T.Y. Hilton inactive for Colts

December, 21, 2014
Dec 21

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Indianapolis Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton has been ruled out of Sunday's game against the Dallas Cowboys because of a hamstring injury.

Hilton, who has 1,345 receiving yards this season, warmed up on the field at AT&T stadium to test his hamstring, but it's not surprising that he isn't playing because he didn't practice last week.

The Colts have already won the AFC South and locked up a playoff berth. The only thing they're playing for the rest of the season is playoff seeding.

Indianapolis is currently the No. 3 seed in the AFC.

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DeMarco Murray active vs. Colts

December, 21, 2014
Dec 21

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Cowboys star running back DeMarco Murray is active for Sunday's game against the Colts, six days after undergoing surgery for a broken left hand.

Murray, the NFL's leading rusher, was questionable coming into the game after going through two limited practices on Thursday and Friday. But the running back and the Cowboys were always optimistic he would be able to play.

He will wear a hard plastic shell on the top of his left hand for added protection.

Murray suffered the injury late in last week's win against the Eagles. On Monday he was diagnosed with a fractured fourth metacarpal and had surgery that night. He did not practice Wednesday but he did catch some passes and take some handoffs.

In 1999 and 2006, Emmitt Smith and Terrell Owens had similar surgeries while with the Cowboys and needed a week to recover. Owens did not miss a game because the Cowboys had their bye week after he had the surgery.

Even though he is active, the Cowboys will closely monitor how Murray uses his left hand and will use backups Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar more than they have during the season. They have combined for 60 carries on the season; Murray recorded 63 in the Cowboys' last two games.

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DeMarco Murray says he'll play

December, 21, 2014
Dec 21

Cowboys star running back DeMarco Murray has told his friends and family that he will play Sunday against the Colts, a source told ESPN.

Murray's playing status has been uncertain since this past Monday, when he underwent surgery on his left hand. He told ESPN as recently as Saturday that he was still undecided on whether he would play.

"I have to do the right thing for myself, the right thing for the team," Murray said.

Murray's teammates are confident that he will play, and owner Jerry Jones said Friday that things were trending in a positive direction.

The NFL's leading rusher, Murray is officially listed as questionable on the injury report, and all involved agree that he would make the ultimate decision about whether to play a week after suffering a fracture in his left hand against the Eagles.

A protective plate and eight screws were inserted to facilitate healing and promote the quickest possible return to the field.

Murray has practiced wearing a glove he routinely wears but equipped with protective padding. Murray said he was involved in some contact in practice to allow him a sense of whether he could protect the ball, but acknowledged that is far different than playing in a game.

Murray's five lost fumbles are the most in the league among non-quarterbacks, but he has not fumbled in his past six games.

Murray said his decision would be based on pain tolerance and whether he is comfortable doing everything required of a running back.

The Cowboys (10-4) can clinch the NFC East title with a win Sunday, thanks to Philadelphia's upset loss Saturday to Washington.

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One team has its playoff spot locked up and the only real suspense remaining for it is whether it will finish with the No. 3 or 4 seed in the AFC. The other team has everything to play for still, because it hasn’t secured a playoff spot in the NFC.

That is what’s at stake at AT&T stadium when the Indianapolis Colts take on the Dallas Cowboys.

Here are three storylines to the game:

Defense needs to stop up: Two significant numbers stick out with the Colts’ defense: 246 and 522. They gave up 246 yards rushing to New England before starting their four-game winning streak against teams that will be on vacation in a little more than week. The Colts gave up 522 yards passing to Pittsburgh two weeks prior to the Patriots running past them. Now they get to face one of the most balanced offenses in the league. The Colts have to try to stop the Cowboys’ running game with or without DeMarco Murray (hand) in the game. And a tight end in Jason Witten and a receiver in Dez Bryant catching passes from quarterback Tony Romo. And Indianapolis has to find a way to get pressure on Romo while facing one of the top offensive lines in the NFL.

Protect the ball: This has become a weekly thing for Andrew Luck and the offense. The Colts have turned the ball over 12 times in the past four games. They are not going to get away with those mistakes against a Dallas team that is trying to make the playoffs and has the offensive playmakers to make the Colts pay for their miscues. Luck has thrown a pick-six in each of the past two games. He’s up to 20 turnovers -- 14 interceptions and six fumbles -- this season. The Colts haven't had a turnover-free game since facing the Giants on Nov. 3. That was six games ago.

