Colts RBs Jonathan Taylor, Zack Moss look to exploit Panthers vulnerable run defense


Sunday, 4:05 p.m. EST, CBS


AGAINST THE SPREAD: Indianapolis 4-4; Carolina 1-5-1

SERIES RECORD: Panthers lead 5-2.

LAST MEETING: Colts beat Panthers 38-6 on Dec. 22, 2019, at Indianapolis.

LAST WEEK: Colts lost to Saints 38-27, Panthers beat Texans 15-13.





TURNOVER DIFFERENTIAL: Colts minus-2; Panthers minus-2.

COLTS PLAYER TO WATCH: LB Shaquille Leonard. The three-time All-Pro appears to be rounding into midseason form after a slow start to this season. He’s averaging 8.3 tackles over the past three weeks, up from 5.3 over the previous four games. Leonard had a season-high 11 tackles against New Orleans, but has not yet produced the menacing playmaking presence so far.

PANTHERS PLAYER TO WATCH: WR Adam Thielen. The 33-year-old Thielen continues to be the star of the offense and is in the midst of a career-best season after coming over from Minnesota. Over the past six games, Thielen has 55 receptions for 569 yards and four touchdowns. He is clearly QB Bryce Young's go-to receiver, particularly on third and fourth downs when the team needs a play. Thielen's 19 third down catches are most in the NFL. Thielen has been targeted at least eight times in each of the past six games and has three different games with 11 receptions.

KEY MATCHUP: Colts RBs Jonathan Taylor and Zack Moss vs. Panthers run defense. Taylor, the 2021 NFL rushing champ, and Moss, the league’s second-leading rusher, are averaging a combined 4.7 yards per carry. That’s the same average the Panthers defense allows. And going run heavy against Carolina would serve two purposes — keeping the clock running and Indy’s defense off the field. Winning this matchup will be essential for the Panthers, who have allowed eight touchdowns on the ground the past three weeks.

KEY INJURIES: Indy’s biggest concerns are RT Braden Smith (hip, wrist), who has missed three straight games and rookie CB JuJu Brents (quad), whose absence the past two weeks was noticeable in the secondary. TE Kylen Granson still hasn’t cleared the concussion protocol and DT Eric Johnson II (ankle) sat out last week. Starting DT Grover Stewart also will miss his third game as part of a six-game suspension for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancers. For the Panthers, DE Brian Burns is hampered by a elbow injury, but is expected to play. Burns said it is impacting his ability to wrap up. Carolina is expected to get S Vonn Bell back this week after he has missed the past two games.

SERIES NOTES: The previous time the two teams faced off in Charlotte was 2015 with the Panthers defeating the Colts 29-26 in overtime. The Panthers have defeated the Colts twice in overtime in the series.

STATS AND STUFF: Indy has lost three straight and four of its past five. ... The Colts are the only NFL team to score 20 or more points in all seven games this season after averaging just 17 last season. ... Indy’s defense has allowed at least 37 points each of the past three weeks and the 114 total points allowed is the franchise’s second-highest three-game total since 2001. ... QB Gardner Minshew had one turnover last week after committing eight in his first two starts since taking over for injured rookie Anthony Richardson. ... Taylor and Moss each produced runs of more than 40 yards last week against the Saints. ... WR Michael Pittman Jr. needs 71 yards to surpass position coach, Reggie Wayne (3,109 yards), for fourth among Colts receivers in their first four seasons. He needs eight receptions to pass T.Y. Hilton (283) for second on the franchise list over the same time frame. ... LB Zaire Franklin continues to lead the league in tackles (102) and is on pace to become the fourth player in league history with a 200-tackle season. Former Tampa Bay star Hardy Nickerson was the most recent to do it with a league-record 214 tackles in 1993. ... Leonard, who missed most of last season, needs six tackles to get No. 600 in his sixth NFL season. ... The Colts still lead the league in tackles for loss (51) and strip-sacks (six) this season. ... Panthers head coach Frank Reich served as the head coach for the Indianapolis Colts from 2018-2022. He also coached in various roles for the Colts from 2006-2011. ... The Panthers are coming off their first win of the season last week against the Texans. ... QB Bryce Young has been sacked 22 times in his six starts, including six times last week by the Texans. Young had his two longest completions of the season last week against Houston of 40 and 31 yards. ... WR Adam Thielen is fifth all time in NFL history in yards receiving for an undrafted player with 7,076. ... LB Frankie Luvu was the NFC defensive player of the week after finishing with 12 tackles, two passes defended and a sack against the Texans. ... The Panthers have 16 sacks and six takeaways this season. ... K Eddy Pineiro has made 24 consecutive field goals at home, including a game-winner as time expired last Sunday to beat Houston.

FANTASY TIP: The Colts are giving up 123 yards per game on the ground and the Panthers will look to take advantage with Chuba Hubbard getting the bulk of the carries. Hubbard has replaced Miles Sanders in the starting lineup. The Panthers have yet to have a 100-yard rusher this season, but are expected to lean heavily on Hubbard.


AP Sports Writer Michael Marot contributed.