the ball 11 times this season. He has lost zero of them.

Could Indianapolis keep their streak alive and be the first team to recover a Murray fumble on Christmas night? Possibly, but Eberflus will take a turnover in any fashion to keep it going and so he can hand out more ballhawk shirts to his unit.

What's next for Jonathan Taylor?

Jonathan Taylor has been so consistent during this run by the Colts that it can be difficult to wonder what is next for the young back. He’s breaking a new record every week and had an MVP moment when he took it to the house to seal the win against the Patriots. With three more games to go, he has 1,854 scrimmage yards and 19 total touchdowns.

He is 482 yards away from hitting 2,000 rushing yards for the season. Taylor will be looking to add a notch against the Cardinals defense who’s seen their rush defense take a step back since losing J.J. Watt. They give up 112.8 rushing YPG, which is tied for 17th in the NFL. In their loss to the Lions, Craig Reynolds made his first career start in the league, which was his seventh career game appearance.

He was able to have a career day, rushed the ball 26 times for 112 yards. If there was a weakness to expose against the Cardinals, it would be on the ground with the strength of the Indianapolis offense. The rushing attack should once again be the feature on Christmas.

Taylor should have an opportunity to go over 100 yards once again and keep his rushing touchdown streak alive to make it 12 games in a row.

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