The Indianapolis Colts lost a game everyone thought they should have won yesterday. The AFC South is one of the most competitive divisions in the NFL right now. The Texans and the Titans are both coming off playoff campaigns in 2019 and the Jaguars are coming off a season where they let go of many of their defensive playmakers. The Colts only improved their team by signing Philip Rivers and drafting Michael Pittman and Johnathon Taylor. They also traded for DeForest Buckner filling a hole in the interior defensive line.
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However, yesterday’s game showed the weaknesses the Colts still have. The young secondary got burned by a second-year quarterback. Minshew threw more touchdowns (3) than incompletions (1) and went toe-to-toe with Rivers. The Achilles heel of this team has always been their young secondary and it’s proving to be an issue still. Last season, they drafted Rock Ya-Sin and Khari Willis with speed being the focal point. Ya-Sin had a rough first start committing 3 defensive PI calls for nearly 100 yards against Denver. However, Willis proved to be an asset to a team that struggled in pass defense for many years.
On offense, the Colts vaunted offensive line was manhandled by a seriously depleted Jacksonville defensive front. The Jags recently traded Yannick Ngakoue before the season started and allowed their top two corners to walk – one in a trade and the other in free agency. However, the rookie C.J. Henderson made himself known to Rivers intercepting him with three passes defended. Hayden also broke up the possible game-tying pass to veteran receiver T.Y. Hilton who rarely drops passes.
Here are three things we learned from the loss:
1) The Colts rushing attack is key to a victory
It’s clear the Colts have been a run-first team and are built like it. Mauler Quenton Nelson leads guards in pancake blocks and makes his presence known early and often. Ryan Kelly was just recently signed to an extension and Anthony Castonzo is one of the best left-tackles right now. Marlon Mack was one of the best yards per rush player in 2019. Not only are the running backs important to the run attack, but Wilkins and Hines are dangerous out of the backfield too.
However, in the game, the Jags defense did a great job of containing the Colts rushing attack. Gaining just under 100 yards total and only 1 touchdown, the rushing attack was underwhelming. The hype for this season was that Rivers was finally going to have a great o-line to play behind and a rushing attack just as good as L.T was in his prime. The rushing leader yesterday was Nyheim Hines with 28 yards on 7 carries and a touchdown. Marlon Mack left the game halfway through the second quarter with an ankle sprain but not before he gained 26 yards on 4 carries. After Mack left, the running game went down to basically nothing.
2) Philip Rivers can make or break the game for you
The draw to Philip Rivers was that he was in Reich’s offense for many years and knows it. The downside is his aggressive play. A lot of emphases was put on his one-year contract for $25 million. But that’s pretty standard for a player entering the final years of his career on a team that has a “win-now” mentality. Rivers threw the ball 46 times for 363 yards and two interceptions with only 1 touchdown. Normally, you could win that game if you had not thrown those two interceptions – obviously. But it was how they were thrown. He threw them in key parts of the field in enemy territory and game them a short field to work with. Not to mention they scored on both of those picks and got 14 points back from them.
3) The battle in the trenches is key to victory for the Colts
The strength of the Colts team is their ability to move the opposing line on both sides of the ball. The trade for Buckner showed they were committed to making this team better and them keeping the offensive line together with Castonzo signing a few more years with the team. They then made sure to keep Houston for another season and then signed Kelly to an extension. The Jags made sure to get push on both sides of the ball and the Colts were taken off the ball, particularly on defense. Buckner was nearly shut out of plays on the day and the linebackers couldn’t knife through to make tackles like they normally could. The Jags didn’t do too much stretching as the Colts defense is very fast, but rather attacked the middle of the lines and did a great job at it.
On defense, the Colts couldn’t get push to move the defensive line out of the way to open the holes. It also didn’t help Rivers threw two picks on drives on which it looked they we were going to score. The loss was a team loss and it can’t be blamed on a particular play or player, but rather the team. The Jags wanted to win more and played better football.
Next week, the Colts host the Vikings for their home opener of the 2020 season.