Need it mentally: Several Colts players, including linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, talked throughout the week about how they needed to win the game to prove they can compete with playoff-caliber teams. Indy is 2-3 against teams that would be in the playoffs if they started today. The record would be 2-4 if you count Philadelphia, which is fighting with the Cowboys for first place in the NFC East. Lose, and the questions will continue about whether the Colts are truly competitors or just a team that can dominate the AFC South. "Yeah, we’ve clinched (the AFC South), but we’re out to keep that momentum and answer those questions that we can play better against better quarterbacks, better offenses," Jackson said.

DeMarco Murray undecided on status

December, 20, 2014
Dec 20

Cowboys star running back DeMarco Murray will probably wait until Sunday morning to make a final decision on his playing status for Dallas' home game against the Colts.

"I have to do the right thing for myself, the right thing for the team," Murray told ESPN.

Murray's teammates are confident that he will play, and owner Jerry Jones said Friday that things were trending in a positive direction.

The NFL's leading rusher, Murray is officially listed as questionable on the injury report, and all involved agree that he will make the ultimate decision about whether to play a week after suffering a fracture in his left hand against the Eagles and undergoing surgery the following day.

A protective plate and eight screws were inserted to facilitate healing and promote the quickest possible return to the field.

Murray has practiced wearing a glove he routinely wears but equipped with protective padding. Murray said he was involved in some contact in practice to allow him a sense of whether he could protect the ball, but acknowledged that is far different than playing in a game.

Murray's five lost fumbles are the most in the league among non-quarterbacks, but he has not fumbled in his past six games.

Murray said his decision will be based on pain tolerance and whether he is comfortable doing everything required of a running back.

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Welcome to the Indianapolis Colts mailbag:

@MikeWellsNFL: Pittsburgh first because of what the Steelers did to the Colts back in October. The Steelers rolled up a 639 total yards on offense and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger picked the Colts apart for 522 yards passing. I've got Cincinnati second. The Colts dominated the Bengals 27-0 in the middle of October, but Cincinnati is playing better. The Bengals were also without receiver A.J. Green in the first matchup. Not having Green is like the Colts not having T.Y. Hilton. He makes that much of a difference for the Bengals.

Wells: You can never have too many pass-rushers. Jonathan Newsome has 17 tackles and is second on the team in sacks with 4.5 and eight quarterback hits. What is even more impressive about his play is that he has only played 305 snaps this season. Newsome has been more effective than Bjoern Werner, the Colts' first-round pick in 2013. Robert Mathis will back next season, but hwill also be 34 years old.

Wells: The stats say Dallas' pass defense is worse. The Cowboys are 23rd in the league against the pass and the Colts are tied for 16th in the league in stopping the run. But I'm giving the Cowboys the edge, because the Colts could be limited in the passing game if Hilton doesn't play. It looks like DeMarco Murray will play, and that could be trouble for the Colts, because he's running behind one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. The Cowboys have too much at stake not to feed Murray as much as possible, because they are trying to lock up a playoff spot.

Wells: I have to disagree with you. We've asked Pagano -- and GM Ryan Grigson -- on multiple occasions about A.Q. Shipley and Khaled Holmes. And each time they have not answered the question. We asked after the switch was made in Week 5 and at different points throughout the season, especially when Jonotthan Harrison was having snapping problems. Pagano was a little testy two weeks ago when I asked about the center position. It's pointless to continue to ask, because they are not going to answer. The Colts might not have signed Shipley if Harrison didn't injury his thumb in the preseason.

Wells: Rookie Donte Moncrief is definitely a viable part of the offense. His role will be on display even more if Hilton doesn't play Sunday. It wouldn't be a bad idea for the Colts to give Moncrief and Hakeem Nicks the majority of snaps at receiver to get them ready for the playoffs. The Colts will need both if they expect to make a deep run in the playoffs. Moncrief didn't have any catches and was a non-factor against Houston last weekend. Nicks came back alive against the Texans. He had a touchdown reception and a big catch along the sideline that gave the Colts a first-and-goal.

