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3 matchups to watch in the Indianapolis Colts season opener, including Michael Pittman Jr. vs Derek Stingley Jr.

The Indianapolis Colts are a little over a week away from playing the season opener in Houston. Shaquille Leonard returned to practice this week, so that’s some good news. Now the question of whether he’ll play in the opener or not is even more mysterious.

Speaking of opening week, there are a bunch of things that are new and interesting. For example, watching Yannick Ngakoue rush the passer for the Colts instead of against them. Or how the offense will look with a competent QB leading it. Or how Alec Pierce and Parris Campbell fare. However, there are three areas that are of particular interest and importance. Let’s take a look.

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Michael Pittman Jr. vs Derek Stingley Jr.

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Michael Pittman Jr. has garnered a lot of hype for the upcoming season. He had an incredible sophomore season and looks to build upon it. His first test will be against the highly touted rookie cornerback Derek Stingley Jr

Depending on who you ask, Stingley is thought to be the best or second-best corner in this past draft. Watch his college tape, and you can see he has immense talent. The biggest bugaboo about him is his health. He missed a lot of time in college, having only played 10 games in the past two years. Ironically, he draws a comparison to current Colt Stephon Gilmore.

Since Pittman has more NFL experience, he should have the advantage over the rookie. However, if Houston is correct in their selection of Stingley, he could be a pain in Indianapolis’ side for years. It’ll behoove MPJ to not take Stingley lightly.

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Getting a first look at the new defense

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Indianapolis Colts
Robert Scheer-USA TODAY Sports

Many fans had grown tired of former defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus’ Cover-2 style defense. They were routinely watching opponents pick up first downs because the corners were asked to not get beat deep. Keeping everything in front of you limits the big-play ability and allows the defender to break aggressively on any short routes.

Unfortunately, it relies heavily on the front four being able to get home to the quarterback and last year’s squad was inept in that department. This season the team went out and acquired Yannick Ngakoue to be the team’s premier pass rusher. They also needed to get a new defensive coordinator as Eberflus took the head coaching job in Chicago. Enter Gus Bradley, a Pete Carroll disciple and one of the architects of the Cover-3.

The idea of this defense is similar to that of last year. Keep things in front, not allow the big play, and effectively rush the passer with just the front four. Ngakoue and DeForest Buckner should be the main focus of the pass rush. Second-year man Kwity Paye should also thrive because less focus will be on him. 

While Houston’s offense isn’t considered one of the best in the league, they do have enough pieces that it could sneak up on opponents. Hopefully, this defense will be more aggressive than last year. And there won’t be any drop-off in their ability to stop the run while also being much better in stopping the pass.

Related: 4 Indianapolis Colts players who could disappoint in 2022

The biggest risk of them all is the protection of the quarterback

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Indianapolis Colts
Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

All eyes will be on Matt Ryan and how this offense looks compared to last year. However, the biggest indicator of how good the offense can be will depend on the play of left tackle Matt Pryor. He is the man tasked with protecting Ryan’s blindside. 

This will be the second year since Anthony Castonzo retired. Last year the Colts tried Eric Fisher in hopes that he could get back to his standard form. That didn’t work out well, and the organization didn’t bring in any veteran free agents. They elected to draft a left tackle in the third round. 

Pryor didn’t have the greatest training camp or preseason. At least not one that alleviates Colts fans’ concerns about him. If Pryor can at least be a more consistent left tackle than Fisher, it’ll be an improvement for the offensive line. It will also mean the Colts’ offense as a whole should be able to reach the heights many expected.

Week 1 should hopefully answer a lot of questions about the Colts. It may also provide new questions that need to be answered. This team is not perfect. At least not based on the information that is currently available. But it’s possible it could be closer to perfection than we may realize.

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