NFL Preview - Washington (3-8) at Indianapolis (7-4)
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - Sunday's game between the Washington Redskins and Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium was supposed to feature the top two quarterbacks taken in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, the top overall pick that year, will be starting under center, but Robert Griffin III, who was selected No. 2 by the Washington Redskins, won't.
Griffin was recently informed by Redskins first-year head coach Jay Gruden that Colt McCoy will take the reigns in Indy. Gruden did not hold back on criticizing Griffin for his footwork and ability to read defenses among other fundamental flaws. Griffin was anointed the franchise quarterback after a stellar rookie season, but injuries have taken a toll.
Gruden recently apologized his publicly undressing RG3, who completed 11 of his 19 pass attempts for 106 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions in Sunday's 17-13 loss in San Francisco. The once slippery Griffin had 11 yards on four rushes.
"I think it was a mistake on my part," Gruden said Wednesday. "After a loss like that, we're very disappointed in the way we played, and the question came up about how we played, and all that stuff from that. I just answered with the first thing that came to my mind, and sometimes the first thing that comes to your mind isn't the smartest thing. It wasn't the right thing to do on my part."
Griffin has been sacked 17 times in three games since returning from an ankle injury and now it's McCoy's turn again. The Redskins won two consecutive games earlier this season with McCoy under center.
McCoy replaced an ineffective Kirk Cousins in the second half of the Redskins' Week 7 matchup against Tennessee and rallied the team to a 19-17 decision. He then led the way in an overtime road upset of Dallas a week later.
"The reports are accurate, Colt is going to start this week at quarterback," Gruden said. "We're going to play Colt, he's done some good things in his time as a starter. I felt like he deserved a bit of a promotion."
The Redskins (3-8) have lost three in a row and are just 1-5 on the road this season. They have lost 11 of the last 12 road games dating back to a Sept. 29 win at Oakland.
Indianapolis is 7-4 and sits atop the AFC South standings. It will close out a stretch of three straight games at home and is coming off Sunday's 23-3 drubbing of the division-rival Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, as Luck passed for 253 yards with a TD and no interceptions.
Fresh off the birth of his daughter, Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton had four catches for 122 yards and a touchdown. Hilton pretended the ball was a newborn when he scored and leads the team with 1,083 yards and four TDs.
Colts tight end Dwayne Allen has a team-best seven touchdown receptions.
The Colts rebounded from a 42-20 loss versus New England and have won two of three games. They are first in passing yards (323.1) and total yards (433.8), and fourth with 30.2 ppg. Luck is first among QBs in passing yards (3,641) and 331.0 passing yards a game. He is third with 29 TD passes.
Luck needs one touchdown pass to join Johnny Unitas and Peyton Manning as the only QBs in club history with 30 or more touchdown passes in a season. Luck has nine 300-yard passing games this season, matching Manning's mark established in 2009.
Indianapolis is 19-10 all-time against Washington with a 13-3 record at home. In the last meeting between the teams on Oct. 17, 2010 at FedEx Field, Manning threw for 307 yards with two TDs and no INTs. Redskins wide receiver Pierre Garcon played for the Colts then and had 103 yards and a touchdown on four catches.
Sunday's game marks the first trip to Lucas Oil Stadium for the Redskins, who haven't defeated the Colts since a 26-21 verdict on Oct. 27, 2002. The last Washington victory in Indy occurred on Oct. 23, 1994.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Redskins running back Alfred Morris is playing like the days of old and is approaching 1,000 yards for a third straight season. He has amassed 826 yards and seven touchdowns on 193 carries, and recorded a season-high 125 yards and a score on 21 touches in San Francisco. It was his first 100-yard rushing performance since Week 10 of the 2013 season at Minnesota.
Morris has carried the ball 20 or more times in the last two games, and said he hasn't been trying to force the issue the last few weeks. Patience and understanding the basics of the game have helped Morris in the previous games. With his next 100-yard rushing game, Morris will tie Earnest Byner, George Rogers and Terry Allen for the fifth-most 100-yard rushing games in team history (12).
Morris, who has four TD runs in his last four games, is one of only 17 running backs in NFL history to exceed 3,700 rushing yards (3,714) in his first three seasons, joining the likes of Eric Dickerson, Earl Campbell, Barry Sanders, Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton and Jim Brown.
With McCoy under center again, it's important for Washington to feed Morris the ball. Morris had 73 yards and a score on 18 touches in McCoy's first start against Dallas.
"That's very important and we're going to rely on that," Gruden said of keeping Morris loose and active. "We have to rely on that for us to be any kind of successful team in the future. Moving forward, I think we have to get our running game going and Alfred has been running really hard the last few weeks."
Indianapolis is allowing 109.9 rushing yards per game. Look for Colts linebacker and leading tackler D'Qwell Jackson to be all over the field. He has 94 stops and four sacks this season.
Some experts believe the run game opens the pass. If true, expect McCoy to hook up often with Garcon and speedster DeSean Jackson. Jackson had 136 yards on six receptions in Dallas with McCoy under center.
"He led us on some drives. He was very efficient," Gruden said of McCoy in that Dallas game. "Everybody got the ball, which really made this offense click. "
Gruden went back to Griffin the next week, a 29-26 loss at Minnesota.
The Colts should have no trouble moving the football on the Redskins unless Luck gets sacked seven times and throws a few interceptions. Washington did pull off the impossible in stopping the Cowboys on Monday night, but the Colts are geared up for a division title.
Luck, though, was sacked five times against Jacksonville. The Jaguars are brutal and couldn't convert the defensive effort into a win against Luck, who has gone down 14 times in the last six games.
"It was hard to get stuff going," said Luck. "That's a good defense, a good front four. We had our share of self-inflicted penalties and didn't do a good job taking care of the football, but a lot of those are because of what they did. A lot of credit goes to what they did on defense in stifling us early."
It was the first time since Oct. 5 versus Baltimore Luck threw for just one touchdown pass. Luck has thrown two or more TD passes in a game nine times and three or more on six separate occasions.
The Colts have six players with two or more receiving touchdowns, but one of those is running back Ahmad Bradshaw, who is out for the season with a fractured leg and posted six TDs. Bradshaw also had two rushing scores.
Hilton is Indy's top receiving threat and, of course, veteran Reggie Wayne is still around. Wayne, though, isn't the same player he used to be and occasionally has bursts of energy.
Trent Richardson and Daniel Herron will carry the workload on the ground. Richardson leads the Colts with 433 yards on 127 carries and has three TDs, and will go against a Washington defense allowing 100.7 yards per game.
The Redskins can surpass their win total from last season (4) with an improbable win over the playoff-bound Colts. They won't because Luck will pick apart the Washington defense and receive protection in the pocket.
Indianapolis has been plagued by injuries across the offensive line, as right tackle Gosder Cherilus and right guard Hugh Thornton are banged up. Cherilus (shoulder) could return Sunday, but Thornton (knee) is expected to miss the game. Allen (ankle) is questionable.
The Colts will play three of four games on the road to close out the regular season, so it's important for them to not overlook Washington with a trip to Cleveland slated for Dec. 7. Luck should consider this game a tune-up for the stretch run and the postseason.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Colts 31, Redskins 20
11/30 08:52:43 ET