Wells: Let's rephrase your question: Who are the weakest links on the o-line? The Colts are fine on the left side of the line with Anthony Castonzo and Jack Mewhort. The problems start at center and continue all the way over to right tackle. Harrison has had snapping issues this season. Guard Hugh Thornton, who has struggled in his second season, is about to miss his fourth straight game with a knee injury, and seventh overall this season. Joe Reitz, Lance Louis and Khaled Holmes have all played right guard at different points this season. Right tackle Gosder Cherilus definitely hasn't played well, partly because he has battled numerous injuries throughout the season. Xavier Nixon will likely start at right tackle against the Cowboys for the injured Cherilus. The Colts talked about having continuity along the offensive line this season. That hasn't been the case. They will use their ninth different starting lineup in 15 games on the line Sunday.

Wells: That's a tough question, because I think there are several players you can look at. Castonzo continues to be steady. Defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois has been solid all season when it seemed like his role would be reduced with the addition of Arthur Jones. Linebacker D'Qwell Jackson has found his comfort zone after starting the season slow. Safety Mike Adams has not only been the Colts' best safety, he has also been one of their most consistent players on either side of the ball this season. I'm going with Jackson. He's responsible for keeping the defense together, and he has taken over the role that Jerrell Freeman had the past two seasons as the team's leading tackler. Jackson has 163 tackles this season. Castonzo is second on the list, because he's responsible for protecting quarterback Andrew Luck's blind side..

INDIANAPOLIS – The Indianapolis Colts talked about wanting continuity on the offensive line this season.

That hasn’t been the case, as they could be using their ninth different starting lineup on the line against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.

Right tackle Gosder Cherilus has been ruled out for the game and Xavier Nixon will likely start there for the Colts. Offensive linemen Hugh Thornton (knee) and Joe Reitz (ankle) also have been ruled out against the Cowboys. Lance Louis is expected to start at right guard for the second straight week.

Here’s the rest of the injury report for the Colts:
INDIANAPOLIS – Indianapolis Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton spent the week watching practice instead of participating in it.

That usually means a player won’t play in the upcoming game.

But Colts coach Chuck Pagano has not officially ruled Hilton out for Sunday’s game against the Dallas Cowboys. The Colts are calling Hilton questionable with a left hamstring injury.

“This guy is pretty special,” Pagano said. “Don’t count him out.”

The question is: Why do the Colts need to play Hilton?

They’ve already wrapped up the AFC South and a playoff spot. The only reason to play him is because the Colts’ offense has sputtered lately and they could want to avoid the No. 4 seed, which could end up being a road game at New England in the second weekend of the playoffs.

But are those two things worth risking Hilton re-injuring his hamstring and then being out an extended period of time?

No, it's not worth playing him. Hilton is the Colts’ best offensive playmaker and they can’t afford to be without him in the playoffs. The Colts know that, too/ That’s why it would be surprising if Hilton played against a Dallas team that is trying to lock up a playoff spot still.

“[I want to]) make sure I’m healthy,” Hilton said. “Don’t want to go out there and hurt the team and they can use the spot on somebody else. If I’m 100 [percent] and I’m feeling good, I’ll go out there and play.”

Hilton injured his hamstring in the second half of last weekend’s victory over the Houston Texans. He’s fourth in the league in receiving yards with 1,345.

“For me I have a lot of gears, I want to hit that first gear and that last gear,” Hilton said. “If I’m able to do that then I should be fine.”

If Hilton doesn’t play, Pagano talked like he was comfortable going with just Reggie Wayne, Hakeem Nicks, Donte Moncrief and Josh Cribbs at receiver instead of adding Griff Whalen from the practice squad because of the versatility they have at tight end.

“There’s enough skill position guys,” Pagano said. “Having a guy like Coby [Fleener]and a guy like Dwayne [Allen], they give you flexibility as far as being in-line tight ends and then flexing them out. You guys know we’ve displaced them from a formation standpoint, got them out in space. It’s great to have guys that can go do that and move around.”

Fantasy: T.Y. Hilton

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19


Christopher Harris analyzes WR T.Y. Hilton for Week 16.

Luck's deep touch brings more success

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19

Michael Conroy/AP PhotoAndrew Luck has atoned for early mistakes and has led the Colts to the AFC South title.
Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts did it again, earning their second straight AFC South division title last week.

