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Indianapolis Colts at Los Angeles Rams: Keys to the game, matchups to watch and prediction

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The Sports Xchange
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Scott Tolzien scrambles during a preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers last month. Photo by Archie Carpenter/UPI
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Scott Tolzien scrambles during a preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers last month. Photo by Archie Carpenter/UPI | License Photo

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS AT LOS ANGELES RAMS

KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET, Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. TV: CBS, Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts, Evan Washburn.

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SERIES HISTORY: 44th regular-season meeting. Colts lead series, 23-18-2. The Colts have posted a 14-6-2 home record against the Rams and are 9-12 in away games. The Indianapolis Colts have won three of the last five regular-season meetings. The Rams, though, won the last matchup, 38-8 at Lucas Oil Stadium on Nov. 10, 2013. Indianapolis' last win in the series occurred on Oct. 25, 2009, when the Rams were located in St. Louis, with the Colts posting a 42-6 victory. The Colts have not won a regular-season game against the Rams in Los Angeles since Dec. 21, 1969 (13-7). The Colts have lost their last three regular-season games against the Rams in Los Angeles, the last coming on Sept. 17, 1989 (31-17). The Colts have an 8-10 record against the Rams at Los Angeles Coliseum. The franchises have a shared history in former team owner Carroll Rosenbloom. Rosenbloom owned the Colts from 1953 to 1971 and the Rams from 1972 to 1979. He traded the Colts franchise to Robert Irsay, who had assumed control of the Rams. Irsay's son Jim is now the Colts' owner.

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GAMEDATE: 9/10/17

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KEYS TO THE GAME: With Scott Tolzien starting for injured Andrew Luck, the Colts' offense must find some rhythm through the running game. That won't be easy; Los Angeles' strength on defense has been its defensive line and linebackers. But, it plays into the largely inexperienced Tolzien's favor that star Rams tackle Aaron Donald is still holding out.

This is no longer the careful, deliberate Rams offense that sloughed around under former coach Jeff Fisher, so expect second-year QB Jared Goff and his new weapons -- Robert Woods, Sammy Watkins, Cooper Kupp and Gerald Everett -- to attack the Colts all over the field. They will hope to create a ground attack to balance things out with a new offensive line opening holes for RB Todd Gurley.

If the Rams can protect Goff, they should find the end zone against a Colts defense that has a young secondary and will be trying out a remodeled defensive line. Finding a way to put pressure on Goff and force mistakes will be key for the Colts.

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MATCHUPS TO WATCH:

--Colts WR T.Y. Hilton vs. Rams CB Trumaine Johnson. Hilton had 98 catches for 1,449 yards last year and will be a handful for Johnson, whose ability to slow Hilton down could be a difference maker in the Rams beating the Colts.

--Rams LT Andrew Whitworth vs. Colts DE Henry Anderson. Whitworth was signed to finally elevate the left side of the Rams line from below average to above average, and right off the bat he'll get a chance to prove it in his battle with Anderson, a promising third-year player from Stanford who combines a great motor with athletic ability and talent.

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COLTS NOTABLE ROOKIE: Running back Marlon Mack. The South Florida back could very well be Indianapolis' long-term answer to replace Frank Gore. Mack shows speed and good vision, is elusive and better than expected as both a pass blocker and receiver. He will be used this season primarily as a change-of-pace back and will rotate with Gore and Robert Turbin. Mack might also be used as a kickoff returner.

RAMS NOTABLE ROOKIE: Wide receiver Cooper Kupp. He was drafted in the third round, but by the end of this season people may wonder why he wasn't a first-round pick. The smooth, dependable receiver from Eastern Washington lit up Rams camp with his route running, dependability, footwork and hands. There is every reason to believe his college production will translate to the NFL. He holds Football Championship Subdivision records for receptions (428), receiving yards (6,464) and receiving touchdowns (73).

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FAST FACTS: Colts RB Frank Gore ranks eighth in NFL history with 13,065 rushing yards. He's the fifth player in NFL history with 12,500 rushing yards (13,065) and 400 catches (414). He has 11 consecutive seasons with 1,200 scrimmage yards, most in NFL history. ... Colts WR T.Y. Hilton has four seasons with 1,000 yards, third most in franchise history. He is one of four players in NFL history with at least 850 yards and five TD catches in each of first five seasons. ... Colts K Adam Vinatieri leads all active players and ranks third in NFL history with 2,378 points. ... The Rams' Sean McVay makes his head coaching debut after spending the past three seasons as Washington's offensive coordinator. ... WR Sammy Watkins makes his debut for the Rams. He had more than 900 receiving yards in two of his three years in Buffalo and has 153 career receptions. ... Rams holdout DT Aaron Donald had 62 tackles and led team with eight sacks in 2016. He has been named to three consecutive Pro Bowls. ... Rams P Johnny Hekker was named to his third consecutive Pro Bowl in 2016. He led the NFL in net punt average (46.0).

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PREDICTION: In an underwhelming QB matchup featuring rebuilding teams, the edge will go to the better coach -- and McVay knows how to create offense.

OUR PICK: Rams, 26-17.

--Chris Cluff

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