Here's a look at the two matchups I have my eye on in this cross-conference trip to Indianapolis.
Dallas Cowboys CB Byron Jones vs. Indianapolis Colts WR T.Y. Hilton
Nobody has benefited more from the return of Andrew Luck than T.Y. Hilton. With Luck's accuracy and Hilton's explosive quickness, they form one of the most dynamic quarterback/receiver combinations in the league.
Hilton has always been a vital part of the game plan. Their scheme is built around ways for him to get open and then get the ball in his hands. Hilton puts a ton of pressure on the secondary just from an alignment standpoint. He forces defenders to play tight to the formation, which gives him more space to operate. It also forces defender to tail him through traffic, making them more likely to be hindered by the other players on the field. Hilton is one of the best tight space receivers I have ever scouted. He doesn't need much room to operate near the sideline or end zone. I have seen corners get right on top of him and somehow Luck finds that window to complete the pass as Hilton quickly gets both feet down.
I would expect the game plan for Byron Jones is to be physical with Hilton as much as the officials will allow -- especially in those tight spaces. Jones is going to need to knock Hilton around some in this matchup. Beat him up physically to take some steam out of him. Where Jones is going to also need to be at his best is when they use Hilton on double-moves and vertical routes when they take those shots down the field. Hilton has the ability to wear you out underneath, then hit you down the field. Jones has to play with his eyes and trust his technique when he gets put in those situations.
Dallas Cowboys OT La'el Collins vs. Indianapolis Colts DE Jabaal Sheard
If you were to trace Matt Eberflus' influences during his career in the NFL it would lead you to Rob Ryan and Rod Marinelli. Ryan used a three-man line with multiple blitz packages and played man coverage behind it. Marinelli's scheme is primarily a four-man line with a mix of man and zone coverages, which work to limit the big play. Ryan tried to create chaos for the offense, but the danger was that it also created confusion for his own guys.
Of those two approaches, Eberflus has brought the Marinelli style of defense to the Colts. To run Marinelli's scheme, you need pass rushers and the Colts have a nice one in Jabaal Sheard. Sheard primarily lines up on the defensive left side, so he will see La'el Collins the majority of the snaps.
Sheard has some DeMarcus Lawrence to him in the way he plays on the move. He is one of those pass rushers that rarely stops, even with an initial punch from the blocker. Like Lawrence, Eberflus uses Sheard in the twist game. He has a feel for how to beat blockers with sneaky moves, then finish with power.
Where Collins needs to be careful is not to allow Sheard to work to his shoulder because he is capable of pushing right past him. Collins is going to need to take him square and work to hold him in place. Where Collins does get in trouble is when he is exposed on the edge and he leans to try and stop the rusher's charge. This is when we've seen those holding calls develop.
Collins will also need to prepare for Sheard lining up exceptionally wide and just attempting to run past him. This is a technique that he will use several snaps a game.