Despite his fifth consecutive game with a turnover, Luck joined Russell Wilson in an exclusive club of two: They are the only quarterbacks in NFL history to lead their teams to 10 or more wins in each of their first three seasons. While Luck and the Colts ride a four-game winning streak into Arlington to face the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, Luck has averaged two turnovers per game during that streak. Can he limit the turnovers in time to lead the Colts on a postseason run?

Overcoming turnovers
Luck enters Week 16 leading the league in passing yards (4,492) and touchdowns (38), but he also is not far off the lead in a more dubious category: turnovers.

Jay Cutler is the only player with more turnovers than Luck this season, and Luck’s turnovers have been costly. Luck has thrown three interceptions that have been returned for touchdowns and lost two fumbles that have been returned for touchdowns. Only Austin Davis (six) has more turnovers leading to defensive touchdowns this season.

Better after break
Luck has played better after halftime this season, in large part due to erasing the negative plays. Luck has fewer interceptions and fumbles in the second half, and his sacks taken are also way down.

Among quarterbacks to start at least 10 games this season, Luck’s 1.8 sack percentage in the second half is the lowest in the league.

Development on deep ball has been key
In their second year together with the Colts, Luck and offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton have taken more chances downfield.

During his rookie season, Luck attempted the most deep passes (throws at least 15 yards downfield) in the league despite negative results. No quarterback threw more interceptions on deep balls than Luck that season.

Understandably, the Colts cut down on the deep passes in 2013, but it didn’t lead to more efficient numbers for Luck. His completion percentage and yards per attempt dropped after his rookie season.

But this year, Luck and the Colts have found the right mix of quality and quantity in the deep passing game.

Luck again leads the league in deep attempts this season, but he also is completing 50 percent of those passes, with the second-best touchdown-to-interception ratio (behind Aaron Rodgers).

Prediction: Colts will lose to Cowboys

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
The Colts wrapped up the AFC South last weekend, but they still have something to play for.

This is their final opportunity before the playoffs to prove they can beat a team with playmakers at numerous positions on offense. Coach Chuck Pagano said the Cowboys have the best offensive line that they’ll face all season.

Indianapolis has given up 1,961 yards in its four losses this season. The Cowboys are ninth in the league in total yards a game and third in the league in time of possession, right behind the Colts.

Indianapolis is beat up some on offense, as receiver T.Y. Hilton (hamstring) and offensive tackle Gosder Cherilus missed some practice time this week. The Colts have played better on defense in recent weeks, but they’re not going up against Jacksonville, Cleveland, Washington or Houston this weekend. And that’s why their four-game winning streak will come to an end.

Cowboys 31, Colts 27

Colts vs. Cowboys preview

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
video When: 4:25 p.m. ET, Sunday Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas TV: CBS

The Dallas Cowboys will host the Indianapolis Colts for the first time at AT&T Stadium on Sunday. While both teams are 10-4, their postseason plans are completely different.

The Colts have already clinched a playoff spot by winning the AFC South. The Cowboys lead the NFC East, but any slipup in the final two games could not only cost them the division but a playoff spot altogether.

ESPN Colts reporter Mike Wells and Cowboys reporter Todd Archer offer up this week's preview:

Todd Archer: This is the first time the Cowboys will see Andrew Luck in person. His numbers are impressive, but it seems a little disconcerting to see him with 14 interceptions, up there with Jay Cutler, Blake Bortles and Andy Dalton. Is there any explanation for the high number of picks, besides the fact that they throw the ball a lot?

Mike Wells: I'll add on to Luck's turnover problems. He has also lost six fumbles, tied for first in the league in that category along with the now-benched Cutler. One of Luck's strongest attributes -- his competitiveness -- is also one of his biggest downfalls. He doesn't believe in giving up on a play. Rather than take a sack or throw the ball away, he believes he can extend a play with his legs or fit a tight throw in. Crazy part is, Luck should have more than 14 interceptions this season. There have been several throws on which the defensive player just dropped the pass. Luck knows he can't continue to make the "bonehead," as he calls them, mistakes.

DeMarco Murray's status for Sunday appears to be uncertain. Let's assume he doesn't play. How much would Dallas' offensive scheme change without him in the lineup?

