The Chargers are in Denver tonight for the second game of Monday Night Football doubleheader.
RAMS (2016: 4-12) VS. INDIANAPOLIS (2016: 8-8)
When Rams have the ball
Coach Sean McVay is the play caller for an offense that should have all of its players available, including receiver Tavon Austin. Second-year quarterback Jared Goff, the No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft, had an up-and-down preseason, playing efficiently against the Oakland Raiders but committing two turnovers on consecutive possessions against the Chargers. This will be his first start in a season opener. Receivers Robert Woods, Sammy Watkins, Cooper Kupp and Austin, along with tight end Gerald Everett, give Goff a diverse group of targets. Goff should be more secure with Andrew Whitworth anchoring the line at left tackle, and running back Todd Gurley appears poised to return to the form that made him the 2015 NFL offensive rookie of the year. Colts cornerback Vontae Davis is not playing because of a groin injury. That means the defense will include 11 new starters, including defensive linemen Johnathan Hankins and Al Woods and linebackers John Simon and Jabaal Sheard. Rookie cornerbacks Quincy Wilson and Nate Hairston and rookie safety Malik Hooker could play significant snaps.
When Colts have the ball
Star quarterback Andrew Luck will not play because he’s recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. Scott Tolzien will start in his place. Tolzien has started three games and passed for two touchdowns, with seven interceptions, during a six-year NFL career that also has included stints with the San Diego Chargers, San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers. Tolzien will operate behind a line that lost center Ryan Kelly because of a foot injury. Receiver T.Y. Hilton led the NFL with 1,448 yards receiving in 2016, but Rams cornerbacks are not going to be under as much duress with Tolzien under center. Running back Frank Gore, a 13th-year pro, rushed for 1,025 yards and four touchdowns last season. Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has installed a 3-4 scheme, but the Rams will be without lineman Aaron Donald, who ended his holdout Saturday but will not play Sunday. Ethan Westbrooks and Tanzel Smart will play in a rotation in that spot. Robert Quinn is listed as a linebacker but he remains an edge rusher playing opposite Connor Barwin. Veteran cornerback Trumaine Johnson anchors a secondary that includes cornerback Kayvon Webster and safeties Maurice Alexander and Lamarcus Joyner, a converted cornerback.
When they kick
Three-time Pro Bowl punter Johnny Hekker was arguably the Rams’ most valuable player last season. McVay would welcome Hekker repeating his 47.8 yards-per-kick average, but he is no doubt aiming to make sure that Hekker is far less busy this season. Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein is coming off a 2016 season in which he made 19 of 22 field-goal attempts. Pharoh Cooper returns kickoffs, Tavon Austin punts. Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri, in his 22nd NFL season, has 530 field goals. He made 27 of 31 last season. Quan Bray returns kickoffs and punts.
Gary Klein’s prediction
Luck’s absence should provide the Rams with a huge advantage in McVay’s first game. It will also offset the effect of Donald’s absence. Zuerlein could have a busy day. Rams 23, Colts 10