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Who the heck are the Indianapolis Colts? They come into Levi’s Stadium on Sunday night with two wins, but their path to 2-4 is going a different direction than San Francisco’s path to 2-3. However, both teams are dealing with some significant injury problems.
To get a better idea about what the 49ers are facing Sunday, we hit up our buddy, fellow queso aficionado and Colts Wire managing editor Kevin Hickey.
Here’s our chat with Kevin:
Niners Wire: The Colts seem to be playing better lately. What’s the biggest key to that?
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Kevin Hickey: They seem to be getting a bit healthier even though they’re still dealing with some injuries. They got bit pretty hard during the preseason so it has taken some time for the units to gel. It also shouldn’t go unnoticed that Carson Wentz has made some strides in leading the offense, especially when it comes to downfield passing. The schedule also softened a little bit outside of the Ravens matchup in Week 5 so the competition hasn’t been as fierce over the last month or so compared to the start of the season.
NW: Is Carson Wentz good?
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KH: He’s not the 2020 Carson Wentz. I will say that. The work he’s done in the offseason with his mechanics has really paid off. He has a strong command of the offense and has shown off a deep ball the Colts haven’t seen since the days of the sweet prince who shall remain unnamed. He still gets lazy with his mechanics, which leads to spurts of inaccuracy, and there are times when you find yourself yelling at the TV for him to simply get rid of the ball. To answer the question, I think he’s a good quarterback playing slightly above league average. Hopefully, he continues to improve because giving up what could be a first-round pick in 2022 for a league-average quarterback probably won’t be worth it in the long run.
NW: Will the Colts trade Marlon Mack to the 49ers or what?
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KH: We’re waiting on you to make a move! In all seriousness, there doesn’t seem to be a reason this doesn’t get done. Mack is a really good fit for Kyle Shanahan’s blocking scheme given his ability to work both in gap and zone schemes. The Colts are probably looking for either a cornerback or a late future draft pick so I wouldn’t be surprised if a deal gets before the deadline.
NW: How big of a loss is Julian Blackmon for the Colts defense?
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KH: It’s huge. Blackmon is the type of free safety the Colts thought they were getting in Malik Hooker. He’s a rangy safety who can play in a split zone or as a single safety. At the same time, he’s able to make plays against the run while delivering some of the biggest hits on ball carriers. Now, the Colts will have to rely on Andrew Sendejo to fill the gap. Fortunately, the weather on Sunday night should prevent both teams from throwing downfield. The Colts thought they’d have Blackmon as a part of their safety tandem this year but now he’ll be on the couch binge-watching Coffin Flop on Corncob TV.
NW: The Colts are 29th in pass defense DVOA and 1st in run defense DVOA -- why the discrepancy?
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KH: Pass rush. The biggest issue the Colts have had for years now is their pass rush. They simply can’t find consistency. The interior defensive line is the strength for the Colts. DeForest Buckner and Grover Stewart are the starting duo. 49ers fans know Buckner better than anyone. Stewart is a freak against the run. He’s a one-technique who moves like an edge rusher when he’s shooting gaps. Even if he’s not directly making a tackle, he’s redirecting rushing lanes and filling gaps. Having Darius Leonard at the second level doesn’t hurt either. But the pass rush has been far too inconsistent this season, and it’s the biggest concern for the unit, especially with their zone-heavy scheme being susceptible.
NW: Make a prediction
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KH: With the weather turning the way it has, I’m thinking this game is going to turn to a strength vs. strength. We know Kyle Shanahan is one of the best run designers in the league while the Colts defense has been extremely stingy against the run. The quarterback advantage the Colts have probably gets washed out because of the weather while the defense has been very opportunistic this season. It’s going to be really close and likely a low-scoring game. The loss of Trent Williams, Javon Kinlaw and Maurice Hurst might give the Colts the edge they need. Colts 17, 49ers 14