Archer: I don't think it would change that much. The Cowboys' identity has been the running game and the offensive line. I do believe they have faith in backups Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar. To me, Randle would get the bulk of the carries if Murray can't go. Even if Murray does play, I think the Cowboys would monitor his snaps anyway, considering he had surgery on Monday. The Cowboys just can't abandon the run. It has made Tony Romo a better quarterback. He has been able to take advantage of coverages teams play because the defense has to commit to stopping the run. Romo has thrown more than 30 passes in a game this season just four times. It would surprise me if he is over that number this week if the game is not out of whack with the Colts leading big.

I mentioned how the Colts throw a ton, but how has the running game changed with Daniel Herron becoming more of a fixture than Trent Richardson?

Wells: The Colts don't have a running game. If they rush for more than 100 yards as a team, Luck usually has contributed a significant portion of those yards. Things drastically changed for the Colts once Ahmad Bradshaw was lost for the season with a fractured fibula on Nov. 16. They lack consistency in the backfield. Herron is a better runner than Richardson -- outrushing Richardson in three of the four games he's played -- but Richardson is a better pass-blocker, and that's what the Colts need more because the offensive line continues to be inconsistent. If the Colts are going to make a run in the playoffs, they will have to do it with Luck's arm.

Sticking with the running game, how much credit for Murray's success goes to the offensive line? The O-line is the group on most teams that rarely gets praised but is quick to get criticized when it can't open holes or protect the quarterback.

Archer: I think a lot of the credit goes to the line and line coaches Bill Callahan and Frank Pollack. It’s helped by the fact that the Cowboys have three first-rounders among the group in Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin, but Ronald Leary and Doug Free have also played well. They have a good blend of power and smarts. They help each other out. They're smart. They have had really just one bad game as a group. But this week will be a test because of injuries. Free is in question because of an ankle injury. If he can't play, Jermey Parnell would start. He did OK when Free missed three games earlier in the season. Martin is also dealing with an ankle sprain, but he was able to gut it out to finish the Philadelphia game. I talked earlier about the Cowboys' willingness to run the ball this year. Well, now they have to step up even more if Murray can’t play (or is limited).

The Colts are 10-4 and have clinched a playoff spot. They have a great quarterback, top receiver and a decent enough passing game, but I'm skeptical about just how good they are in part because they play in a terrible division. So, I guess, how good are these Colts? Can they beat New England or Denver in the AFC and get to the Super Bowl?

Wells: Don't worry about it. I'm just as skeptical of the Colts. They are 11-0 in the AFC South the past two seasons, with another win expected at Tennessee to close out the year. But everybody knows the AFC South is possibly the worst division in the league. The Colts are 2-3 against teams that would be in the playoffs if they started today. Their three losses were to Denver, New England and Pittsburgh. The Patriots ran for more than 200 yards against them, and the Steelers had more than 600 yards of total offense. The Colts have had this game against the Cowboys circled on the calendar since the Patriots embarrassed them last month. Linebacker D'Qwell Jackson said Dallas is the most balanced offensive team they will face this season. The Colts need this victory, from a mental standpoint, to prove they can beat a team that is capable of putting up a lot of points.

I recall talking to you earlier this season, and it didn't seem like you were a firm believer in the Cowboys. Have you changed your thought? If so, do you believe they are capable of making a run in the NFC?

Archer: I guess it depends on how you want to define "making a run." They haven't qualified for the playoffs yet, and a loss Sunday would be a huge blow to those chances. But I'll go with the premise that they make it for this answer. I think they can make a run because of their style of play. Plus, they are 7-0 on the road this season. It might be better to be the wild card, but the odds of making it as a wild card are steep because it would require Seattle or Detroit to lose in the final two weeks. I have been skeptical this season. I don't know how anybody could have expected this from the Cowboys at the beginning of the year. Heck, Jerry Jones even said it would be an uphill battle. The coaches and players deserve a ton of credit for getting to this position. Now that they are this close, they can't blow it. They have to make the playoffs. I look around at the rest of the NFC, and there is a "why not the Cowboys?" feeling. They already beat the Seahawks in Seattle. The Packers just lost to Buffalo. I don't see a dominant team in the conference, so, yeah, they could make a run. But first, they have to get in the playoffs.


The NFL Live crew makes its picks for Indianapolis at Dallas.

Inside Edge: Colts-Cowboys

December, 18, 2014
Dec 18


ESPN NFL Insider Mike Sando delivers stats to help you make a pick for Indianapolis at Dallas.