The New Orleans Saints and the Indianapolis Colts will square off this weekend as the Saints try to get back to .500. As always, another game means another interview with the enemy, and this week we are joined by Chris Shepherd of Stampede Blue.
Before we get started, I just want to say thank you to Chris, and you can check out the rest of his work here!
LH: I know his season is over, but Anthony Richardson was lightning in a bottle for the Colts in his four games this year. What did you see from him in those games that gets you excited about the Colts future and what do you think he still has to work on before his sophomore campaign?
CS: If you ask the other writers at Stampede Blue, I was higher on Richardson leading up to the draft than most. I didn’t see him as the project that most people in draft media portrayed him as. In his Florida tape he did so many things well that you want to see young quarterback prospects do but he had some very real (and very large) issues to iron out. And yet, even for me, a guy who expected him to be able to do all of those things, I didn’t expect him to be as far along in his development as he is. He has made a ton of progress with his footwork and his accuracy on short throws was infinitely better this season than 2022 at Florida. His deep balls are incredible. He threw a 40-yard jump pass, with Aaron Donald hanging off of him, he threw it on a rope, and it was accurate. He has done a good job seeing the defense, working his progressions and making good decisions with the football.
The areas that he needs to improve have less to do with massive development and more to do with refinement, things like his overall accuracy. Most of his accuracy issues come back to footwork. It’s true that he has improved a ton since 2022, but it’s still inconsistent and it’s something that is just going to take time for him to continue to polish. He’s shown that he’s not overwhelmed by the game mentally, but there are things that are going to improve with more game experience. I mentioned how he works his reads (something he did at Florida too) and he often made it through to his third and sometimes fourth reads and while that’s a really great sign, sometimes had he been just a tick more patient working through he would have seen a receiver come open downfield. And it’s things like that, that young players really need time on the field for.
The most exciting thing about Anthony Richardson is an example that came during the Rams game. Indy was down 23-0 halfway through the third quarter. Then Richardson got the ball back, went 75 yards in 4 plays. Then in the fourth quarter he got the ball and went 62 yards on 6 plays and all of a sudden it was 23-15. He got the ball back again and went 83 yards in 13 plays to tie the game at 23. He got the ball back again with less than two minutes to play and I realized that I just expected this 21-year-old kid, who was starting in just his16th game at the college or pro level, to drive down the field and win the game. I wasn’t hoping. I was expecting it. The moment wasn’t too big. He was right where he belonged. At that moment the offense stalled out and the game went to overtime, but that 21-year-old was in complete control. You know that “it” that people talk about. Well, Anthony Richardson has it. If he can stay healthy, I’m not sure there’s ever been another player like him.
LH: The Colts have been slowly easing Jonathan Taylor back into things through the last few games. Do you think this is the week where he completely takes over the backfield or do you still see Zach Moss playing a big role?
CS: Yes and no. I think this is probably the week where Taylor is back to getting lead back touches. With that said I’m not sure Zack Moss won’t have a role moving forward. Moss is a good back, he’s too good to not use him situationally. If the Colts offense is executing and playing well, I expect Moss will have around 8-10 touches most weeks, they’re starting Gardner Minshew and to be honest handing it off a lot is probably a good call. If they struggle or get behind early, then you can obviously expect the RB2’s usage to suffer.
LH: Michael Pittman and Josh Downs are having very good starts to the year. They both have over 400 yards and 2 TDs a piece. They face a tough New Orleans secondary this week, do you think they will be able to find success against guys like Marshon Lattimore and Alontae Taylor/Paulson Adebo?
CS: I do think so. A lot of it comes down to scheme. Last week the Browns (who live in cover 1 and cover 3) came into the game having not allowed an opponent to throw for more than 200 yards (not to mention the Browns defense was top 5 in almost every major defensive statistical category). Shane Steichen’s game plan was masterful, scheming guys open and getting the ball into the hands of his best players, all told Indy put up 456 yards while Gardner Minshew threw for 305 yards, before last week the Browns had yet to allow more than 296 total yards and Gardner Minshew threw for 305. Lattimore is probably the best cover corner the Colts have seen this season, but the Saints major in cover 1 and cover 3 (with minors in quarters and cover 2) so I have a lot of faith that Steichen is going to keep working in those man beating concepts and as long as Good-Minshew is on the field, the pass catchers should produce.
LH: Over the last two weeks, the Colts defense has allowed 37 and 39 points, but they face a Saints offense that has been struggling to score points. Do you think this is a get right game for that group or do you see the struggles continuing?
CS: Well, your offense probably won’t get right but you might still score a lot of points. In the last two weeks Gardner Minshew has turned the ball over 8 times. 34 of the points they’ve given up have come off of Gardner Minshew turnovers. Most of them coming on a short field (or just resulting from him fumbling and the defense falling on the ball in the correct endzone). Two weeks ago, against the Jaguars, Jacksonville started four drives already in field goal position.
I’m telling you all of this to try to impart that the final scores have been deceptive if you haven’t watched the games. The defense has largely been good (save for a few dumb penalties). So, while anything’s possible, I wouldn’t bet on the Saints offense putting up a ton of yards this week, even if Minshew makes it possible for them to score 35+.
LH: The Colts are 1.5-point favorites against the Saints on DraftKings Sportsbook. What’s your score prediction for this game and do you think the Colts can cover?
CS: Predicting what this Colts team will do still feels impossible. Going back and forth between quarterbacks will do that, I suppose. But the Colts are the only team in the NFL to score 20 or more points in every game they’ve played this season, so if I have to bet, I’d bet on that (which probably means they’re just going to kick a few field goals). I’m about to give you a lot of “ifs” but I think that’s just the nature of this question so bear with me.
If Minshew hadn’t turned the ball over the way he did in each of the past two games, the Colts are at worst 1-1 in that stretch, and they would have blown out a historically good Browns defense. So, if Minshew can finally hold on to the football and manage to fight the urge to throw it to the guys in gold helmets, then yeah, I think the Colts can cover.
I don’t think Minshew can do that though. But I think he’ll be better than he has been (a low bar). So, I’m going to say this one will be 27-24 Colts and Minshew only turns the ball over twice.
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.